Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 107-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the first of eight seeding games ahead of the 2019-20 NBA playoffs.
One — Statement: This was a perfect showcase as to why the Raptors remain a legitimate title contender even after losing the Finals MVP. The same formula for success remains: Share the ball, and defend like all hell. The Lakers couldn’t get anything going all night, and in crunch time, it was the Raptors who ran away with the win. It’s not a mirage — the Raptors have played like defending champions all season, and their signature intensity and execution remains sharp even after the long layoff.
Two — Dominant: To say Kyle Lowry carried the Raptors would be an understatement. Not only did Lowry lead all players in scoring (33) and rebounding (14), but he was the best player on the floor in a game involving LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Lowry’s intensity paced the Raptors through three sluggish offensive quarters, and still he had enough left in the tank to close it out with 10 points in the fourth, while setting up another six points through his assists. He topped that off by also locking down the defensive glass, and drawing two charges. In short, this was a masterpiece by Lowry.
Three — Reliable: The Raptors save their best for last. After struggling to score outside of Lowry or in transition for most of the night, Nick Nurse went to the pick-and-roll with Lowry and Pascal Siakam, and it worked magic. On the first try, Siakam got into the lane for an acrobatic finger roll and the foul. Then, it was the Lakers switching the play, leading to a poor defender in Kyle Kuzma having to handle a red-hot Lowry. It’s strange that the Raptors almost never go to their best two-man action earlier on, but that combination has been the backbone of the second-best clutch offense in the league all season.
Four — Tireless: OG Anunoby continues to reach new heights in what is turning out to be a breakout season. Not only did Anunoby keep James in check — The King had just one easy layup as part of a labored 20-point performance — but Anunoby also managed to match him in scoring. James threatened to steal the game in the fourth as he nailed two stepbacks that had the Lakers bench hooting and hollering, but Anunoby calmly responded with two threes of his own from the right corner. Anunoby also got Davis, a leading Defensive Player of the Year candidate, twice on his improved spin move, and he capped off the win with an alley-oop. If the Raptors get anything close to this from Anunoby on a consistent basis, watch out.
Five — Tepid: Just like in the first win over the Lakers last November, where he shot 9-of-25 from the field, it was a tough night on the offensive end for Siakam, who shot 5-of-17. The Lakers might be the biggest team in the league with their frontcourt of James, Davis and Dwight Howard, which makes it near impossible for Siakam to get to the rim. The good thing is that Siakam didn’t force it, and that he mostly took good shots. But if this were to be a Finals matchup, Nurse needs to get Siakam easier looks. There was an effort early on to set cross screens to get the Lakers to switch a smaller man on Siakam, but that went away. And on those few possessions where Siakam did get a mismatch, he didn’t always deliver. He didn’t really go to his face-up game as much as his skill warrants, and missed a few makeable floaters.
Six — Lockdown: To his credit, Siakam was everywhere on defense, recording two steals and two blocks. As a whole, the Raptors were phenomenal in sending double teams at Davis and James, while also accurately rotating over to beat the Lakers’ ball movement. This was particularly effective against Davis, who only had one point in the entire first half. It helps that the Lakers usually play a non-shooting center like Howard or JaVale McGee, which frees up Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka to show help. On the whole, the Raptors have been the best help and recover team all season, so this isn’t a surprise. The Raptors did the same thing to Davis and James back in November with their B-squad.
Seven — Struggling: Despite much hype over the second unit making an impression during scrimmages, none of it carried over tonight. The Lakers’ shorthanded bench outscored the Raptors 50 to 15, which is alarming. Serge Ibaka was uncharacteristically sloppy with his decision-making, while Norman Powell was completely out of sorts in his wild drives to the basket. Nurse should consider making an extra emphasis on building chemistry for the second unit during the remaining seeding games. The starting five clearly works, now there needs to be a workable rotation and playbook for the transitional lineups.
Eight — Persevere: This wasn’t Fred VanVleet’s best game, and just as in the scrimmages, there were moments where he lacked burst and got his shot blocked. But as always, even with a slow start to the game, VanVleet was able to finish strong. He cashed a three in the fourth to extend the lead, provided excellent ball pressure all night on the Lakers’ shaky guards, and set up Anunoby for the exclamation point at the end.
Nine — Options: Nurse shuffled his lineups in search of a suitable eighth man. Terence Davis got the first shot, but he was shy on offense and a little loose on defense. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson went down with a sprained ankle, so he was limited. There was even a brief cameo for Matt Thomas, but he produced little outside of an ill-advised three going 1-on-4 and a valiant box-out against Howard. Despite the Lakers’ size and his success against the Lakers in their first win, Chris Boucher didn’t get a turn until garbage time.
Ten — Memories: Danny Green and Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy elected not to receive their championship rings. According to Green, the Raptors had reached out and offered to do a small ceremony, then a more formal celebration when fans are back in attendance, but the two Lakers politely declined. Either way, it was a show of class by the Raptors organization, who remain thoughtful with every step. Green was a consummate pro and a beloved veteran, while Handy worked tirelessly in player development. They will have their time.
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