It’s a little sad how this was one of the more entertaining games from a Raptors fan perspective in a while. Two bottom six teams in early February squaring off typically doesn’t provide much entertainment value, but the Toronto Raptors decided that tonight would be the night to provide their fans with a good half of basketball.
The Raptors improve to a surprising 3-3 on this tough west-coast road trip with a 117-111 win over the Houston Rockets tonight, and we were once again teased with glimpses of why this team should clearly be at least slightly better than they’ve been this season.
It all started way back in the first quarter with another slow start. The Raptors were forced to call a timeout roughly four minutes into the game after shooting 0-6, with three turnovers and a 9-0 deficit.
There have been way to many games where the Raptors have came out the gates completely sluggish. the 2-30 start against the Milwaukee Bucks at the beginning of January immediately jumps to mind.
Tonight, they were able to overcome a terrible start, but the Rockets are one of the few teams in the league that the Raptors are better than. It’s one thing to miss shots, but to simply play with no effort on both ends of the floor creates a terrible product entertainment and basketball wise. This is one of the few teams that I have ever seen to rely so heavily on isolation in so many circumstances, with such a lack of isolation dominant players.
To only be down one at the end of the first quarter was a miracle. If I were to watch that quarter without access to the scoreboard like back in the good ol’ days, I would honestly think that the Raptors were down by 10. I don’t even know how to explain it. It was honestly that terrible of a watch. Easy missed layups, lazy turnovers, watching the Rockets waltz into the paint and put up layups, the perfect game film on how to not play basketball.
Toronto’s one saving grace that quarter was Chris Boucher, who finished the first quarter with 9 points, 4 rebounds and one of his patented 3-point blocks in the corner. He finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks, and the only guy off the Raptors’ bench to score a single point.
A little credit has to go to Christian Koloko and the way he protected the rim and rebounded himself, but the lack of scoring on Toronto’s bench remains a major issue.
Fortunately, on a night like tonight where three starters score 23+, the bench scoring doesn’t matter. One of those rare, rare circumstances...
Fred VanVleet once again lead the way with 32 points, but the most impressive player in my opinion was Gary Trent Jr. He was an absolute flamethrower, scoring 29 points on 10-15 shooting, and an extremely strong second half.
I can’t tell anymore if seeing these players playing well increase their chance to get traded, or stay on the roster. I’m so excited for the trade deadline to pass. I don’t know if this many players on the Raptors have had their names circulated in trade chatter during a trade deadline since Masai Ujiri stepped into the front office.
The Houston Rockets did what many teams do when squaring off against the Raptors, and that’s get the ball into their big. Aleperen Sengun has been having a great sophomore year, and looks to be a fantastic staple for this Rockets rebuild.
Sengun has a lot of Nikola Jokic in his game. And before you get all heated in the comments, I am not comparing the two as complete players. I am comparing their play styles.
Sengun’s footwork in the post, and ability to pass out of a double team is becoming more common, but still extremely rare for a big man. Especially a big man of his age. Houston put a ton of their offense in his hands during the second half, and he took that responsibility and provided. He finished with 21 points, as their second leading scorer behind the annual trade target of Eric Gordon, who ended with 28.
Even though Pascal Siakam didn’t have the all star snub revenge game that I expected, he still played fairly well, and honestly some of his misses impressed me more than his makes. Let me explain.
Whether it’s been due to fatigue or lack of confidence, Siakam has flipped his offensive game from the way he started the season. Part of what made him such a threat offensively for the majority of the year was his confidence in his jump shot, whether that was off the catch or off the dribble.
When Pascal loses his confidence, he begins to turn his back to the basket and rely on his post up a little too much. It’s a great move as a counter, but when it’s your number one option as a scorer, you won’t put up numbers like Pascal did to start the year.
Tonight, even though Siakam missed some three-pointers and mid-range jump shots, the fact that he took them confidently and in rhythm bodes well for this Toronto team. The only way they can win is if Siakam continues to be confident and his early-season self.
The Raptors next leg of this road trip comes in Memphis on Sunday, as they look to enact revenge on the Grizzlies for their second matchup of the year.