The Raptors are now 3-0 in the NBA Bubble, thanks to an a, uh, thankless game against the Orlando Magic. As we got into more here, Toronto got off to a great start, enjoyed solid contributions from multiple players, and weathered whatever attempts at a comeback the Magic could put together.
It wasn’t always a pretty night of basketball, but the end result was the same: Toronto got the job done. That’s three in a row in the bubble, and seven wins in a row dating back to before the league’s suspension. (It really does feel like this would have been the year for 60 wins in Toronto. Ah well.)
Here are five more thoughts on last night:
1. Ladies and Gentlemen... the Orlando Magic?
Not to start this off on too mean a note but: what is the deal with the Magic? On paper it feels like they’ve put together something worth watching — a gruff but beloved coach, a solid post guy, some athletic wings, a couple of guards with some know-how, the unique trainwreck that is Markelle Fultz, etc. Why can’t anything exciting ever seem to emerge?
The Raptors had played Orlando three times already this season prior to the Bubble, winning all three contests. They’ve now swept the season series — but somehow may end up playing the Magic in the playoffs as they hang on for dear life at the end of the bracket. Thanks to the imploding Nets and Wizards, Orlando may stick around in seventh place by default. That’s really where you want to be in this scenario.
You ever watch that show What We Do in the Shadows? There’s a character in the TV adaptation who is called an “energy vampire”, someone who drains the lifeforce from people just by being around (and by being extremely boring). That, to me, is this Magic team. Thinking about having to watch four more Magic-Raptors games just exhausts me.
2. Spry Marc Gasol is Working Hard
You know who wasn’t looking exhausted in last night’s contest? Marc Gasol! The Spanish big man put up six of his eight shots in the first quarter and really looked to be showing out, helping to push the Raptors to that sizable 26-11 lead they enjoyed in the first quarter. As per usual, Gasol also helped hold All-Star big man Nikola Vucevic to well below his season averages, with just 12 points (on 4-of-10 shooting) and nine rebounds.
That opening frame saw Gasol make a few moves in the post, with only one of those first six shots coming from beyond the arc (he missed it, but hit two 3s later, including one to give the Raps a crushing 21-point lead). Along the way, the rest of the Raptors got going on a 13-0 run in the first quarter before the bench came in and played through into the second. If nothing else, it was fun to see Gasol out there doing his thing.
But don’t worry, this new me-first energy isn’t going to Gasol’s head. Though he was quieter in the second (and finished the game with only one assist), there was a moment when Marc enthusiastically identified himself as a the foul giver after Evan Fournier tried to Euro-step around Kyle Lowry. It didn’t work, but kudos to Gasol for trying to be selfless once again.
3. OG Smooth, Siakam Sloppy
If you’re a Raptors fan, these kinds of moves from OG Anunoby have got to get you excited:
It’s just one play, and it was just two of OG’s 12 points, but it speaks volumes as to where the young forward is now with his game. These are the kinds of plays we’ve wanted to see (needed to see!) from Anunoby since he came into the league. And if he can start handling the ball like this on a regular basis, it opens up even more for Toronto’s offense.
For his part, Anunoby was still playing as a wrecker on defense last night and still making the off-ball cuts he already excels at. It’s becoming clear for Toronto that while they can’t run the offense through him, they can at least count on him to be opportunistic with the ball and take care of mismatches. See: everytime poor Terrence Ross got stuck trying to stop OG in the post.
Of concern though: I feel like we’re still waiting for the full skill set of Pascal Siakam to show up in Orlando. This isn’t to say Spicy P hasn’t been putting in work. He does after all help Toronto’s defense be what it’s meant to be thanks to his energy and versatility. But Siakam’s offense has come to rely quite a lot on 3-balls lately, and taken a dip in efficiency. Last night against the Magic, Siakam had seven turnovers and only three buckets inside the three-point line. Yes, he finished with 15 points and the Raptors easily won, but... can we ask for more from Pascal?
4. Calamity in the Third
OK, maybe I’m being a little dramatic there with the subtitle. The Raptors took the lead in this game and were never really threatened by the Magic. But it did feel like in the third quarter things were happening that were meant to unsettle Toronto.
The Raptors opened the second half with a crushing 55-35 lead, but the Magic cut that lead in half before the six minute mark of the frame. Along the way, Orlando got into a 9-0 run, with Ross going off for a few of his customary buckets. Again, it was hard to get too concerned here — this is still the Magic we’re talking about — but then Lowry somehow got hit with a Flagrant 1 foul on Aaron Gordon and it felt like things might get tighter still. (It was not an un-dangerous play.)
Ah, but Gordon made the classic mistake of chirping Lowry. And then he, sadly, had to sit out the rest of the night with hamstring tightness, robbing us of the chance to see Lowry teach him a lesson specifically.
In any case, the Magic mustered some more pressure, got the lead down to seven a couple of times, but the Raptors would just take that as their cue to put on a bit more pressure. And Lowry? Well, he cruised to a near-triple-double night of eight points, ten assists, and nine rebounds in 37 minutes.
5. More From the Bench
Amongst all the other reasons for the win, the Raptors also saw the re-emergence of their bench unit against the Magic. Both Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell scored in double figures (11 and 14 points, respectively). Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played some hustle defense and successfully ran the point here and there, including executing some successful 1-4 pick-and-rolls with Lowry. And Terence Davis finished one nice break, which was encouraging to see.
It’s clear coach Nick Nurse, now presented with a mostly healthy team, has clamped back down on his Raptors rotation. The starters are locked in, the main bench components know their roles, and it’s really just a matter of casting around for eighth and ninth man minutes where necessary. It’s also become clear that Nurse is ready to live and die with Hollis-Jefferson (and would presumably be using a healthy Patrick McCaw too). As for Davis, Chris Boucher, and Matt Thomas, it feels like they’ve moved back to “in case of emergency” mode. They’re a fun bunch to have around, but not necessarily to rely on as the games get more serious.