One of the calling cards of recent, more potent versions of the Raptors was their propensity for beating the tar out of bad teams. Against two thirds of the league, you could count on the Raptors winning while barely breaking a sweat. Man, those were the good times.
Taking care of business is boring by design. For this Raptors team, it’s also been nearly impossible to accomplish. But on Sunday night against a Magic team that might be in a more depressing state than any in the league, the Raptors did what they were supposed to do, picking up a rare cruise control victory, 115-102, to move to 8-12 through 20 games.
Down OG Anunoby and Norman Powell once again, the Raptors were left with the thin complement of dudes that got embarrassed by the Kings on Friday. Against a better team, their wonky in-between lineups featuring heavy doses of Terence Davis, Paul Watson Jr. and a defensively confused Chris Boucher might have cost them. But with Nikola Vucevic (15 points on 5-of-18) performing as though the Raptors still had Marc Gasol stone-walling his ass, and with Aaron Gordon owning himself at every turn before leaving with an unfortunate ankle injury, Toronto’s margin for error was wide.
It certainly helped that Pascal Siakam looked like his best self. Without Jonathan Isaac available to Orlando, there was less than zero resistance whenever Siakam took it to the cup, which was often. Putting to good use a beefed up number of possessions as the screener or ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, Siakam finished with 30 points, 10 boards, three assists, three steals and a block on on 12-of-23 from the field. After being kept on the sidelines for more than 8 minutes in the fourth quarter on Friday, Nick Nurse swapped Siakam in with over 10 minutes to play in the fourth on Sunday to curb a slow offensive start and burgeoning Magic run. The slide stopped more or less in an instant, and Siakam padded his +27 mark on the night — second on the team only to Kyle Lowry and his hilarious +30.
Those two combined for the play of the night, which could be deemed a coordinated assault against Gordon, who was begging for someone to yam on his dome all night after picking up a flagrant for a cheap shot on Lowry, five months after Lowry dared Gordon to visit his room in Disney.
Pascal Siakam dunked ALL OVER Aaron Gordon— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) February 1, 2021
Revenge for that earlier flagrant on Kyle Lowry?pic.twitter.com/JKtLRfWEcy
On top of holding the upper hand in the Gordon beef, Lowry had himself a wonderful night on the floor. While his 4-of-13 shooting line doesn’t pop, the 15 assists he tossed most certainly did. In addition to his work with Siakam in those pick-and-rolls they used to carve up the Magic all night, he was tasked with being the lone star in bench lineups that got by with a blend of high-intensity defense and timely shot-making from the likes of Yuta Watanabe and DeAndre’ Bembry — usually off of a Lowry dish.
For the second straight game, the trio of Watanabe, Bembry and Stanley Johnson infused a welcome note of maturity into the Raptors reserve and transitional lineups. Those guys are connectors who exclusively play within themselves. Any glimpses of the Raptors’ former defensive glory that have poked through the clouds over the last week or so have come with one, two or all three of them on the floor. Contrasted next to the erratic play of Chris Boucher, and the downright foolish decision-making of Terence Davis, it’s becoming ever-clearer who should be comprising the back portion of the Raptors rotation right now. Even if the trio of adults is limited in their offensive upside, they give the Raptors the type of reliable floor they’ve been desperate to establish in non-starter-heavy minutes this season. None of them have unresolved domestic violence charges hanging over them, either. In short, start any one of Watanabe, Bembry or Johnson in the event Powell and Anunoby both miss the Magic rematch on Tuesday.
Look, no one is going to be convinced that the Raptors have saved their season with a ho-hum win over a Magic team going nowhere, especially on the heels of that loss to Sacramento. But if you take a step back and view the grander scope of this Raptors season, things don’t seem so bad. Toronto’s clearly prevented a full derailment after that 2-8 start. The last ten games have seen some rotation pieces pop, an evening out of the team’s metrics on both ends, and a 6-4 record that puts the team squarely within striking distance of one of the top-six spots in the Eastern Conference. The teams in front of them — New York, Charlotte, Cleveland and Atlanta — don’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of, well, anyone.
Toronto’s not terrifying many people either right now. But for now, some run-of-the-mill taking care of business will do just fine.