Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 86-81 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
One — Gritty: This was one of the ugliest games of the season. On one hand, you had the Raptors playing their third game in four nights, after exhausting themselves in two wins over the Bucks, and short both Kyle Lowry (thumb) and OG Anunoby (rest). On the other hand, it was the Timberwolves. Both teams gave tremendous effort on defense and it came down to who could execute the best in crunch time. Even without any juice left in their legs, the Raptors managed to throw the final blow and finally reach .500 for the first time all season.
Two — Frozen: The Raptors were cruising along with a 57-41 lead before hitting their worst cold spell of the season, going over 10 minutes without a single field goal. At first it was bad decision-making by the Raptors, who were weak with the ball on drives and committed silly turnovers that led to odd man rushes. Bench players replacing starters only made the problem worse as Nurse's second unit generated six points in total. Throw in the dunk of the year by Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards against Yuta Watanabe, and it was a ghastly stretch that saw the Raptors enter the fourth quarter with just 58 points and facing an eight-point deficit. It was only a three possession game, but it just felt like the Raptors were completely spent.
Three — Comeback: Nurse scrapped his rotation entirely and went to his third stringers to start the fourth. Stanley Johnson and Terence Davis had not played up until that point, but they ended up finishing out the remainder of the game. Johnson's size and physicality allowed the Raptors to switch freely on defense, which was just enough of a curveball that the Timberwolves started to lose momentum. Davis carried the load offensively, hitting a catch-and-shoot three to snap the run, before finishing with 11 points in the quarter. The starters also came in early, with Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell summoning their last efforts to sustain the comeback. Those five players did just enough to guarantee the victory.
Four — Execution: The Raptors won because they could execute in crunch time, whereas the Timberwolves kept failing to create. Powell raced ahead for a transition layup, and set up Siakam on a dump-off pass for another dunk which tied it at 81-81 with a minute left. Minnesota called for Malik Beasley coming around a screen by Karl-Anthony Towns but Towns was moving on the play, just as he did two possessions earlier, and was rightly whistled for the foul as Towns hip-checked VanVleet to the ground. On the other end, the Raptors put the ball in Siakam's hands as he worked a pick-and-roll with VanVleet, Siakam got into the lane, and found Davis curling to the top for an open three. Davis caught Edwards napping on the play and got himself open, while Siakam and a slight screen from Stanley Johnson did the rest.
the little details of the game winner:
- davis catches edwards napping with a cut to the top
- stanley screens beasley
- pascal not only finds the pass, but he moves across to give TD more space (kyle would be proud) pic.twitter.com/ZfzPc1ZwwO
— William Lou (@william_lou) February 20, 2021
Five — Dominant: Powell kept the Raptors alive with his aggressive and tireless play. Powell was red-hot to start as always, capitalizing on the Timberwolves' heightened focus against Siakam and VanVleet, and he accounted for half of the Raptors' points at halftime. Powell also slowed down in the third quarter as the entire team fell into a slump, but a rare technical foul (campaigning for a missed foul against Powell) and a five-minute rest gave him just enough energy to regain his rhythm. Powell connected on a three off a kickout pass from Siakam, got to the free-throw line on a drive, got all the way to the basket for a missed layup that was followed up by Siakam, and muscled his way in for another two drives that got the Raptors level. Powell finished with 31 points and was the only Raptors starter to shoot better than 50 percent from the field.
Six — Lockdown: The Timberwolves just refused to allow Siakam to impact the game. Siakam was pressured all night, and there was always a second defender ready to help at the basket. Siakam also didn't have his legs, and wisely chose to refrain from launching jumpers. Siakam reserved what little energy he had on the defensive end, where he was nothing short of sensational with three blocks and a steal. When the Raptors downsized in the fourth quarter, the responsibility fell to Siakam to protect at the basket, and he was up to the challenge with those three swats, two of which directly sparked a fast-break basket. When all the chips are down, Siakam is the Raptors' best option at center.
Seven — Tired: VanVleet did his best to carry the Raptors but it just clearly wasn't his night. He was excellent as always on defense, and it was his tight coverage on Beasley that produced a turnover, and a missed three to help the Raptors secure the win. But offensively, there were far too many possessions where VanVleet called his own number. Granted, there weren't many options besides Powell, but this performance teetered well into the territory of heroball. It was especially baffling to see VanVleet pull-up from three with a minute left, not because he's not capable of making clutch baskets, but because he was already 4-of-19 from the field.
Eight — Sputter: The real reason the Raptors shifted towards a smallball lineup is because their centers just aren't trustworthy. Chris Boucher got his first start of the season in place of Anunoby, and he failed to collect a single defensive rebound while being pummelled by Towns. Aron Baynes gave the Raptors solid defense and active rebounding, but even point-blank tip-ins elude him. The Raptors settled for their third choice, which was to run smallball with Johnson at center to close the game. There isn't a capable solution on the roster, and it is the Raptors' main weakness as they approach the trade deadline. It's only going to get worse in the next two games as the Raptors face a leading MVP candidate in Joel Embiid.
Nine — Empty: The second unit gave the Raptors absolutely nothing. Malachi Flynn was 1-of-6 and forced contested jumpers. Matt Thomas stepped into two open looks but missed. Baynes is strictly a screener and rebounder. Pat McCaw heard a standing ovation from the Raptors' bench after making his first appearance since March 9, but he was completely lost. Watanabe turned down an open layup for no real reason. It's a good thing Nurse turned to Johnson and Davis in the fourth, otherwise he would have gotten a total of six points off the bench.
Ten — Unfortunate: A few things cut against Watanabe in the defining moment of his career to date. First, it was DeAndre' Bembry who allowed Edwards free to drive. The sideline official also missed Edwards stepping out of bounds to begin his drive. And lastly, it was the right play by Watanabe to challenge the shot just as he does on every play, but it just happened to be against a freak athlete. The end result is that Watanabe will be on a poster for the first time outside of Japan. To borrow the immortal words of former Raptors broadcaster Chuck Swirsky, it was sick, wicked, and nasty.
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