Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 109-99 win over the Orlando Magic in the third of eight seeding games ahead of the 2020 NBA playoffs.
One — Enough: The wire-to-wire intensity that the Raptors exhibited in wins over the Lakers and Heat was nowhere to be found against the Magic. With all due respect to the Magic, who will be a first-round out yet again in a few weeks, but they just don’t elicit any excitement. Toronto jumped out to a huge lead and had it in cruise control after halftime. Orlando came out guns blazing with a short run to trim the lead, but Toronto kept them at an arm’s distance while doing just enough to get by. It also helped that the Magic shot 11-of-41 from deep, which only encouraged the Raptors to pack the paint even further.
Two — Efficient: Toronto’s starting five continues to pummel opponents. Even with the Raptors going out of their way to feature Marc Gasol (13 points in 25 minutes) which led to a clunky start offensively, they were still dominant defensively. Orlando mustered only 11 points in the first quarter, and had absolutely nowhere to go. Gasol kept a tight lid on Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet took care of the Magic’s backcourt, and forwards Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby papered over any cracks.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 6, 2020
Three — Smooth: Fred VanVleet continues to impress, following up his 36-point performance with a 21-point, 10-assist double-double. It’s not even so much the little things he does defensively, which should really garner All-Defensive consideration, or the quiet confidence he brings to every lineup. Tonight, it was about the highlight moves: Freezing Markelle Fultz with a killer crossover in transition for the layup, driving baseline and going reverse on Evan Fournier, pulling up from 30-feet. It’s clear that the break did wonders for his body, as VanVleet’s burst is getting him free going to the rim.
Four — Revival: After two dismal showings, the Raptors’ bench finally delivered. Norman Powell was efficient with his offense, scoring 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and the Raptors were smart to call his number early and often to reestablish his confidence. The first play, Powell rocketed off a screen from Serge Ibaka and instantly exploded to the basket for a lefty layup. Ibaka was decent in his own right despite some slow or missed rotations on defense. Ibaka hit a three from the top of the floor, and he created his own offense by attacking the offensive glass for putbacks. Those two will eventually find their footing with the second unit, now the question is who else will join them.
Five — Quirky: Tonight, the eighth man was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who was surprisingly effective as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. It’s not a role that Hollis-Jefferson would get if the Raptors had real stakes on the line, but it acts like a changeup because it’s just so unexpected. Hollis-Jefferson isn’t a shooter, so defenses always sag back, giving him a runway to attack into the middle of the floor. Sometimes a second defender rotates over, in which case Hollis-Jefferson can kick it out for a three. If not, then he bumps and pivots until he can fire his awkward floater, which usually doesn’t work but tonight it did.
Six — Repeat: Vucevic must have nightmares going up against Gasol. There wasn’t even a real effort made by Orlando’s leading scorer to attack. He missed a contested post hook, bricked a three, and Vucevic promptly shifted into more of a passing role. His aggression returned whenever he was matched against Siakam or Ibaka, but it’s almost a point of intimidation with Gasol. Vucevic regained his confidence in the fourth, but it was too late. His last matchup with Gasol earned him two free throws, but Gasol laughed at the call and replays showed that the slim Spaniard clearly swatted his shot cleanly.
Seven — Sloppy: There’s just something about Siakam’s offense where everything is a tad too loose. Siakam had his moments going to the rim, and with a 30-foot bomb in the fourth to beat the buzzer, but it was another underwhelming showing offensively. Siakam was caught napping a few times by Aaron Gordon offensively, and had an off night with seven turnovers. The last of the bunch was the most egregious: Siakam drove into traffic without numbers, and jumped in the air before tossing it back straight into the hands of the Magic who went the other way for a 3-on-1 fast break. The defense is there, the skills are there, but the focus at times is lacking.
Eight — Gambit: Sometimes when Nick Nurse goes to a zone defense, it doesn’t even seem like a chess move so much as it does as a wake-up call to his players. The Raptors opened the fourth quarter by going zone for a quick minute, before shifting back into standard man-to-man. That quick shot in the arm did the trick, as the Raptors showed more of an effort to match Orlando’s desperation.
Nine — Creativity: Nurse also dug into his bag of tricks with a new inbound play for Powell. The set is called elevator doors, which is named because the shooter (Powell) sneaks through two screeners who then close as with an elevator. It was a popular play with the Golden State Warriors in their heyday, and the Raptors ran it occasionally last season. To my recollection, this is the first time they’ve used it this year.
raptors ran elevator doors (shooter goes through two screeners, who close the gap) for norm. might be the first time theyve done it all year. playbook expanding pic.twitter.com/WcUvnGKQvn
— William Lou (@william_lou) August 6, 2020
Ten — Unfortunate: Gordon was having a nice game (9 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks) before leaving the game after being pulled down in mid-air on a flagrant foul by Lowry. Gordon wasn’t happy about it, and rightfully so as it was a dangerous play on Lowry’s part. Gordon unfortunately suffered a hamstring injury and did not return, which now leaves Orlando without both of its forwards ahead of the playoffs after Jonathan Isaac tore his ACL earlier in the week.
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