In a fun scheduling kink, the Toronto Raptors take on the Miami Heat in consecutive games, both in Miami, within the first week of the season. Game one of the series was a tough one — looking back, a three-point loss was a pretty good outcome considering: the Raptors had been down by 24; Scottie Barnes exited during the first half with a sprained ankle; Fred VanVleet played basically the entire second half with five fouls; and the Raptors’ frontcourt depth — that’s right, frontcourt depth — was pretty thin following Christian Koloko’s ejection.
While the final score was that of a one-possession battle, the Raptors looked a step slow and overmatched for most of the game. Tonight, the Raptors have a chance to be the aggressors and take it to Miami. They’ll look to improve their record to 2-2, and beat Miami in a game that could, many months from now, have an impact on playoff seeding.
Likely missing Scottie Barnes and another one or two rotation players, can the Raptors get it done against Jimmy Butler, Erik Spoelstra, and the scrappy Miami Heat? Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet 360, 7:30pm EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa
Miami – Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo
Toronto – Otto Porter Jr. (hamstring – out), Scottie Barnes (ankle – questionable), Chris Boucher (hamstring – questionable)
Miami – Victor Oladipo (knee – out), Caleb Martin (suspension – out), Omer Yurtseven (ankle – out)
A bench in need of Boucher
This season, opposing bench units are beating the Raptors’ bench a combined 92 to 59. Other than Achiuwa, the Raptors’ bench has scored eight, five, and 14 points in the team’s three games respectively. If Chris Boucher is returning to make his season debut tonight — and it sounds like that’s the plan — his mix of energy, shooting, shot-blocking, and knowledge of the defensive system should immediately improve the fortunes of the team’s bench.
With Achiuwa potentially being forced to start due to Barnes’ injury, the team will all the more desperately need Boucher to produce immediately. Other guys haven’t been getting it done — maybe Boucher can set the tone for the rest of the unit. (It’s also possible the Raptors start a different player, like Khem Birch, in order to keep the Boucher-Achiuwa tandem intact off the bench.)
Masked Malachi minutes
Speaking of bench options, the Raptors’ highest-scoring non-Achiuwa bench player this season has been Malachi Flynn versus the Heat with six points. No, that’s not great, but in a season where the Raptors’ bench players have at times been invisible, Flynn looked both comfortable and impactful in limited minutes coming off cheekbone surgery.
While he doesn’t have the wingspan of a six-foot-nine Raptors prototype, the team’s perimeter defense hasn’t looked all that superb with the players who do. I think, as long as the matchup allows it, Flynn gives Nurse the option to play someone whose shooting forces the opposing defense to open up a little bit, while himself possessing enough institutional defensive knowledge and quickness to hold up on that end. Flynn can help alleviate VanVleet’s workload, not only by holding the fort when the 2022 All-Star is sitting, but also by taking on a secondary play-making role in lineups where they’re together.
Three games into the season, nothing is worrisome yet on a performance basis. Something to keep an eye on, though, are O.G.’s struggles offensively. On defense, he’s had some fantastic moments and stretches, including a monster second half versus Cleveland. On offense, though, he’s been iffy, shooting just 30 percent on two-pointers. His threes have been falling (47 percent) and he’s made some nice passes and timely cuts, but on 23 drives this season he’s shooting just two-for-11 with one assist and three turnovers.
One theme this season has been Fred giving up shots so others can create. A lot of those chances have gone to OG, who has really struggled. He's driven the ball 23 times this year, has shot 2-of-11 and has 1 assist vs 3 turnovers.— William Lou (@william_lou) October 23, 2022
Here's most of those drives: pic.twitter.com/g9nja7MJtT
If Scottie Barnes misses time, O.G.’s usage will increase, giving him more room to find a rhythm on offense. Of course, he’ll have to be able to sustain that rhythm once everyone is healthy and the opportunities are scarcer. In the meantime, though, Anunoby’s performance is a particularly big swing factor in the Raptors’ success. Miami will be loading up against Siakam once again with their zone defense, which won’t be pretty to watch. Toronto will have an easier time overcoming the Heat if Anunoby can settle in and attack the hoop with more control, and be consistent with his All-Defense level of play on the other end. It’s early days, right now, and Saturday’s game was the second leg of a back-to-back, so it’s to be expected that not everyone was on their A-game. But sooner or later you’d like to see an uptick in Anunoby’s production.