Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 115-102 win over the Orlando Magic.
One — Energized: So much of winning and losing just comes down to effort. The Magic were sluggish and disinterested having lost 11 of their last 13 games, and the Raptors were hungry to snap their losing streak which was largely the difference in the game. It was a strong performance and a badly needed win, and the challenge is to bring this type of effort on a consistent basis.
Two — Determined: Pascal Siakam is making a “conscious effort” to establish his presence at the basket, head coach Nick Nurse said. This is the first time all season where Siakam has notched back-to-back 30-point performances, and it largely comes down to his insistence on getting to the rim. It helps that the Magic and Kings lack credible rim protection, but it also reflects a dramatic shift in Siakam’s approach. Siakam only took three triples over the last two games, which isn’t sustainable on the season, but it’s always refreshing to see him prioritize the paint. As Leo Rautins said on the broadcast, nobody comes to the game to see Siakam launch 10 threes. His ability to dominate the paint is the reason Siakam signed a max contract, and sometimes his approach to the game doesn’t always reflect that.
Three — Dishing: Kyle Lowry only scored 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting but he was also plus-30 and quietly ran the entire game with his passing. Lowry is at his best when he is setting up for others, and there were plenty of eager finishers who benefited from his play. Lowry found Aron Baynes ducking inside for layups, DeAndre’ Bembry cutting behind the defense for lobs, Chris Boucher rolling to the basket, and just about everything else. Lowry was especially effective running with the reserves in the second and fourth quarters, and the formula there is simple. As long as the other four players can get stops, Lowry can take care of running the offense and getting them open.
Four — Beef: Aaron Gordon delivered a cheap shot to Lowry in the first half, catching him blind with a body check and earned himself a flagrant-1 foul. Lowry committed a hard foul on Gordon inside the bubble which led to an injury, and it was still on his mind all these months later. It’s an understandable reaction, but also just the wrong one. Lowry was trying to prevent a layup which is a basketball play, whereas Gordon was only motivated by malice. Gordon seemed to injure himself in the process, running straight into the locker room after the play stopped, and his night ended again in injury with a badly rolled ankle while being pressed by Stanley Johnson. For his part, Lowry calmly hit both free throws and led his team to a blowout win, which is really all that matters.
Five — Revenge: Gordon was also treated to the business end of a poster dunk by Siakam, which just happened to be assisted by Lowry who found Siakam on the cut while Gordon was late to contest. Siakam has always been explosive, but driving dunks in traffic are generally rare. It’s nice to see Siakam play with force because his finesse game is still a work in progress. Also, it was just a very nasty dunk that is worth watching on repeat.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 1, 2021
Six — Stifling: Even though the personnel keeps changing, the Raptors have a very good idea of how to guard the Magic, which dates back to their playoff series in 2019. The Raptors double Nikola Vucevic to deny his paint touches and because he’s not particularly quick to find the open player, while also getting out to softly contest his perimeter jumpers. The plan with Evan Fournier is to dig into him, pressure and attack his dribble, and try to force him into off-balance drives that generally end in a missed floater. And with Terrence Ross, the strategy is to be pressed up high, sometimes with two players if he comes off a screen, and to take away any daylight on the three-point line. The Raptors can generally live with anyone else taking a shot, especially with the Magic now missing three starters due to injury. It’s like watching an old rerun of Friends or Seinfeld. You know exactly what’s going to happen and yet it’s still enjoyable.
Seven — Solid: DeAndre’ Bembry is stepping up off the bench in the last two games without Norman Powell and OG Anunoby. Bembry was benched for most of the year but was ready to contribute again tonight after playing the entire fourth quarter versus the Kings. Bembry is the definition of a solid player who knows what to do. He brings a little bit of everything and he is unpredictable. He is strong and versatile on defense, and Nurse had Bembry hound rookie point guard Cole Anthony. Offensively, Bembry is a capable ball handler which allows Lowry and Fred VanVleet to play off the ball, he can sink the occasional three, and is an adept cutter who instinctively reads the defense and gets into the gaps. The only thing keeping him back is that the Raptors already have two defensive specialists off the bench, and are in more need of scoring, but Bembry can be trusted to do a job.
HIS NAME IS YUTA WATANABE AND HE SAID NAW FAM pic.twitter.com/VgM5nKuDY0
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 1, 2021
Eight — Adored: Yuta Watanabe continues to impress in limited run. Watanabe’s best play was stretching for an emphatic block against the bigger and taller Vucevic, who seemingly had an open layup which then turned into a transition bucket the Raptors. Watanabe was also 3-of-3 from deep, and is shooting 12-of-25 from three on the season. The best part of Watanabe is that he plays extremely hard no matter what, and that he takes nothing off the table in terms of mistakes. Even when Anunoby and Powell return, Nurse should still leave room in the rotation for Watanabe. He is an ideal 3-and-D forward, and finally at the age of 26, he is having his breakout moment as Watanabe has played more minutes so far this year than any previous season.
Nine — Disappointing: Chris Boucher has cooled off after his torrid start that saw him string together five-straight 20-point games, which was somewhat inevitable. Boucher’s jumper isn’t connecting as frequently, but there’s no reason why that should impact his energy or defensive intensity. Boucher can still be very impactful with his rebounding and shot blocking, coupled with his hard rolls to the basket in the pick-and-roll game. The Raptors have surrounded him with better defenders off the bench, and Boucher’s ability to anchor that group is far more valuable than his bursts of scoring. His defense will dictate his minutes, not his offense.
Ten — Shaken: VanVleet was having a nice game until he was caught by Anthony who tried to surprise him with a charge in the backcourt. It was a hard hit, and an unexpected one, and it seemed to throw off VanVleet’s otherwise stellar precision. He turned it over three straight times in the second quarter which is extremely rare given that VanVleet averages 1.7 turnovers in 36 minutes per game, and he also misfired on some open looks. Nurse acknowledged the hit after the game, and said he checked with VanVleet to see if he was alright. Hopefully nothing else crops up in terms of injuries because the Raptors are already shorthanded as it is.
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