Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 132-96 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
One — Resounding: The Raptors have the luxury of playing with their food. All it took was one firm push in the third quarter to blow the game wide open after the Raptors entertained the Hornets in the first half. Charlotte’s primitive 3-point offense was easily neutralized by Toronto’s rotations, and offensively, the Hornets offered no resistance as the Raptors scored 132 points on 40 assists. All in all, it was a feel-good game in which the bench shined, while the starters got some rest.
Two — Breakout: OG Anunoby scored 16 of his career-high 24 points in the third quarter to break the game wide open. Anunoby showed a bit of everything during that stretch: a pull-up three when the defense went under, Eurostep to finish between two defenders in transition, a sidestep corner trey, a deep pull-up jumper to beat the clock, and finally a backdoor cut behind the defense for a two-handed finish. Anunoby only showed flashes in his first two seasons, but the difference this year is his confidence. There’s a clear desire from Anunoby to broaden his role beyond the expectation of 3-and-D, and he’s earning the chance to expand his game.
Three — Conductor: This was a great example of how Marc Gasol can dominate the game without ever needing to shoot the ball. Gasol put on a passing clinic, as he recorded nine assists in 29 minutes without a single turnover. The 7-foot Spaniard can sometimes be unselfish to a fault, but he struck the right balance tonight, as he was the perfect counter to Charlotte’s feeble zone defense. Gasol would catch the pass in the middle of the floor, before picking out shooters or cutters to the basket. This look-away feed to Fred VanVleet in the corner was outrageous.
Four — Casual: Pascal Siakam recorded a casual 20-8-5 statline without ever needing to impose his will on the game. The game comes so easily to him, especially when he knocks down half his triples. Unlike on the roadtrip, there was never a need to spam Siakam in the post, and that made for a more team-oriented game. Siakam was just one of five scoring threats on the floor, and he was just able to distribute and capitalize in transition. All in all, this was a much-deserved night off for Siakam after an exhausting start to the season.
Five — Persistent: Siakam and VanVleet jokingly dismissed Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s request for more touches on Instagram over the weekend, as they advised him to stay in his lane. But jokes aside, Hollis-Jefferson is as involved as they come for a player that almost never has the ball. Hollis-Jefferson lurks in the dunker spot — the gap in the defense at the foot of the paint on the baseline — and he’s great at presenting himself for a layup off a drive, or crashing the glass for a putback. Hollis-Jefferson had 15 points at halftime without having a single play called for him, which is a certified skill. Not all players hustle — just look at the Hornets’ team defense — but that’s how Hollis-Jefferson has made himself into a fan favourite.
Six — Smart: Nick Nurse spoke frankly about Norman Powell before the game. Nurse, who has been with the Raptors throughout Powell’s entire career, said he “wish(ed) we could pencil him for 16 each night instead of 26 one, 0 the next.” Well, to Powell’s credit, he has been consistent over the past two weeks, as he has delivered 14 or more points in five of his last six appearance. Powell played within the flow of the offense, and he was able to use his gravity as a slasher to generate six assists for his teammates. If Powell can maintain this type of play with the second unit, the Raptors wouldn’t need to overextend their starters.
Seven — Scrappy: Chris Boucher’s competitiveness is admirable, especially considering that he is always undersized. Boucher managed to out-hustle Bismack Biyombo, who became a legend among Raptors for his relentless energy. Boucher held Biyombo to just two boards, while grabbing 11 for himself, including seven offensive rebounds. Boucher’s minutes will inevitably come down once Serge Ibaka recovers from his sprained ankle, but Boucher will always stay relevant so long as he plays harder than everyone else on the floor.
Eight — Identity: To that extent, the biggest revelation from the road trip was that the Raptors do indeed have a bench. No, there is not a natural shot creator with the second unit, and their unfamiliarity creates instances where players are cutting each other off, but they can still get by on most nights thanks to their athleticism and hustle. The combination of Boucher, Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis along with one of VanVleet or Siakam makes for one hell of a defensive combination, and their defense alone should prop up the scoring.
Nine — Miscellaneous: It’s truly uncanny how automatic Matt Thomas is when given a sliver of space to shoot ... Dewan Hernandez got his first pro basket on finger roll in transition ... Charlotte is paying Nic Batum the maxmium contract and yet the Raptors guarded him with Thomas ... Toronto set a franchise-high in assists with 40 ... Anunoby was scratched in the eye yet again but he was available to return.
Ten — Funny: The Raptors have gone out of their way to celebrate every alumni as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations, and both Biyombo and Hornets broadcaster Dell Curry were treated to tribute videos. The one noticeable omission was Hornets assistant and former Raptors coach Jay Triano, who went unrecognized. But then again, given Triano’s tenure with the team, those days are best forgotten.
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