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 15: Raptors 107, Knicks 84

New York Knicks at Toronto Raptors Nov 17

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors’ beatdown of the New York Knicks on Friday night:

Injuries gave the Raptors a new look starting lineup

Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Delon Wright all sat this one out. (Delon has a separated shoulder; no timetable for his return yet.) Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby started, and they did not disappoint. Siakam was everywhere, running the floor, moving the ball, even finishing delayed breaks with his left hand! And he guarded Kristaps Porzingis on the other end! (More on this in a minute.) Anunoby was equally impressive, guarding multiple positions and stretching the floor on offense. He somehow amassed a ridiculous +30 (!) in the first half. (Here’s an amazing stat: They ended up 10-10 from two-point range combined, but only went 1-11 from three-point range. In other words: Still lots of room for improvement.)

Kyle Lowry looked like his old self again

Lowry came out aggressive, going 3-4 with 2 assists in the first 8 minutes. (Another great stat: the Raptors assisted on 7 of their first 10 buckets, and 29 of 44 overall; they are so much fun to watch when they’re moving the ball.) Kyle ended up two rebounds shy of a triple-double in 32 minutes; one his 10 assists was a gorgeous alley-oop to DeMar DeRozan on a backdoor cut that brought the crowd to its feet, a play we haven’t seen those two connect on in some time. What’s really comforting, though, is the long-range shooting, which appears to be rounding into form. Lowry went 5-7 from distance, and is now 19-42 (45%) over the last five games.

Dwane Casey only played 11 guys!

Though I’m sure if even one of Wright, Powell and Ibaka were healthy, he’d have gone 12 deep again! A few bench notes: Lucas Nogueira was the first big in, ahead of Jakob Poeltl. Not sure what caused Casey to go that route; if I had to guess, the mobility of Kristaps Porzingis? But Bebe had 3 blocks, 3 boards and 2 alley-oop dunks in his first 7 minutes. (Of course, he also missed a three.) And when Poeltl did get in, he committed 3 fouls in 2 minutes. Yikes. Meanwhile Lorenzo Brown got his first action of the season, after being called up from Raptors 905 to take some of Delon Wright’s minutes. He was solid, playing 18 and while he didn’t score, he did nab 3 boards and 3 assists, and most importantly, didn’t force anything (0 turnovers). CJ Miles played great again, with an impressive 14 points on 3-5 shooting (he shot 6 straight free throws, after being fouled on 3-point attempts, to close out the first quarter) and he actually broke 22 minutes for the first time since October 27. He also added 2 blocks!

Kristaps Porzingies struggled mightily in this one

The unicorn didn’t look very legendary tonight, finishing with just 13 points on 3-13 shooting. I can’t complain; as a Raptors fan, obviously I want him to have his bad games against my team. But still, I was excited (like, nervous excited) to watch him play; he’s been sensational this season, keeping the Knicks afloat. Give credit to Pascal Siakam for some of Pozingis’ struggles; Pascal’s length and quickness really allowed him to stay with KP as he floated out around the 3-point line. But sometimes, even the greats have off nights. (Dare I point out that, despite KP’s off-night, the bigger problem might have been Doug McDermott? McBuckets came in with an 8-0 record against the Raptors! But Toronto held him in check (2-10) and finally managed to snag a W!)

The Raptors won this one by playing D, and by taking advantage of New York’s weaknesses

The Raptors defense was solid throughout, holding the Knicks to 33% shooting and using the aforementioned length of Anunoby and Siakam to stifle any momentum. But on the other end, the Raptors deserve credit for getting out on in transition off those NY misses (26 fast-break points) and for taking advantage of the Knicks lackluster defense (56 points in the point). Even when the Raptors committed sloppy turnovers and the Knicks looked like they might threaten, the Raps would get a stop and drive it into the heart of the defense on the other end, with DeMar DeRozan in particular muscling up tough shots around the rim (he finished 4-8 in the paint, and was fouled on at least two of those shots) . The Knicks may have cut the lead to 10 in the second half but the Raptors locked it down and won going away.

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The Wizards are back in town for another Sunday afternoon game tomorrow. Can the Raptors get up for this one against a full-strength Washington squad?

Five thoughts on Game 13: Raptors 129, Rockets 113

Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets Nov 14

A few quick thoughts from the Toronto Raptors “signature win” of the season, a 129-113 victory over the Rockets  in Houston:

OG Anunoby probably played himself into more minutes

OG Anunoby started for the injured Norman Powell, played 30 minutes (his most of the season), scored 16 points on 6-8 shooting and finished a game-high +22. Dwane Casey doesn’t generally allow injured players to lose their starting spots, but, I wonder if OG might make Casey reconsider. I mean, James Harden is an MVP candidate, but OG held him to 8-25 shooting and frustrated him into 9 turnovers (and several fouls).

