After two sluggish performances on the road, the Toronto Raptors got off to the hot start they needed at home against he Orlando Magic, jumping out to a quick 11-point and eventually beating the Magic 121-108 in a game they never trailed.
It was an impressive turnaround after those two losses in which the Raptors looked disorganized on offense and often disinterested on defense.
Of course, it was against the now 5-19 Orlando Magic, so it’s hard to make too much of it — but a win is a win and it was a much-needed one.
O.G. Anunoby, who had a sensational game on both ends of the floor, led all scorers with 32 points. Pascal Siakam added 26 points, 8 rebounds and 12 assists, while Scottie Barnes had a 17-14 double-double.
Terrence Ross and Bol Bol led the Magic with 18 apiece; Ross hit all seven of his filed goal attempts. Bol chipped in 6 boards as well.
Before the game, Nick Nurse said the mood in the locker room after the two losses was good, but that the team knows what’s happened the last two games was “unacceptable around here.”
He said some of the group was gathering other guys together, to talk about getting off to better starts, as no one was happy with the way they’re playing.
Kayla Grey reported on the broadcast that the Raptors did indeed have the dreaded “player’s only meeting” — though perhaps “get-together” was more accurate — but coach Nurse didn’t sound overly concerned. And it only took a few minutes to realize there was no reason to worry — not about the Magic, at least.
Christian Koloko was a bit of a surprise starter after he struggled in his opening minutes against the Brooklyn Nets last night — but again, the Magic are not the Nets. The rookie opened the game with a dunk off a sweet dish from Anunoby, and blocked a Moe Wagner shot on the Magic’s next possession — which, unfortunately, fell victim to the rookie touch foul bias. If it wasn’t 30 seconds into the game, it might have warranted a challenge!
That was just the start of the energy the Raptors had early in this one. Barnes hit Anunoby with a dime under the hoop to give Toronto a 6-3 lead, and Pascal Siakam put Bol Bol in the blender on the next possession to push it to 5.
After a Franz Wagner drive, Barnes scored in a baby hook, then Siakam forced Bol Bol into a turnover that led to a Fred-to-Koloko alley-oop the other way — and the Magic called for time. After the TO, another Barnes baby hook and an Anunoby dunk pushed it to 16-5.
Safe to say — that better start was realized! Of those starts Nurse said it’s as simple as executing better on both ends, and that the team can obviously do it — he pointed to the team’s two previous wins, over the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers, as proof of that. This game’s start was much more in line with those two wins than the losses against the Nets and Pelicans.
Nurse also said that although the problems at the start are evident at both ends, lately it’s been starting on O. “Our offense has been putting the defense into a bind,” Nurse said, with the lack of offensive rhythm and energy putting the team into poorer shots, which leads to fewer offensive rebounding opportunities, and opportunities for the opposition to get into their own sets better.
That’s exactly what the team did — work the offence until they found a rhythm, and just kept working it.
A Siakam and-1 pushed it to 11, 27-16, with four minutes to play; that particular bucket moved him into fifth on the Raptors’ all-time scoring list. After the game, Nurse said that he didn’t envision Siakam reaching this level with the Raptors when they drafted him, and credited Siakam’s hunger to play better and get better as the reason’s he’s become as good as he has — and that, as seen at the start of the year, there’s still another level that Pascal is striving for, and can get to.
Anunoby and Barnes would both score in the final minute of the frame, giving the Raptors a 36-22 lead after one quarter. Anunoby scored 13 in the quarter to pace the Raptors, who shot 15-for-21 from the floor and had nine assists in the first quarter.
After the game, Nurse said called out the ball movement and assists specifically, saying they need to get the ball moving, get into better shots, and get bodies moving, and make better cuts — and he thought they did that tonight.
Anunoby continued his assault in the second, scoring five points in the first three minutes as the Raptors pushed their lead to 16. But a Cole Anthony and-1 and a Markelle Fultz strip-steal and bucket the other way, followed by an Anthony three, cut lead to 8, 42-34.
But what do you do when you need a run stopped? You call O.G.! He got another dunk off a VanVleet dish, then stole a pass and made a sweet dish of his own to Dalano Banton for a layup. O.G. shot 9-for-10 from the floor and 3-for-3 from the line in the first half, and dished three assists! Better start indeed.
Fred VanVleet finally got on the board midway through the second with a corner three that pushed the Raptors’ lead to 17; Gary Trent Jr also got on the board two minutes later with a three of his own. The Raptors finished the quarter +2 and led 64-48 at halftime.
Bol Bol led the Magic in scoring with 11 points in the first half, on 5-for-5 shooting. In my game thread, I mentioned that watching Bol should be a big part of the draw in watching tonight’s game, period, and Bol didn’t disappoint!
Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley praised Bol pregame, saying he has a high basketball IQ and does a good job working with the coaches to identify his areas of improvement on both ends. Mosley said Bol has “tons to improve” still, but he’s making progress in all of it — ballhandling, shooting, playmaking, boxing out, and finishing possessions.
