Five thoughts on Game 23: Raptors 116, Grizzlies 107

Toronto Raptors at Memphis Grizzlies, December 8 2017

The Toronto Raptors went into Memphis and beat the Grizzlies last night, their fifth straight win. I missed the game unfortunately, and so I found myself living vicariously through my Twitter timeline, well after the final buzzer had sounded.

Fortunately, my Raptors Twitter feed has become on my favourite parts of following the team. With that in mind I thought I’d try and replicate the experience for you, with a few fun, smart, hilarious moments from my Raptors Twitter feed last night.

Things got off to a slow start with a way-too-easy Ben Macklemore joke

Blake Murphy provides injury- and lineup-related notes before every game, and he dropped this total groaner before tip-off:

Of course, Macklemore sold it by playing his ass off in the first half, giving us equally eye-rolling Eric Koreen response:

Macklemore finished 3-5 for 10 points in 10 minutes in the half.

Of course, he also blew a 360-dunk:

Bad jokes, terrible dunk attempt… in the end I’d say it’s a wash.

Getting the “reaction preview” from Twitter before the video hits

First, there’s this, from Eric:

Then there’s Blake’s reaction:

And finally the video from the Raptors:

That’s a hell of a dunk. OG played 34 minutes, scored 8 points and had no rebounds and no assists. But it sounds like his impact came on the defensive end, and not in the stat sheet (though he did have two steals):

The Toronto Raptors bench has impressed the Twitterati

That kinda love isn’t just reserved for OG; Twitter adores the Raptors bench. Last night, after struggling in the first half, the bench settled things down in the fourth and helped the Raptors finally take the lead.

Fred VanVleet is… The Closer

VanVleet played the final 15 minutes. They were down by one when he came back in, and finished +9. He went 3-6 from deep and finished with 12 points.

This extraordinary ‘90s-tinged exchange between Blake and Eric

Who knew Bush would tear these two apart:

The best part is, it led to this in Blake’s recap at Raptors Republic (which you should read for an actual recap of this game):

Blake Murphy Toronto Raptors Memphis Grizzlies recap w/Bush

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And there you have it. The bench found its way in the second half, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were solid, Serge Ibaka had another great shooting night and the Raps managed to put the Grizzlies away in the end.

I’m always bummed when I miss a game, but I’m grateful to have Blake, Eric, Doug, Holly and the rest of Raptors Twitter to provide an entertaining play by play…

…but of course, some things really can’t make up for watching a broadcast.

What you really miss when you miss a game is the game beyond the game, you know?

Five thoughts on Game 22: Raptors 120, Pacers 115

Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors, Dec 1

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!

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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!

Five thoughts on Game 19: Raptors 112, Hawks 78

Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks, Nov 25

A few thoughts from the Toronto Raptors blowout victory over the Hawks in Atlanta on Saturday night:

Early on, it was clear both teams were on a back-to-back

It was a slow, sloppy first quarter as both teams tried to find their legs after playing the night before. Each team had 6 turnovers in the opening frame, and yet neither team converted any of those turnovers into a single fast-break point; that’s the very definition of sloppy! For the Raps, it was clear they wanted to get their big guys going. Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka combined for 9 shots early, and Jakob Poeltl came in and added three more; that’s 12 of the Raps’ 20 shots in the quarter. I appreciated that the Raps were trying to establish JV, as he struggled on Friday night, but I think he may have been pressing too hard—he had 3 of those 6 turnovers.

The bench dominated the second quarter

The Raps were without CJ Miles again, but it didn’t matter on this night. The Raptors all-bench unit (Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Lorenzo Brown, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam blew the Hawks out of the air in the second quarter, opening the frame on a 21-3 run. Fred VanVleet had another solid game; he’s really settled into his role now, and I have to respect that, after he struggled earlier in the year. The Hawks added 6 more turnovers in the quarter—Norm and Pascal each had 2 steals—and the Raptors turned them into 13 fast break points. Pascal, Norm and Poeltl combined for 38 points in the half, and the Raps turned a 3-point first quarter lead into a 28-point(!) halftime lead.

The Raps didn’t come out sloppy in the third

After getting killed in the previous two third quarters, and with a healthy lead already in this one, I suspected the Raps would go into a lull and let the Hawks back in it. Instead, they buckled down and didn’t let the Hawks catch their breath. Once again the Raps chose to feed JV, and he settled in and scored 12 in the quarter, on 5-6 shooting. The Raptors were +13 in the quarter, and that meant the starters could rest the entire fourth—a much-needed respite for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (each played less than 28 minutes). DeMar had another rough night so hopefully the rest will do him good!

