Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 104-95 win over the Orlando Magic.
One — Gut check: The Magic are a tough out, and this was a good test for the Raptors early in the season. Toronto came out guns blazing on throwback night, but Orlando refused to surrender. The Magic were stubborn on defense, as all Steve Clifford teams are, and the Raptors nearly choked the game away as Orlando pulled ahead on a 13-0 run. But when the Raptors needed it most, they found the weakness in Orlando’s defense, and they came away with the win.
Two — Clutch adjustment: Clifford bit the bullet and benched his $100-million center Nik Vucevic for the fourth quarter, as the Montenegrin was once again neutralized by Marc Gasol. Clifford instead went small with Jonathan Isaac at center, and that proved to be the trick, as Toronto struggled with Orlando’s speed and length on defense. However, the Raptors found a solution, as Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam combined to score on four-straight trips through the pick-and-roll. On the first time down, Isaac stayed back in the paint, and Lowry was able to pull-up for three. The next trip down, Isaac stepped up and Lowry drove past for a foul in the paint. On the third try, Lowry drew Isaac before finding Siakam for a pick-and-pop jumper, and finally, Lowry got tangled up for a three-point foul.
Three — Throwback: It’s only fitting that Lowry closed out the game, because he was excellent from start to finish. Lowry was unstoppable going to the rim, as he converted a pair of acrobatic layups to close the first half, while also attempting 10 free throws. Lowry has a habit of starting off hot, before cooling down as injuries accumulate, but it’s particularly encouraging to see him thrive as a scorer in the wake of Kawhi Leonard’s exit. Lowry already has two games with double-digit free-throw attempts, after not reaching that feat once in all of last season. There’s some worry as to where the Raptors will generate offense if Lowry ever cools off, but for now, he’s thriving.
Four — Varied skillset: The beauty of Siakam’s game is that he can fit any role. He can be a volume scorer when called upon, but he’s just as effective as a secondary weapon. Out of the first four games, this was Siakam’s best performance within the context of the team’s offense. He didn’t try to force his offense against a tough match-up in Isaac. Instead, he attacked through pick-and-rolls, swished jumpers from the midrange, and he delivered down the stretch as the Robin to Lowry’s Batman.
Five — Continued concern: However, there is still the issue of Siakam’s fouls. He has committed five or more in three of his first four games to start the season, and he seems to be dinged for offensive fouls on a nightly basis. Maybe his reputation with the officials hasn’t yet caught up to his salary, but it’s becoming a real issue. Siakam cannot afford to put himself in a position to foul out. It’s up to him to be more disciplined on defense by moving his feet instead of reaching, and offensively, he needs to pick his spot better instead of barging to the basket.
Six — Matchups: Gasol had his best game of the season, as he resumed his tormenting of Vucevic from last season’s playoffs. Gasol’s airtight post defense limited Vucevic to 1-of-13 shooting from the field — with the lone make being a three that Gasol didn’t even bother to challenge — and it led Clifford to bench his leading man. On the other end, Gasol finally delivered a quality performance as he totalled 10 points on two threes, a midrange jumper, and a hook shot in the lane. Toronto doesn’t need Gasol to be a volume scorer at this point in the season while he’s still working his way back from a busy offseason, but even in his limited state, he should still be expected to deliver these types of results.
Seven — Thriving: OG Anunoby continues to be the breakout player of the season, as he’s coming into his own as a 3-and-D wing. Anunoby is Toronto’s best and most active defender, and it was reflected in the boxscore tonight as he finished with five steals and two blocks along with eight defensive rebounds. Anunoby made two excellent plays in the fourth — once to strip Al Farouq-Aminu on the perimeter before taking it in for a dunk, and again to deny an easy basket as Anunoby hustled back to guard the rim, before switching out to the perimeter to force a miss. Anunoby is hardly a standout on offense, but he consistently makes the right reads, and he’s shown an improved ability in attacking on the catch and making a play for either himself or the next man.
Eight — Lost: This was yet another game in which Norman Powell looked completely lost off the bench. Powell immediately committed two turnovers in his first two minutes of play, and he shot an abysmal 1-of-7 from the field while consistently driving into traffic for no apparent reason. Unlike Anunoby, Powell has a propensity for making life difficult for himself instead of making the easy play, and it’s frustrating to watch. Powell had a great preseason, but he looks lost with the second unit, and has yet to take the leap that has been promised for years.
Nine — Shot in the arm: Pat McCaw recovered from a knee injury to make his debut, and he was solid in 17 minutes off the bench. McCaw flat-out refuses to shoot, but he’s a pest on defense and doesn’t actively take anything off the table. Nurse seems to adore McCaw for his basketball IQ, and he rewarded that trust tonight as McCaw kept a tight lid on Terrence Ross (11 points, 4-of-11 shooting, 3 turnovers). McCaw’s return knocked Terence Davis out of the rotation, but that could be a platoon situation. Davis offers more offense, while McCaw is clearly superior defensively.
Ten — Celebrations: The Raptors have made a concerted effort to highlight former players and Canadian basketball talent. Ross got a tribute video on the jumbotron and a nice ovation from the crowd, while Khem Birch was treated to a Canadian basketball highlight mix from his tour of duty at this summer’s World Cup. Earlier in the year, the Raptors also highlighted Canadian rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker when the Pelicans were in town.
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