It didn’t look like we’d be saying anything positive about the Raptors’ defense following an atrocious second quarter — the Raptors gave up 43 points to the Magic, letting them shoot 70% in the frame and getting roasted on backcut after backcut.
But the team buckled down and made the right adjustments at halftime, and held the Magic to — you guessed it — 43 points in the entire second half.
Poeltl, in just his third game back with the Raptors after last week’s trade, scored a game-high 30 points (that’s just one off his career high, and certainly his high as a Raptor) on just 17 shots, and he grabbed 9 boards and blocked 6 shots as well.
Pascal Siakam scored 26 on just 15 shots, and added 6 assists as well; Fred VanVleet had a rough shooting night but notched 15 assists. Chris Boucher added 13 off the bench.
Wendell Carter Jr. scored 26 for the Magic, to go along with 6 boards and 5 assists; Jalen Suggs scored 24 off the bench. Rookie Paolo Banchero scored 13, and contended with solid defense from Precious Achiuwa all evening.
The second quarter looked like it would be a disastrous one. Leading by 8 to start the frame, the Raptors let sophomore Suggs get going right off the bat; he scored 10 points in the first 2.5 minutes to cut Toronto’s lead to 41-39. He was also hounding Siakam at the other end, a level of effort the Raptors were either unwilling or unable to duplicate on defies.
Soon enough, a Franz Wagner three gave the Magic their first lead, 47-46, since the opening minutes.
The Raptors finally got the transition game going and Poeltl and Dalano Banton scored on back-to-back layups to push the lead to 57-54, but back-to back threes from Carter and Suggs, and a dunk from Suggs, bushed the Magic back on top.
Back-to-back threes from VanVleet and Achiuwa kept the score tight… but then Freddy biffed a 2-for-1 opportunity at the end of the second. And I mean, really biffed it.
After Banchero scored on a fadeaway, the Raptors inbounded the ball with 36 seconds to go in the half. Only in attempting to roll the ball up to preserve, VanVleet accidentally kicked it — right to Carter. Fultz was fouled on the ensuing scramble by Poeltl; he hit both freebies, and although the Raptors scored on the next possession, the 2-for-1 advantage — now 3-for-1, really — went to the Magic. Suggs scored on a drive before the buzzer, giving Orlando a 70-65 halftime lead.
If you’re keeping track at home, not only did the Raptors give up 43 points to the Magic in the second (43!!), they were outscored by 13! Suggs was a menace, scoring 14 in the frame, on just six shots. What was the difference? Well, taking care of the ball, for one; the Raptors coughed up 8 turnovers in the frame (to just three for Orlando), and with the defense on its heels, also fouled a lot more — the Magic took 11 free throws to Toronto’s 3.
But make no mistake — the Raptors’ defense was atrocious in the frame. The Mac were simply active on O, moving and cutting, and the Raptors were caught flat-footed over and over.
jak’s gonna help fix the defense in time but the starting point is somewhere in the middle of the earth’s mantle so it may be a while til he digs them out— Sean Woodley (@woodleysean) February 15, 2023
Thankfully, the team adjusted at the half; Nurse mentioned post-game that although he thought the Raptors played solid D for many of those possessions, it was closing them that was the problem — as soon as the Raptors got the Magic late in the clock, Orlando started cutting and the Raptors just kept losing them. But things turned around in the third.
Poeltl, who had his hands all over this game, too the ball at the elbow on the first possession of the third, then handed off and screened for VanVleet, who scored from downtown.
Nurse said he thought Poeltl looked a little nervous in his first game, but more settled in the second — and he looked even better on this night.
“We’ve still got to get used to him catching at the elbow, in the high post, and get some more cuts to the rim,” Nurse said, but added that Poeltl’s rolling was huge. “They wanted to put multiple guys on Fred and Pascal and eveytime they hit him, something good happened,’ Nurse said.
Later in the third, Achiuwa had a sensational block on Paolo Banchero — one of 10 Raptors blocks in the second half. Poeltl then scored on a roll from VanVleet, finally giving the Raptors the lead back at 74-73. A couple Barnes FTs and a Siakam three out of a busted play later, followed by another Magic turnover and a Poeltl putback, and the Raptors had regained their 8-point lead — and they’d never give it back again.
Somewhere in there, though, Markelle Fultz did this to Precious Achiuwa, which should simply be noted for the record:
The Raptors entered the fourth up 94-89, and that was as close as Orlando would get the rest of the night. Siakam kept cooking from the midrange, where he used simple shoulder bumps to create space for that soft-touch jumper of his — a DeRozan-esque move that looks smoother and smoother every time he tries it.
A spectacular Poeltl block on a Mo Wagner dunk attempt ignited the crowd halfway through the frame, and then Chris Boucher blocked a Bol Bol three-pointer in all-time battle of limbs.
Offensively, and Siakam kept on coming, draining two more jumpers to finally give the raptors a double-digit lead, 107-96. The Raptors’ defense was its best self in the fourth, forcing a couple of shot clock violations and near-violations; it was almost — almost! — like the scrambling defense of old. It wasn’t always great, but it was enough for the Raptors offense to maintain a healthy enough lead until the final seconds.
Fittingly, it was Poeltl who stuck in the final dagger, scoring an acrobatic layup off a slipped screen and beauty dish from Siakam that put the Raptors up 114-103 with three minutes to play.
A Scottie Barnes and-1 two possessions later left no doubt.
The game started out with both teams on fire, trading buckets. Siakam lost Harris on the opening Magic possession, giving up a corner three — but got it back on the ensuing possession when he hit his own triple from the corner. On the next play, Poeltl got blown by by Carter Jr… then got a dunk when Scottie Barnes beat Franz Wagner’s pressure downcourt on the next possession.
When Scottie Barnes found Siakam on a 2-1 fast break the Raptors pushed the lead to 7, their largest, and the Magic called for time
Thad Young scored on a drive, breaking Mo Wagner’s ankles along the way with a behind the back change of direction— and the Raps finished the quarter on a beautiful fast break drive where Fred VanVleet found Chris Boucher for the alley-oop and-1 with 1.5 seconds to play. That gave the Raptors a 35-27 lead after 1.
Ultimately the Raptors assisted on 13 of 16 made field goals in the opening frame. Poeltl clearly has a lot to do with that; even though he only had 1 dime of his own in the frame, he’s a smart passer and an outlet in all kinds of screen and drive actions.
This game showcased just how effective Poeltl can be in multiple areas of the game, and if the Raptors can just clean up their too-often lax defense, especially when Poeltl sits, and get a healthy Gary Trent and O.G. Anunoby back after the All-Star break... they might just be in good shape to make a run!