Marco Belinelli is wasted on this Hawks team

Jack and Matt opined on former Raptor Marco Belinelli in the first quarter, and about how he could help a winning team. As he drained two threes I couldn’t help but envision him back in a Raptors uniform and I thought: I’d trade Lucas Nogueira for him in a heartbeat. Bebe still has potential and could use lots of playing time on a bad time to develop it. The Raps need more three-point shooters (and fewer centers). Makes sense! But I actually went to the trade machine to try this out – doesn’t work, unless you also throw Bruno Caboclo in too. I might still do it! Maybe.

That was a bogus flagrant on Jonas Valanciunas

The refs stopped play (in the middle of a possession) to review another “body control” situation—this time, JV caught Dewayne Dedmon with an elbow on the previous play. It was dumb enough to stop play—Jonas was gathering into his shooting motion when he was stripped of the ball, and his momentum kept his arms moving in an upward motion, and Dedmon stuck his face in. But not only did they stop play—they assessed him a flagrant 1! What a ridiculous call. Especially in the third quarter of a 30-point blowout.

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Overall it was an unsuccessful and unsatisfying 1-2 road trip for the Raptors. They don’t play again until Wednesday, the first of three in a row at home—here’s hoping they come out of that stretch better than 1-2!

 

Five thoughts on Game 16: Raptors 100, Wizards 91

Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors Nov 19

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors taking down the shorthanded Washington Wizards 100-91 on Sunday afternoon:

It was bombs away for the Raptors, right from the opening tip (and I love it)

The Raptors shot 8 three-pointers in the first 5:10. Sure, they only hit 1 (and finished 3-12 in the quarter, and 10-39 for the game), but I love the dedication to the three. The percentage is ugly, but as I’ve said before, they need to remain consistent in their attempts; they’ll fall, and for now they’ll keep the defense honest. The other great thing about it was just how many Raptors got involved in shooting them; 6 players had four or more attempts.

The Wizards’ three-pointers kept them in the game

Washington shot 11-19 for the game, and it seemed like every time the Raptors looked like they were gonna pull away, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris or Otto Porter canned one from deep. The Raptors did put the clamps down on the perimeter in the fourth though; they held the Wizards to just 1-4 from distance in the final frame.

It looked like Bradley Beal was going to bury the Raptors in the first half.

Beal had 23 points in the first half, and was generating offense inside (2-5 in the paint) and outside (4-6 from 3-pt range). But the Raptors switched things up in the second half, sticking closer to him on screens and forcing him to the outside, rather than the middle. He went 2-8 in the second half, and scored only four points—none in the fourth quarter. Various Raptors guarded him down the stretch, including Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and even Fred VanVleet, and they all deserve credit.

Bebe is the favored backup centre again, it seems

Lucas Nogueira was the first big off the bench again, and he played well in his 14 minutes, putting down three alley-oops and adding a block. Jakob Poeltl has remained ready though, and he added 4 boards and 5 points in 10 minutes, including a nice putback of an offensive rebound where he quickly went straight back up without bringing the ball down to gather (a young big man mistake; it’s possible he’s learning from Jonas Valanciunas, who has become a master at the quick putback, as seen in the first half of this game). Ultimately though, the Raptors went with Serge Ibaka at the 5 and Pascal Siakam at the 4 down the stretch. I’m not sure what prompted Dwane Casey to stick with Ibaka against Marcin Gortat (Siakam was having a stellar game and deserved the minutes) but it worked, as Gortat went 0-2 in the fourth quarter and the Raptors never trailed in the quarter.

Fred VanVleet giveth, and Fred VanVleet taketh away

I suspect I’m being too hard on Fred VanVleet overall. I should probably just chill; the kid is playing just fine in his role. But still. He has this amazing habit of doing something that makes me grit my teeth in frustration, then following it up with a positive play that makes me pump my fist—or vice-versa. To wit, after Kyle Lowry picked up his third foul with 3 minutes left in the first half and had to sit down, FVV came in and drove into the heart of the D, and kicked it out to DeRozan for a three. He then missed two wide open threes on the next possession. Or how about the fourth quarter? Casey stuck with FVV all the way down the stretch, including with Kyle and DeMar in a three-guard lineup. At one point, FVV hit a three, and on the next possession drove with nowhere to go and turned it over. He then forced a pass on the break when he had an open look, turning it over again; but two plays later he drove, spun and hit CJ Miles in the corner for an and-1 3! To cap it all off, with under two minutes to play, the much taller Markieff Morris buried a three over FVV’s outstretched arms (after a solid defensive possession, I must say); FVV came back the other way and answered with a three of his own. He giveth, taketh away, and giveth again.

