As if seeing the Hornets again wasn’t enough to make you think you were have a Groundhog Day experience, the Toronto Raptors going up by double digits, then blowing the lead, then struggling in the fourth before holding off a final Charlotte Hornets possession to preserve a three-point win might have made you fully question reality.
But don’t worry. Despite the similar outcome, it was indeed a different game, and he five thoughts that follow are all-new and all-different!
1. Bench Pickup
Once again the Raptors looked less-than-stellar with Aron Baynes as their starting centre, falling behind 12-2 early. Once again the Raptors turned to Chris Boucher, who immediately sparked a 21-7 run and helped the Raptors take the lead by the end of the first.
But Boucher wasn’t the only bench contributor on this night.
Norman Powell had a good scoring game, knocking in six three-pointers. , Stanley Johnson had another solid defensive game (and hit two threes!). Malachi Flynn… well, Flynn didn’t shoot well and had his issues on defense. But the offense does move the ball more effectively when he’s out there. Check out this little skip pass to the corner for a Fred VanVleet three:
That’s two decent bench games in a row, and two wins. The Raptors might finally be settling on a rotation!
2. The Worst 2-for-1 You’ll Ever See
Along with his solid scoring, Norman Powell ran a textbook 2-for-1 at the end of the first quarter, draining a three with 32 seconds to go and getting to the rim with one second to go (though he missed the latter). But at the end of the second? Hoo, boy.
The Raptors got the ball with 32 seconds left; seeing the time, Kyle Lowry hustled the ball up, and dished it to a cutting Malachi Flynn. Flynn should have tried to score, but instead tried to throw a pass to the corner behind him. Three rookie mistakes here: 1) not knowing the time, 2) not realizing that the “shooter” in the corner was Stanley Johnson, and 3) trying to throw a cross-body pass back over the defense. It was picked off and the Hornets went the other way, where Flynn made rookie mistake number 4, leaving Terry Rozier open in the corner, where he splashed a three with nine seconds left.
But we can forgive Flynn for being a rookie. We can’t forgive what happened next.
Lowry allowed the ball to roll to halfcourt after Rozier’s made three. He then picked it up and fired a pass to Powell… who took a 27-footer with six seconds to go.
Terry Rozier hauled in the rebound and drained a three as time expired.
That’s an unforgivable mistake by a player who should know better (and Kyle Lowry let Powell know it as they left the floor at the half).
As always, we seem to get some good and some bad Norm with every game.
3. The Starting Problem
That’s two games in a row Baynes has started, gotten the quick hook, and never played again — and three games in a row that Chris Boucher started the second half.
It really does seem like it’s just a matter of time before Boucher starts; I understand the concerns about playing him heavy minutes and reducing the effectiveness of your bench groups, but digging a big hole every game and then asking him and the bench to climb out doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
I also can’t help but wonder why coach Nurse seems so reluctant to play Baynes any non-starter minutes. The Hornets probably aren’t the best test case, as they’re quite small themselves, but I still believe Baynes can play effective minutes. Why not try him out against some opposing bench units?
4. Zone Bustin’
The Raptors really struggled with Charlotte’s zone in this two-game series, which is surprising to me, as the Raptors have the shooters and creators — in theory — to break a zone down.
The problem seems to come with speed and decisiveness. The Raptors simply weren’t making crisp passes or cuts when Charlotte went zone; it was like they were playing in mud. The Raptors would flash Pascal Siakam into the middle, where he should be able to quickly dish to a shooter, but instead, all too often he held the ball, negating any advantage of having a solid playmaker in the middle.
Overall the Raptors still have not solved any of the half court problems they had last year. They have pick-and-rolls and they can drive-and-kick, but there’s very little creativity or quickness to anything they do. The result is a lot of three pointers (a league-leading 43.9 attempts per game).
5. OG, Settling In
OG Anunoby seems to have shaken off his slow start to the season — in fact he’s pretty much caught fire these last three games, shooting 55% from the floor and 56% from three, and averaging 16.3 points per game. His defense has remained solid, if not quite at the all-NBA level we were all expecting — though we aren’t getting to see him lock down wing players as much as he’s often tasked with guarding big men like Bismack Biyombo.
Still, he’s up to third in the league in steals per game, with 2.1, and had two at the top of the key last night, one of which led to this beauty reverse jam:
OG finding himself can only help the Raptors. Now, if only the starting unit as a whole could find itself!
These two wins were much needed, and hopefully give the Raptors a little bit of confidence heading into their Monday matchup with a much tougher opponent: The Dallas Mavericks.