The Raptors offense doesn’t look pretty a lot of the time. During its worst stretches, there can be a lot of dribbling, some indecisiveness, and an inability to get the best shot possible. These issues are even more apparent on the rare occasion when the team isn’t playing with Kyle Lowry. Often, it’s Lowry who’s tasked with grinding out buckets when nobody else can, grifting some free throws or making a timely three — like any veteran would.
Yet even when the offense grinds to a halt, the Raptors have usually been able to count on their defense. Even though some of their best weapons on that end are gone this year, they’ve still shown an ability to shut down other teams through activity and basketball IQ. This defensive prowess was front and centre tonight against the Miami Heat. Faced once again with tricky defensive schemes — a zone, some traps, and a lot of ball slapping — the Raptors answered by grabbing some clamps of their own. Holding Miami to 42.9% shooting, including 7-for-31 from three-point territory, the Raptors improved to 6-9 tonight with a 101-81 win.
Missing key scorers Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro (among others), the Heat simply couldn’t find an offensive player that could consistently break through Toronto’s wall. Kendrick Nunn had 22 points off the bench, but Miami’s top scoring starter was Bam Adebayo — who needed 13 shots to score 14 points. The Raptors forced difficult jump shots from Miami’s other weapons all evening, and they were unable to get an extended hot hand to win their second straight game.
The Raptors offense featured bookend performances from Norman Powell and OG Anunoby. Powell — who started in place of Kyle Lowry, out with a toe infection — once again played his best basketball after having his number called, scoring eight of Toronto’s first 13 points and finishing with 23 on 10-of-18 shooting.
After this initial Powell explosion, OG Anunoby was on cleanup duty. The man simply couldn’t miss from distance, joining a couple other Raptors to finally bust Miami’s zone by going 5-for-6 on threes. Anunoby would finish shooting 8-of-12 overall, scoring 21 points to go with four rebounds and two steals.
I don't shoot trying to miss pic.twitter.com/fVJ4qKwJvz— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 23, 2021
The Raptors also got some pivotal minutes from Pascal Siakam, who only had 15 points but led the team emotionally through the game’s most difficult stretch. Up by as many as 21 points in the first half, Toronto came out of the break sloppy and allowed the Heat to tie the game at 61. Siakam, however, turned on the jets after this and powered the Raptors to a 10-0 run — one that kept them ahead by double digits for good.
Led by Powell’s start, the Raptors jumped out to a 13-2 lead before the first TV timeout (stop us if you’ve heard this before in a 2020-21 game recap). With all Toronto’s starters shooting over 50% from the field in the early going — including a 6-for-6 start by Norm — the Raptors were able to lead by as many as 17 in the first quarter. When the Heat broke out their zone for the first time, Toronto countered by bringing in Matt Thomas — while he didn’t get a shot off, his presence kept Miami out of their pestering scheme and allowed the Raptors to flow freely on the offensive end.
Of course, there were some hiccups. The second quarter started with some rough minutes for the bench, with Terence Davis making two turnovers before (slightly) making up for it with a three. The defense made up for any struggles with execution, though, as the Raptors were able to hold their lead at 14 points consistently up until halftime. It also helped that by the time his second shift was finished, Powell had 19 points, as Toronto went into the break up 56-42.
There were some scary moments in the third quarter. Despite more good defensive minutes, the offense bogged down to a stand still. The Raptors went 4:30 without a field goal in the middle of the quarter, allowing the Heat to grind the lead down to nothing and tie the game at 61. That’s when Toronto got their response, though, as Siakam started working downhill, getting shots for himself and others, and putting a needed spark into a bogged down unit.
In the fourth, the Raptors were able to run away with it thanks to a better transition lineup. Stanley Johnson was a surprise hit against the Heat zone, as the Raptors started using him in the middle of the key to pass and make decisions. He did his job, setting up OG for a couple open threes and even knocking one down himself. Toronto’s execution got them back to a 20-point lead, which ended up being the game’s winning margin after garbage time was over.
As they did against the Mavericks on Monday, the Raptors showed their blueprint for winning games — even though the offense is inconsistent. Thanks to good defense throughout and different players stepping up on different nights, Toronto can grind out wins and start working their way back up the standings.
That’ll be tested in their next two games, as they begin a back-to-back against Indiana on Sunday.