A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors winning their third straight game, an entertaining—if at times frustrating—affair against the Indiana Pacers.
The first quarter is the new third quarter
You might walk away from last night’s game thinking, oh, the Raptors were better in the third quarter at least! And they were! But all the same problems that plagued the starters in recent third quarters plagued them in the first quarter last night. The Pacers went on a 14-0 run at one point, and it was the same lackadaisical play from the starters that fueled it. Dwane Casey went to the bench, bringing in Jakob Poeltl, then CJ Miles, then Pascal Siakam… the run continued. Until Fred VanVleet came in.
I’m eating all the crow on Fred VanVleet
He’s been awesome. Your traditional stats don’t tell the whole story; he’s averaging 5.8 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists on the season. But he leads the league in Net Rating at 20.4, which indicates the Raptors outscore their opponents by 20.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. Pretty good! I was tough on FVV to start the year but he’s turned it around completely, and has become the stabilizing force for the team off the bench. For more, check out Blake Murphy and Eric Koreen for their recent takes on Fred VanVleet.
Victor Oladipo went off on the Raps… but guess who slowed down in the fourth?
Oladipo is finally showing everyone that the potential he flashed in college is for real. (He was clearly wasted on the Russell Westbrook Thunder last year.) He’s averaging 23-5-4 on 48% shooting (43% from three) and has led the Pacers to their surprising early start (12-11 after last night). He looked unstoppable last night, torching the Raps for 20 in the first half on 9-12 shooting. He added 11 more in the third but was finally slowed in the fourth (he had five points on 0-4 shooting, 5-6 from the line); guess who guarded him for stretches in that fourth? Yep, Fred VanVleet.
Sometimes it’s nice to put teams away, but drama is fun too
Even though I never felt the Raptors were in danger in this one, the Pacers managed to keep it interesting down the stretch, getting to within five with two minutes left. A poor stretch by Serge Ibaka—a missed jumper and two bobbled balls—gave the Pacers hope, but the Raps closed it out on the free throw line. On the one hand, it’s more fun to watch that than say, a blowout like the Hawks win; but on the other, you’d like the Raps to play a little more evenly in the final minutes.
This an important stretch for the Raptors
Their next eight games are against opponents with sub.-500 records, including 2 each against Phoenix and Sacramento. This is a great opportunity for the Raptors to both make a move in the standings and fix some of their nagging problems (namely, the inconsistent play of the starting unit). Five of those games are on the road, though, including a 4-game west coast swing. I’d really like to see a 7-1 record coming out of it!
Next up for the Raptors—after a nice three-day rest first— it’s our old friend Jay Triano (former Raptors and team Canada coach) and the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night!