Can the Toronto Raptors play the Cleveland Cavaliers a few more times this season? Sure, the Cavs got the Raptors once, but for the most part, the Raptors seem like they can get whatever they want against this Cleveland team.
Although there were some shaky moments last night, thanks mainly to some curious rotation decisions, the Raptors kept their play-in hopes alive with another win, their fifth in the past six games.
1. Meet the New Bench, Same as the Old…?
The Raptors once played an all-bench lineup for a stretch last night, and it once again went poorly. This isn’t a knock on Malachi Flynn, Yuta Watanabe or Freddie Gillespie (or even Rodney Hood and DeAndre’ Bembry, subbing in for Chris Boucher and Gary Trent last night) per se. These guys are young and learning and will make mistakes.
The question is, why are they all out there are the same time? All that learning led to the five-man group being a -5 in four minutes of the second quarter. Surely the Raptors, fighting for a play-in berth, should be staggering their starters in order to get the most out of their bench guys, no? For that matter, shouldn’t the rotation maybe be tightened to nine players? Nurse played 11 last night!
Unless the intention is… to not win games. But then why aren’t the starters resting anymore? Doesn’t make much sense to me!
Thankfully, the Raptors stayed away from the five-man bench units in the second half, and Flynn, Watanabe and Gillespie were all on the positive side of +/-.
2. Khem and Kyle Chemistry
Khem Birch had 14 points last night, and as he said on the broadcast, it might have been the easiest 14 of his career, thanks to Kyle Lowry. Seeing Lowry develop great chemistry with a big is nothing new, but, having watched Aron Baynes struggle, it’s been such a joy to see how quickly Khem and Kyle have connected
How much different would this season have been, do you think, if Khem Birch had been here from the beginning?
Heck, what if he’d gotten here at the trade deadline? The Raptors were 2-6 in the eight games immediately after the deadline; if they’d gone just 4-4 they might have had a legit shot at the eighth seed!
3. More of This, Please!
Pascal Siakam was excellent again last night, much like he has been for the past month, but what pleased me the most was seeing him finish in transition.
He’s been oddly… off, in transition, for most of the season (the end of the Knicks game being the most recent example). This used to be the best part of his game! But last night he seemed to be taking the ball to the rim with much more force, never more so than on this lefty dunk:
Siakam has returned to form, numbers-wise, in most categories (three-point shooting remains off), compared to last season, and most notably, his free throw attempts and assists are both up. (And since his return from the health and safety protocols, he’s eclipsed his All-NBA numbers, again except for three-point shooting).
If his transition game is getting back on track, then hopefully we’ll see the end of the Siakam slander on the timeline.
4. From the “Never Seen That One Before” Dept., featuring Kevin Love
My favourite segment returns! Kevin Love, WYD!?
I guess, when the official threw Love the ball, Love thought he was tapping it inbounds to Darius Garland? Garland was right there, but presumably had no idea what Love was trying to do. Why would he? This was Cavs possession in a six-point game in the third quarter! Love is supposed to be the smart veteran who’s teaching guys like Garland not to make dumb mistakes like this! I’ve never seen that one before.
5. Feed the Giraffe!
OG Anunoby apparently shocked the world last week by saying he’d never been to a zoo. Although I don’t find this shocking — not everyone has access to a zoo! — if it leads to more hilarity between OG Anunoby and Kate Beirness, then I am all for it.
On the broadcast last night Kate told the audience how, upon confirming with OG that he’d never been to a zoo, she promised to take him (when it was safe to do so), going on to mention how they can feed giraffes — an idea of which OG wanted no part of.
Whether they feed a giraffe or not, we need the adventures of OG and Kate on TV.
With the Washington Wizards losing in OT thanks to our old friend DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors are just one back of the play-in spot. But the schedule is turning against Toronto this week. They’ll need much tighter play to power through their West coast trip and remain in contention.