The refs were… confused? And the game was a bit out of control

Speaking of fouls, 83 foul shots were taken in this game. PJ Tucker got tossed, Mike D’Antoni lost his shit multiple times, Harden was in foul trouble but still shot 19(!) free throws himself, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combined for 26 FTs… yeah, not super-fun to watch.

Casey went 12 deep again! Even with Norm injured

Sure, Alfonso McKinnie and Lucas Nogeirua only played a combined 7 minutes. But surely those minutes could have gone to Pascal Siakam (19), Jakob Poeltl (14) or, god forbid, CJ Miles (17). Overall the Raptors are continuing a disturbing trend of playing up to the competition, with solid wins against excellent Western conference teams on the road (Portland, Utah, Houston), but blowing games to undermanned teams (Boston, Washington) and nearly blowing it against Chicago. I feel like a more consistent performance will emerge when a more consistent rotation emerges.

CJ Miles is making his case, but is Casey listening?

Miles had his best performance since the first game of the year, going 6-9 from downtown and pouring in 19 points. And yet as noted above, he only played 17 minutes. What does the guy have to do to earn more?

The Raptors three-guard lineup was effective

I am not a fan of playing Lowry, VanVleet and Delon Wright together, but it worked on this night. (I’m not a fan of playing FVV at all, at this point.) This was the unit that lead the scoring binge in the second quarter (45 points) and started off the fourth quarter strong. It may have been Delon’s best game of the year, going 5-5 from the field and playing excellent defense on Eric Gordon down the stretch. You have got to love the length that OG Anunoby and Wright bring to the table; Siakam too. When they lock in, they really are an excellent line of defense on the perimeter.

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The Raptors close out this mini-trip in New Orleans against the Pelicans tonight—their first back-to-back of the season. Even if the Raps drop this one—and the Pellies will be looking for revenge after the Raps beat them last week—the Raptors will have a winning record through 14 games, which is an excellent result considering 9 of those games were on the road (8 of those against the West). Let’s hope they come through with a W either way!

Five thoughts on Game 11: Raptors 122, Pelicans 118

Toronto Raptors at New Orleans Pelicans Nov 9

Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors entertaining victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night:

This Pelicans team reminds me of… the Raptors

They’ve got great players who at times look like throwbacks in today’s NBA. And they’re trying to be a ball-movement-oriented, three-point shooting team. When it works, it looks great! DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are good passers, when they want to be, and can handle the ball, and have range. And overall the Pelicans probably have more shooting than the Raptors do. But when the two bigs combine with starting PG Jrue Holiday to shoot 5-19 from behind the arc, that’s trouble.

The Raptors shot threes in volume

42 three pointers! They only hit 16, although there were some timely ones, especially from Kyle Lowry. But more importantly, I think, was the willingness to let fly. Even if the shots aren’t falling, for the offense to work you have to keep shooting! Within that 42, there are some good signs: Kyle Lowry and CJ Miles, the teams’ two best shooters, shot 18 of them. Over time, they’ll hit more than 6. DeMar DeRozan took 6! The two he made were from the corner, which is a spot I’d like to see him shoot more from. (One he missed was a hilariously all-advised turnaround fadeaway, which had zero chance of hitting). Norman Powell shot 5, which is a good sign his confidence is coming back.

The Raptors big men played as well as they could…

Facing Cousins and Davis is no easy task. Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl were better than most! They held the Pelicans’ twin towers to 38 points on 38 shots, and the Raptors outrebounded the Pelicans 48-38.

… but Jrue Holiday exposed their weaknesses

Ibaka and Valanciunas are not great at guarding in space, and when smaller players drive off a pick-and-roll, they’re often left behind the play, flat footed. Holiday scored 34 on 20 shots, most of those coming at the rim after leaving a Raptors’ big in his wake. Still, if you have to pick your poison, I’ll live with taking away the opponent’s two best weapons and asking their third-best player to beat us.

I think OG Anunoby has solidified his case for more minutes

Dwane Casey played 12 guys again, which is insane to me. (The Pelicans played 8; granted, they have a couple injuries, but still.) OG’s stat line—3-4 from the floor, 1-2 from deep, 8 points, 2 rebounds in 14 minutes—is solid enough. But his defense on Holiday in the fourth quarter was splendid. After torching the Raps for 32 through three quarters, he scored only 2 points on 1-4 shooting in the fourth, and the credit goes to OG for hounding him on the perimeter, forcing pick and rolls to start farther out, using his size and strength to keep Holiday out of the paint. (Fred Van Vleet, by the way, was 1-7 in 14 minutes. I think it’s time, Dwane.)

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The Raptors head out on the road now for a tough three game trip: At Boston, at Houston, and then on to New Orleans for a rematch with the Pelicans.