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Welcome back. Basketball’s pretty good, isn’t it? Not all of Raptors-Lakers was crisp stuff, but that second half sure was a lot of fun.
Welcome back as well to regular readers of this space, and hello to those hopping on board. This morning after Raptors analysis feature has been running for close to a decade now and as a reminder it’s a mix of some thoughts I gather from the game, a look ahead in the schedule, with interesting stats and occasionally quotes thrown in. Since this is Canada there’s also a Three Star ranking at the end.
Let’s start with OG Anunoby. Have made it clear for a long time what I think of this kid’s potential and every once in a while he drops some reminders of how massive his ceiling is. Remember, heading into last season, the Raptors organization was expecting Anunoby, not Pascal Siakam, to be the player on the roster making the jump to household name status. Right from the start Anunoby looked tremendous. He was running the floor, finishing, shooting well (Anunoby went 8-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-3 from deep, making it overall his best shooting night as a pro). We might not have seen the improved ball-handling Anunoby flashed in the scrimmages, but the Raptors don’t really need that element of his game when he’s out with the first unit anyway.
At the other end, Anunoby was once again spectacular. Sure LeBron James got his numbers in the end, but Anunoby made him work. I talked to a few official NBA award voters in recent weeks and they said the Raptors will likely split votes when it comes to all-defensive teams, but Anunoby was the guy most had as their choice if they could only pick one Raptor.
What a weapon it is to have a guy who can both slow down superstar guards like James Harden and T-1000 destroyer-type big men like LeBron.
James is now 41-14 all-time vs. the Raptors in the regular season, including 0-4 the last two years. (Don’t feel too badly for him. He’s still a nightmare-inducing 12-2 against Toronto in the playoffs though).
Kyle Lowry’s performance has been covered elsewhere, but just to sum it up: He was unreal. By far the best player on the floor. He did everything and provided another reminder just how good he is at basketball. He said once the competitive juices got flowing it was simply impossible to ease his way back into the season. Hate it (he can drive opponents nuts) or love it (Raptor fans, teammates and staffers), that’s who Lowry is. The ultimate competitor.
There were times where Toronto’s ball movement was spectacular. It wasn’t just Lowry. There was Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Anunoby and of course Marc Gasol, who had a quietly super game, particularly at the other end of the floor. Making the ball movement even more impressive was the fact that Siakam — guarded tightly by the Lakers — was quiet.
An underrated part of why Toronto is such a serious, though overlooked deep playoff threat: They have elite perimeter stoppers and elite up-front defenders. Giannis is Giannis and Kawhi is Kawhi and LeBron is LeBron, of course, and there are a lot of dynamic guards, but they have a bunch of players that make even those most talented of superstars work extra hard. And if you can beat that initial line of defence — which includes Lowry and VanVleet’s ultra-quick hands — you’ve got a defensive genius in Gasol, or a premier rim protector in Serge Ibaka waiting in the wings. Plus Siakam covers as much ground as nearly any other player in the league defensively.
Is this the first Raptors game Superfan Nav Bhatia has missed?
Under Nick Nurse, Toronto believes as strongly as any team in the NBA that they’ll let the other guys try to beat them. They key on the stars. Like Anthony Davis, who was double-teamed consistently and was invisible for most of the game. Davis and James combined for a season-low first half points total of eight.
Lowry had Toronto’s first nine free throw attempts. That can’t happen. They don’t have a ton of players who draw fouls, but Siakam needs to find a way to create contact a bit more and every once in a while Gasol has to channel his Memphis form.
Lowry is 10th in the NBA in value over replacement player since 2013, according to basketball-reference.com.
VanVleet passed T.J. Ford for 10th on Toronto’s all-time assist list.
Raptors improved to 12-14 against teams with .500 records or better, but I think that stat is highly deceiving. They are very good. A lot of that record is a product of so many key players being injured during the season. At full strength, Toronto would make a series out of any matchup.
Lowry’s 14 rebounds werea new career high, even though he’s 34. It also tied for sixth-most by a Raptor this season. He’s a foot shorter or so than the rest of the guys on that list.
1 — Kyle Lowry
2 — OG Anunoby
3 — LeBron James
SEASON THREE STAR LEADERS
Kyle Lowry 51 points (3 points for 1st star, 2 for second, 1 for third)
Pascal Siakam 46
Fred VanVleet 37
Serge Ibaka 28
Norman Powell 25
OG Anunoby 22
Marc Gasol 19
Terence Davis 11
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020