The Toronto Raptors had an opportunity to get a much-needed win against a shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers team tonight — and they took full advantage. Fuelled by a big 31-16 second quarter, the Raptors cruised to a 126-113 victory.
The Lakers were missing three starters, as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Patrick Beverley each sat this one out. When Herbie Kuhn announced the inactive players and James and Davis’ names appeared on the jumbotron, there were more than a few boos in the building. I was disappointed too! I wanted to see LeBron! But the dude is almost as old as I am — I don’t wanna work on back to back days either! I can’t blame him for wanting a night off. And you know he wasn’t skipping last night’s game against the Cavs, so Raptors fans unfortunately got the short stick.
Without those three, the Lakers were a shell of themselves, and the Raptors jumped on them early.
Pascal Siakam stuffed the stat sheet with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. Fred VanVleet, who got the entire fourth quarter off, had 25 points and 7 assists. Scottie Barnes chipped in 13 points and a career-high-tying 17 rebounds.
Denis Schorder paced the Lakers with 18 points; Russell Westbrook scored 16 off the bench with 9 rebounds and 3 assists. Thomas Bryant may well have been the best Laker on the floor; he scored 16, got to the line 10 times, and seemed to be the only Laker giving a crap on defense.
After the game, VanVleet said he and the team just wanted to be aggressive from the hump, get into the paint and do what they were supposed to do against the shorthanded Lakers. “I’m happy with our effort and intensity,” he said.
Of VanVleet, Chris Boucher said, “he’s the head of the snake, we go as far as he goes — him and Pascal. When they’ve aggressive we’re at our best.”
VanVleet opened the scoring with a three — a much-needed one, for him. Siakam had a three and an and-1 on a spicy spin as the Raptors opened on an 11-0 run. That prompted Lakers coach Darvin Ham to bring Russell Westbrook in off the bench after just 2 minutes and 20 seconds, and LA immediately went on a 10-4 run (though Russ bricked his only shot, a corner three, off the side of the backboard, much to the crowd’s apparent delight).
Still, the first belonged to the Raptors — and Fred VanVleet. The Raptors seemed set on attacking Austin Reaves, with Freddy leading the charge. The Raptors ran the VanVleet-Siakam pick-and-roll — something they usually save for late game situations or, ah, stiffer competition — with Reaves guarding Freddy, and allowing either Siakam or FVV to go at him. The pair combined for 21 points in the frame, as the Raptors hung 39 on the Lakers — while giving up 31.
Chris Boucher came off the bench to drop seven points in the quarter, including two sweet midrange jumpers against the Lakers’ zone D.
Of Boucher, who finished with 16 points and 7 boards, Nick Nurse said after the game that the forward’s contribution is is important for the team, especially when the main guys aren’t hitting. “He’s all over the glass, his energy was super good, and he made some solid moves and got some good buckets,” Nurse said. Of Chris’ execution against the zone, Nick was particularly impressed. “Chris flashing in there at the nail is an option” against the zone, Nurse said, and Boucher made some tough ones.
Nurse said that the team knows Boucher can hit the three, and the offensive glass, so “the midrangers are the icing on the cake.”
For his part, Boucher said that the team is seeing a lot of zone lately, and that teams are learning how to play against him — taking the three away, taking driving lanes away. As a result, he said, he’s “working in the midrange so I can take that shot when it’s given.” Success achieved, in this one!
Boucher also added that the team is still figuring out how to play together, with guys coming in and out of the lineup; Trent moving to the bench was also an adjustment, and Boucher says they’re learning to play with one another, and how and where to bring the energy.
The second quarter started out as a brickfest, one that threatened to put the subdued crowd to sleep. The Raptors’ D looked much sharper than in the first — they were more looked in, and were hustling back in transition — forcing the Lakers into a 2-for-9 start and two turnovers in the first six minutes of the frame.
But the Raptors were even colder from the floor; starting the frame 2-for-14 from the field. And these were not terrible looks either! The Lakers were playing zone, and the Raptors were moving the ball well — the shots just weren’t dropping. Story of this team’s life, right? After the game, Nurse said that he was happy with the execution against the zone — “we were producing we just weren’t hitting,” he said.
A Fred VanVleet three — his 11th attempt of the night — at the 4:15 mark of the second gave the Raptors their double-digit lead back, and after two FVV free throws, a Siakam putback, and a Trent midrange J, an OG slam, and a VanVleet floater, the Raptors were suddenly up 21.
It took a Lonnie Walker three just before halftime for the Lakers to stop a 24-3 Raptors run. Toronto led 70-47 at the half, with Siakam (16-7-3) and VanVleet 18 points, five assists) leading the way.
Nurse was particularly pleased with the run to end the half, especially on the defensive end; he praised the team for 15 out of 16 stops during the run.
The third quarter started almost as slowly as the second, as the turnovers and fouls mounted and the crowd couldn’t wake up from its halftime nap. It took the raptors a couple minutes to try and use their size advantage, but Scottie Barnes scored on back to back plays in the post to help settle things down.
No Laker put much of a mark on the third, although Austin Reaves scored six straight points before Siakam put him back in the blender for a nice two. Siakam finished the frame with six points and three rebounds.
Late threes from O.G and VanVleet, plus a sweet little Freddy fadeaway, helped the Raptors keep the lead at 22 heading into the fourth.
The Raptors opened the fourth quarter on a 7-run to push the lead to 24, and from there it was just a matter of time. The Lakers made some headway against the Raptors’ bench and closed to as many as 13, but could get no closer as time ran out.
The Raptors have an opportunity to get a couple more wins as they face the lowly Orland o Magic twice this weekend.