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VanVleet, Barnes & Anunoby lead Raptors past Pacers, 118-100

Toronto finally has its first home win in four tries this season, and it was a damn fun one at that.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

This is what the Raptors front office was envisioning all summer. There’s no way Toronto’s top decision makers weren’t aware that offense might be hard to come by this season. They’re not stupid; down Kyle Lowry, and with a collection of speculative long dudes without much or any offensive track record taking his place, the scoring punch of the team was going to take a hit — and it’s not like they were throwing haymakers before those changes. Losing Pascal Siakam to a long-term injury only complicated matters further.

But you could see the logic behind Toronto’s team building ethos. Pile up long and versatile defenders, and you just might perform and impressive zig to the league’s offense-crazy zag. A single 118-100 win over the Pacers doesn’t do much to prove the long term viability of Toronto’s concept, but Wednesday night sure did display how fun it can be when it all works in concert.

This Raptors offense really only needs to conjure one or two outbursts a game to give themselves a shot to win; their defense is way ahead of where it should be with this many new faces, but also maybe it’s exactly as swarming and impenetrable as a unit that rarely features fewer than three switchable guys over 6’8 should be. The Raptors entered their fifth game of the season boasting the sixth-best defense in the NBA, and they upheld that standard against Indy. There aren’t too many teams that are gonna be able to score in bunches against these Raptors. Indiana’s exceptionally meh roster didn’t stand a chance once the Raptors leapt out to a 16 point lead by the end of the third. The Pacers quietly cut it to 100-90 with 4:34 to play after a bit of a slump for the Raptors — they scored just 10 points inthe remainder of the game. When you’re under duress to make big things happen, the Raptors are well equipped to turn your desperation against you.

Toronto’s edge in this one was gained through a couple stretches where they performed well above their typical offensive standard. Opportunism is key for this team to hang on offense, and their vulture energy on Wednesday was palpable.

They continue to hammer the offensive glass as they have all through the first week. They picked up 16 of their own misses, good for 33 second chance points, and won the possession game by 21 field goal attempts. Through Indiana’s clear lack of dudes capable of guarding OG Anunoby, another avenue to points emerged; first via Anunoby’s brute force, as he posted 16 points 6-of-11 in an all-encompassing first quarter. Then as Indy’s attention to OG ratcheted up, he leveraged that into easy buckets for others.

“It just gives you a steady outlet,” said Fred VanVleet after the game, noting that it’s when the double-teams start heading Anunoby’s way that the Raptors offense really has a chance to blossom. “There’s not many guys that are gonna be able to guard OG one on one.”

It wasn’t a perfect top option game for Anunoby, who did most of his on-ball damage in the opening frame, but his 25-3-3 night on 9-of-21 shooting was clearly the best work he’s done as Toronto’s number 1A this season.

Per Nick Nurse, Dalano Banton is another one of those ways for Toronto to milk just enough out of its offense to put the opponent on its heels.

“He’s really played well and I think again the biggest thing is he injects an easy basket or two into the game pretty quickly,” Nurse said of Banton, who was the first sub in and finished the night with 10 points and three assists, including two made threes. After the game, Nurse noted Banton’s quick adaptation of a high tempo mindset as one of the changes that’s helped turn him from the plodding Summer Leaguer we saw in August into the floor-sprinting revelation he’s been thus far.

It was through Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes that the Raptors really padded their margin for error against the Pacers. In a brief stretch to close what to that point had been the greenest chunk of minutes he’d played as a pro, Barnes converted an Anunoby pass into what’s becoming a trademark free-throw line floater, before swatting a shot at the other end, and roaring back down for a put-back off his own miss. Two in-tight finishes later, and Barnes was sitting on 10 points, four boards and three rebounds to show for his worst half of the season.

Then in the fourth he did this.

Dude is good as hell. He finished with 18-7-7 on 8-of-17 from the field.

VanVleet also had his best game of the season. When he’s in the defender-shaking form that powered him to 26 points, including 6-of-7 from downtown, the Raptors’ offense gets an instant upgrade from hodge-podge to legit. A pair of ballsy late-game midrange pull-up jumpers over a stranded Sabonis put the Pacers to bed, just as they flirted to cut the lead to single digits.

Toronto is now 2-3, with some growing confidence and a best player that just went through a practice with Raptors 905, hopefully signaling a not too far off return. They won’t all look like the platonic ideal of new age Toronto Raptors basketball, but games like Wednesday’s provide all the glimpses you should need to get psyched for what lies ahead in the future basketball frontier. It might not even be all that far away.