Bol had one turnover early, then got posterized by Scottie Barnes a couple plays later. But all those things above? They were all on display. Bol a nice drive to score over Barnes to get his fist bucket, then scored again on the Magic’s next possession off a sweet cut and dish from Cole Anthony. He then trapped Chris Boucher under the basket on the next possession, forcing the Raptors’ big man into a travel.
You can see a lot of Boucher in Bol — not just because of the height and, uh, slimness, but the energy and activity around the rim. In the second, Bol cleaned up a Paolo Banchero miss, using his length to pluck a loose ball out of the air and lay it in. He also channeled his inner Boucher and blocked a three pointer! Sure, it was Fred VanVLeet and Bol has approximately three feet on little Freddy, but still!
(Hilariously, before the game Nick nurse said that when facing a long, tall team like the Magic or Cavs, the key is to find the right matchups — you don’t want your short guys taking on their tall long guys one-on-one. Oops!)
Shortly after this sequence, Bol led a break off a Siakam miss in the paint, and took the ball coast to coast — and rammed it home one handed over Koloko. It was a heck of a highlight!
But perhaps Bol’s signature highlight was early in the third; Barnes stole the ball from Markelle Fultz, and found Anunoby ahead of the D the other way. But Anunoby tried to get fancy with it, spinning as he rose up to dunk home a 360. All that did was give Bol time to get back and swat it away!
After the game, Scottie Barnes said maybe O.G. “wanted some style points” on the play, and feigned disappointment that he didn’t get the assist.
The Raptors started their second half much as they did in the first — on fire, and all over the place. A Freddy three and a Koloko jam ran the Raptors’ lead up to 21 in the opening minute of the third. The Raptors steadily poured it on, eventually leading by as many as 33; the defense was definitely the catalyst in the third, as the Raptors forced 4 turnovers in the first six minutes of the period.
Unfortunately, when Nick Nurse went to his deep bench and trotted out a three-guard lineup featuring Trent, Banton and Malachi Flynn, the Magic went on a 12-0 run to cut the lead to 21 heading into the fourth.
Of course, the tightened deficit gave Nick Nurse the excuse he needed to put Anunoby back in, who at the time was sitting at 32 points — four off tying his career high.
Smart move by Nurse, taking out his starters early and put the players that he doesn't really want to play. This way, the Magic can get close and he'll have a reason to put Anunoby back.— JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants) December 4, 2022
VanVleet and Barnes subbed in for Banton and Flynn to start the fourth, and they kept the Raptors steady until Anunoby and Siakam came back — but the Magic kept coming! A three pointer from Caleb Houstan and two from Ross got Orlando as close as 17 with five-and-a-half minutes to go. Fortunately for the Raptors — and unfortunately for Anunoby — the Magic ran out of time, and Nurse pulled his starters with four minutes to go.
Of Anunoby’s big effort — particularly his play in the paint — coach Nick Nurse said, “I like it when he goes down there and dunks it.” Nurse said Anunoby has both a lot of power, a lot of bounce, and the balance and composure to stay in control and go up with a good shot.
“As long as you go straight up,” Nurse clarified, with a big smile, referring to Bol’s block of Anunoby’s 360.
"He turned too slow on that. Speed rate on the circle's gotta be quicker." - Nick Nurse on O.G.'s missed 360.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) December 4, 2022
Anunoby, for his part, said he had no regrets about the attempt; “I’ve made it before,” he said, before giving Bol credit for making a great play.
The other player I mentioned in the game thread was rookie Paolo Banchero, as someone whose game I wanted to see live. Before the game, Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said that against a long, athletic team like the Raptors, the Magic needed the Banchero to do “a little bit of everything,” specifically citing Banchero’s ability to get to the rim and to the line as key in a matchcup like this.
Unfortunately for coach Mosley — and for anyone hoping to get a glimpse of what prompted the Magic to take Banchero first overall in last summer’s NBA Draft — Banchero didn’t do much of anything tonight. I’ll give credit to the Raptors here — Banchero is having a sensational season, and or them to hold the rookie to 9 points on 2-of-8 shooting, three boards and three assists.
Banchero's streak of games with 15+ points ends at 16. Raptors held the rook to 9 pts on 2/8 FG.— Eric Smith (@Eric__Smith) December 4, 2022
Siakam give the rook the business on more than one occasion, including hitting a high arcing fadeaway over him midway through the third (to be fair, Banchero actually played solid D here!). But Anunoby the Raptors’ defense held him completely in check. He’ll have his chance to adjust his game soon enough, as the Raptors and Magic will face off twice more in the next eight days.
One game note, Juancho Hernangomez sprained his ankle in the first half; x-rays were negative, and he’ll be day-to-day.
The Raptors are back at it when they host the Celtics on Monday.