The news before Raptors-Rockets was all about Nick Nurse, his coaching staff, and Pascal Siakam. That whole crew, six of Toronto’s coaches and one of its stars, had to miss the game due to the league’s health and safety protocols, which meant the Raptors would be in the hands of Kyle Lowry (though not officially), Fred VanVleet, and their acting head coach, fresh from quarantine, Sergio Scariolo. It was fair to wonder what we’d see from the Raptors in the absence of their normal structure and whether they’d have enough juice to grab the win against a struggling Houston team. We could at least find comfort in Lowry’s presence, though. Surely he’d keep the class in line if things got really out of control for Toronto.
While there’s no denying that there was some substitute teacher energy in the first quarter for Toronto, the Raptors eventually sorted things out. Yes, the Rockets made their runs — John Wall and Victor Oladipo weren’t just going to stand there, of course — but it didn’t quite matter. Toronto would go on to secure Scariolo his first NBA head coaching win (credited to Nurse, but still), with a 122-111 victory over the Rockets. As expected, Lowry was the key, anchoring the team’s major lineups while putting up a 20-11-10 triple-double, his 16th as a Raptor. His backcourt running mates meanwhile, Norman Powell and VanVleet, also did their thing, putting in 30 and 25 points apiece, respectively.
To begin with though, the Raptors just weren’t particularly crisp on their defensive assignments, and it led to a high scoring few minutes from the jump. For a time, Toronto was able to keep up with the Rockets — finding lanes, dropping threes, etc. — but that was only for a time. When the Raptors went to their bench, relying on VanVleet alone to make something happen on offense, it was not quite enough. An 11-0 run from Houston had the Raptors looking entirely out of sorts until Kyle Lowry came back in to orchestrate the final 1:30 of the frame. The Raptors got back to within one point after being down by eight.
That positive vibe carried into the second quarter, with Scariolo finding time for 12 — yes, twelve — players in those 12 minutes. With Lowry running the show, the Raptors were able to re-take and expand their lead. In his efforts, Lowry had a perfect quarter, shooting 3-of-3 from the field for 10 points while dishing four assists. If not for a failed attempt at a 2-for-1 before halftime, Lowry could have been entirely content with his work. Elsewhere, Toronto was on less stable ground: as was the case in the first, the team’s tertiary production was a bit all over the place, both up and down in any one moment. Yuta Watanabe, Patrick McCaw, and Stanley Johnson couldn’t buy a bucket; Aron Baynes had some clunky moments — but also drained some unlikely jumpers; and OG Anunoby looked frustrated.
After a John Wall injury scare (he was thankfully fine), there were some fun moments to be had in the first half too. An errant wedgie earned a full Matt Devlin shoutout on the broadcast to the No Dunks Podcast and its Canadian crew. And after that, Chris Boucher completed his second block, this time on Oladipo, which was originally called a foul. Not one to miss his chance, coach Scariolo used his challenge — and won! That’s right, the elusive coach’s challenge victory that Nurse sought for so long came to Sergio on his first try. On top of that, the Raptors went into halftime up by eight after dropping 67 points in all.
For the third, VanVleet played a sizable role. He didn’t shoot particularly well in the quarter (2-for-10), but he lead the way with seven points in the frame. When he was on the floor with Lowry, the Raptors’ defense locked into place — helped by Houston’s putrid 29 percent shooting from the field and 19 percent from three — and the offense got kicked into high-gear. In this, Toronto was helped by Powell’s continued excellence, a one-legged fadeaway jumper Anunoby is apparently still toying with, and some points from Bembry and Yuta too. Toronto’s lead got as large as 20 in the third and it felt like this game was completely in the hands of the Raptors.
Except there was still time for a bit of a fright. The Rockets rode a few points at the end of the third into a 13-0 run in the fourth. That got the lead back down to single-digits, with Oladipo in particular absolutely carving up Toronto’s defense. Frustration was mounting too as Lowry and David Nwaba got into it, with each angling to get under the other’s skin — before double fouls (Lowry’s fifth) forced them to settle down. The Raptors, fortunately, settled down too. Despite their lead shrinking to seven, Powell executed a few plays, including a nice cut-and-feed from OG, putting Toronto back up by 12. In the process, Powell added another eight points to his total in the final frame alone.
The Rockets still threatened, getting the lead down to six, but it was too little, too late. It was also Lowry, once again, pulling the strings — hitting a runner, grabbing big boards, and controlling the pace as the clock ticked down. The final points on the evening: Kyle shooting a technical foul to put his team back up by 11. Class dismissed.