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Raptors overcome slow start, beat Grizzlies 108-99

The shots didn’t go early, but Toronto’s defence and three-point shooting came around as they improved to 4-1 in the bubble.

Memphis Grizzlies v Toronto Raptors Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We all know the Raptors don’t exactly have a love affair with afternoon games. Sure, winning a championship has helped our collective psyche move on from those nightmarish Game Ones that came with noon tip-offs. Toronto still isn’t immune to the nooner blues, though, and that reared its head for a while on Sunday.

It was also concerning to see the Raptors struggle early on against the Grizzlies when you consider Friday’s game. Toronto’s half court offense laid an egg against the Boston Celtics, a rivalry matchup where they trailed by as many as 40 points. Today’s game was, more than anything else, about getting some mojo back on that end of the floor.

And yes, after a 0-for-6 start from three-point land and an 18-point discrepancy from distance in the first quarter, the Raptors did indeed wrestle momentum back. A 40-point second frame helped pace them to a 108-99 win over the Grizzlies.

The victory secures the Raptors the second seed in the East and an Atlantic Division title (for those who still believe in such things). The Grizzlies, meanwhile, now have a real fight on their hand for the eight seed in the West — they’re one game up on Portland and 1.5 up on Phoenix and San Antonio with three games to go.

Leading the way for the Raptors was Pascal Siakam, who didn’t play perfectly, but came up with two clutch three-pointers and an efficient night overall. Stifling a 10-0 Grizzlies run that cut the Raptors lead to just three points with 3:33 remaining, Siakam buried a step-back three, then a contested three, to give Toronto some breathing room.

Siakam would finish with a game-high 26 points on 9-for-16 shooting, including 4-for-9 from distance. The Raptors’ storyline for the game followed Siakam’s — misses early, makes late — as the team shook off a 1-for-10 (10%) start from three-point range to finish 15-for-39 (38.5%).

Another clutch play was made by Fred VanVleet. For the second time in three games, VanVleet rescued a defensive possession with a steal in the post, slapping the ball out of the hands of Anthony Tolliver and setting up a gorgeous fast break.

VanVleet and Kyle Lowry would combine for eight steals in the game, which may also be remembered for how both teams failed to take care of the basketball. The Raptors were harmed by 25 turnovers in the game, but Memphis didn’t perform much better with 22 of their own. The lack of offensive cohesion seemed to benefit Toronto more, as they were able to build confidence in transition — something they weren’t able to do against the sharper Celtics on Friday.

After starting the first quarter with an 8-2 lead, Memphis saw the Raptors start to crawl back into proceedings when Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell got their first run. After some not-so-coded comments from Nick Nurse on Friday about the need for their improvement, both Ibaka and Powell responded.

Serge made three nice passes out of Grizzlies double teams in the first, one setting up a Powell dunk, as the two would combine for 28 points on 9-for-17 shooting. Ibaka also had 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks for one of his most well-rounded games of 2019-20.

Trailing by five after one, the Raptors finally saw some threes go down thanks to, appropriately, Matt Thomas. His two triples forced the Grizzlies to take a timeout, which was closely followed by the Raptors taking their first lead on a VanVleet triple. Memphis struggled with turnovers before the half, which led to the aforementioned transition explosion by the Raptors. Confidence built quickly, and a 40-point frame led to a 60-54 lead at halftime.

In the third, the Raptors continued to execute well. Marc Gasol’s presence on the floor made for great ball movement, and a timely banked three by the big man put Toronto up by 15. To close the quarter, an off-balance Lowry three really put the Grizzlies in a tough spot heading to the fourth.

Fighting for their playoff lives, though, the Grizzlies stormed back. Some apathetic play from the Raptors helped them out a bit, but Dillon Brooks also started making shots after some poor decisions early. Brooks would end up leading the Grizzlies in scoring with 25, but needed 26 shots to get there.

Ja Morant chipped in 17 points and 10 assists for Memphis, while Grayson Allen drained four triples and had 20 points off the bench.

Toronto now gets ready for a game against the Bucks on Monday, a game where both teams have their playoff spots clinched and should have their hands held close to their chest.

A few other observations from this one:

OG reassuring. If one thing has been apparent since the restart, it’s that OG Anunoby can create real headaches against teams that don’t have sharp ball-handling on the wing. While Morant was mostly immune, OG’s ability to break up skip passes and close on defense made life a living hell for Memphis. Anunoby would finish with just six points, but his three steals and a block were noticed.

Eighth spot. There’s still plenty of Nick Nurse experimentation when it comes to who gets the most minutes here. Today, Matt Thomas made the biggest impact in his 10 minutes, splashing two threes and changing the gravity of Memphis’ defense to open up the floor.

Thomas’ presence is one of the biggest curveballs Nurse can throw — and while he gives it all back on defense, it’s a viable option in the playoffs if Toronto’s shooting bogs down like we’ve seen in the last two games.

With the second seed locked, expect a lot more run for the guys in competition going forward. Terence Davis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have been more bad than good in the restart, and will need an opportunity to improve.

Trust in Marc. If you have any frustration in the Raptors, consider that Marc Gasol played just 22 minutes tonight and was +14 when on the floor. Apart from being the team’s best help defender, Gasol is shooting more confidently and getting to good spots with his touches. He just isn’t playing that much since the restart.

The more Gasol plays, the better the Raptors will be. We also aren’t seeing much of he and Ibaka playing together — probably the secret sauce look that Nurse is saving for the post-season.