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Overall, this was an extremely entertaining game. We even got another Lowry-to-DeRozan backcut alley-oop! That’s 3 wins in a row and 6 of 7. Can they keep it going Wednesday night in New York?

Five thoughts on Game 9: Wizards 107, Raptors 96

Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors Nov 5

Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors predictably dropping their homecoming game to the Washington Wizards on Sunday night:

The Raptors were at full strength, and the Wizards weren’t… for a few minutes, anyway.

The Wizards’ John Wall, their top player, was on the shelf with a shoulder sprain; meanwhile the Raptors welcomed back CJ Miles from his stomach bug. You’d think the Raps would be at an advantage, but Kyle Lowry decided to even the matchup by getting tossed in the second quarter after picking up two technical fouls for arguing calls. You can definitely make the case that the young ref, JB DeRosa, should have had more patience with Lowry—they were about the two fastest techs I’ve ever seen, and definitely not for the worst arguing I’ve ever seen. But, he decided to flex his muscles and Lowry was done. (One of the veteran officials made it up to the Raps a little by tagging the Wizards’ Markieff Morris with a non-deserving tech two plays later).

Regardless of depth, the Wizards ran the Raptors off the court for the first 2.5 quarters

The Raptors were behind right out of the gate and it looked like a repeat of the Denver game, only this time at home, without the road or the altitude to blame. It was definitely a case of “we’re just happy to be home” as the Wizards took it to them; the Raptors were down 15 after 6 minutes, missing everything short, including free throws (6-13 in the first quarter) and getting beaten flat-footed on defense. Meanwhile the Wizards were running, hounding the Raptors’ guards and pounding the glass, and showing a ton more energy. In the first quarter they forced four turnovers that led to 10 fast-break points, and had three offensive rebounds that led to 8 second chance points.

Pet peeve alert: Dwane Casey, always late with the timeouts

I know I’m not an NBA coach so it’s easy for me to sit here and judge from my couch. But Dwane Casey always seems to be consistently one or two plays late when calling timeouts when the other team grabs momentum. And he used to work for Rick Carlisle, who’s one of the best! I think he needs to buy Gregg Popovich a bottle of wine and get Pop’s tips, because Pop’s the master of the momentum-stopping timeout.

The Raptors bench got them back in it, but Casey took it away from them

Speaking of Casey, I have to question his lineups down the stretch. The bench brought the Raptors all the way back in this one, with Fred Van Vleet leading the charge. FVV looked to be essentially out of the lineup, and deservedly so, after his poor performance so far this season. But with Lowry tossed, VanVleet got a second chance, and he made the most of it. He finished with 10 points on 5-7 shooting, and had a 6-0 run to close the third quarter and cut the Wizards’ lead to 8. Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Lucas Nogueira were all contributing on both ends, providing much needed energy and lift, enough to cut the Wizards’ 19-point lead all the way down to 3. But Casey chose to go with Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka down the stretch, and they promptly threw the game away, giving up a 12-2 run and sealing it for the Wiz. Shame on Casey for that one; his bench earned the right to close that game and win or lose it themselves.

I’m not sure how I feel about this Wizards team

On the one hand, they’ve developed a couple young projects into legit solid NBA players—namely, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre. That’s what the Raptors are trying to do with their young guns. And you can’t help but be impressed by Wall and Bradley Beal; Beal is very much an evolutionary DeMar DeRozan. He doesn’t have DeMar’s strength and doesn’t get to the line as much, but he’s got great footwork, can get what he wants from the midrange, and he has the 3-point shot that DeMar is missing. But this Wizards team plays dirty. Watch for the little shoves in the back, the jersey grabs and the elbow hooks on rebounds. Look out for the elbows and nudges when going through the lane. And how Marcin Gortat doesn’t get called for jamming out his hip on every screen he sets, I don’t know.

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Well it’s a disappointing result but one pretty much everyone saw coming. Thankfully, the 2-6 Bulls are here again Tuesday night, which should give the Raptors an opportunity to bounce back.