10 things: OG Anunoby's clutch defense saves Raptors' 14-game win streak

William LouNBA reporter
Yahoo Sports Canada

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 119-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

One — Barely: The Nets gave the Raptors a taste of their own medicine with a ferocious rally to tie the game after being down 18. Toronto took its foot off the gas pedal, and the veteran duo of Wilson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan gave Brooklyn some much-needed defensive toughness. Throw in a breakout performance by Caris LeVert, who finished with a season-high 37 points, and it was nearly a recipe for disaster. In all honesty, the Raptors were lucky to get away with that result, but 14-game win streaks don’t happen without plenty of good fortune. You take it and move on.

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Two — Clamps: Nobody on the Raptors had an answer for LeVert, who scored on three straight trips to knot the game at 118 apiece. During the last timeout of the game, OG Anunoby apparently asked for the assignment on LeVert, and promptly saved the streak. LeVert got the ball on the final possession as Anunoby anticipated, and he hung step for step, refusing to bite on any fakes, before swatting LeVert’s desperate heave at the basket. The Nets actually caught a break as the ball deflected right to Joe Harris, who was wide open under the rim, but his putback attempt rimmed out as time expired.

Three — Concern: Truth be told, it would have never came down to a nervous moment like that had Pascal Siakam delivered in crunch time. Siakam saw plenty of the ball, but he was predictable and ineffective. Brooklyn’s defenders bodied him up in the post and took away the spin move, while Jordan lurked in the background ready to pounce if Siakam choose the lane. It’s nothing Siakam hasn’t seen before, but he just didn’t have an answer. Time and time again he drove into the defense but didn’t have the strength nor the touch to get his layups to fall. This is becoming a growing worry, as Siakam is down to 37 percent shooting in isolation as compared to 47 percent last season. Of course, the circumstances are different with Siakam now facing the best defenders and he is now the main focus of every scouting report, but his ability to create something out of nothing is what will ultimately determine how far the Raptors go in the playoffs. He got bailed out tonight with a generous foul call at the end.

Four — Confident: The one player that is consistently willing to take the big shot is Fred VanVleet. He bullied his way to the basket in transition, and followed that up with a high-arcing pull-up jumper to keep the Raptors ahead. The only issue with VanVleet is that he’s not big enough to consistently generate separation, and he can be bottled up at the basket in a halfcourt setting where the defense is set. It’s the same reason why DeMar DeRozan usually took took the last shot instead of Kyle Lowry.

Five — Explosive: Terence Davis made the most of his first career start at home in place of the injured Lowry. On the very first play of the game, Davis caught a pass on the wing and immediately completed a four-point play. He maintained that aggression throughout and finished with 20 points with five made threes. Just as important were the five offensive rebounds that he collected that helped the Raptors win the possession battle. Most guards aren’t in the habit of boxing out, which works in Davis’ favor. Not only is he bigger and more athletic than most guards, but Davis has a knack for being first to loose balls that likely stems from his experience as a wide receiver.

Six — Underrated: The Raptors started an undrafted backcourt and they produced 49 points with nine threes. That speaks volumes about the scouting staff that continuously supplies the program with young and inexpensive talent. VanVleet was a four-year senior that most teams overlooked due to his stature. Davis was a late bloomer with a questionable shot. The Raptors saw opportunity where most teams saw flaws, and brought them into a winning environment. VanVleet earned his way up under the tutelage of Lowry, just as Davis is doing now under VanVleet. That type of organic growth and development is the biggest advantage that the Raptors have over the rest of the league.

Seven — Reliable: Matt Thomas is yet another undrafted player who contributed to the win. Thomas hasn’t seen the floor much with everyone healthy, but with three starters sidelined with injury, Thomas was pressed into action as a scorer off the bench. It’s a credit to Thomas’ professionalism and preparation that he came in ready to fire. He drilled a long two to beat the shot clock in the first quarter, connected on a pair of corner threes in the second, and was great at cutting backdoor behind defenders that were determined to run him off the line. Thomas kept the second unit afloat, and was rewarded with some extended run with the starters.

Eight — Incredible: Thomas connected on a reverse alley-oop off a pass from Serge Ibaka. That’s not a typo, it really happened. I’m not sure what was more surprising between the perfectly weighted pass from Ibaka, or the dexterity and hang time from Thomas.

Nine — Shorthanded: In an ideal situation, the lineup of Thomas, Pat McCaw, Oshae Brissett, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher would only see the floor in garbage time. But once again due to injuries, the Raptors’ third stringers had to put in a shift, and to their credit they got the job done. McCaw played his part in setting the table, Boucher took his chances where he could, Thomas hunted for his shot, and Hollis-Jefferson scooped up every offensive rebound.

Ten — Lookahead: The Raptors gets one precious day of rest before hosting an unpredictable Timberwolves team that is fresh off a 27-point win over the Clippers, before wrapping up the first half of the year with a quick roadtrip to Brooklyn. Assuming that Lowry’s neck injury isn’t too serious, there’s no reason why the win streak can’t remain intact at the All-Star break.

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