Kawhi Leonard was productive in his first game as a Raptor putting up 24 points and 13 rebounds, Kyle Lowry was blisteringly efficient, scoring 27 points on 10/12 shooting and the Raptors took down the Cleveland Cavaliers 116-104. Revenge!

Stat Recap

Stat Recap Cleveland Cavaliers Toronto Raptors

3-2-1, Recap!

Our generous and benevolent editor-in-chief has gifted the entire writing staff of BBall-Index with a staggeringly brilliant single game recap format that you have no doubt seen already overtaking the site. It is called the “3-2-1 Recap” and it goes as such: I will put forth 3 observations from last night’s game, 2 questions raised by last nights game and 1 prediction gleaned from last night’s game.

Let’s get into it.

3 Observations

The Raptors are moving the ball less

I mentioned this in my Preseason Takeaways article, but now, having exited the preseason, we have tracking data to back up the idea that the Raptors are running a more simple offense than they did last year. While the Raptors’ assist percentage, like any small sample number, is misleading and impacted by some poor at the basket shotmaking from both Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors initial passing numbers are down from last year as well. The Raptors recorded 264 passes and 38 potential assists in last nights game, down from averages of 300 passes and 46.3 potential assists last year. Small sample size caveats apply here too of course, but the Raptors passing numbers are more closely in line with extremely star-centric teams like Portland and Houston than they are with last year’s team.

This could have been part of a concerted effort to ensure that Kawhi Leonard had a productive first game as a Raptor. Leonard’s baskets tend to be unassisted, as he’s largely a pick-and-roll and isolation based scorer, and it did seem like the Raptors were force feeding him at times last night. Leonard finished with 22 field goal attempts on the night and a 32 precent usage rate, both game highs.

Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet were more aggressive getting downhill

Much was made this offseason of Kyle Lowry’s reluctance to drive in the 2017/18 season and whether that was a sign of an impending decline for the four time All-Star. Last night, Lowry showed none of that reluctance. Lowry was aggressive getting downhill, attempting 6 field goals at the rim, scoring on 5 of them and drawing a shooting foul at the basket on yet another drive.

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He also drove looking to setup his teammates; involving Leonard seemed to be especially high on the priority list for Lowry, to the extent that he passed up an open layup to get Kawhi his first basket as a Raptor.

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Fred VanVleet has essentially made a career out of copying everything Lowry does and tonight, with his jumper looking a little off, VanVleet also took the initiative to drive to the rim, looking to score and create for others. VanVleet finished the game with 5 of his 6 made baskets coming at the rim.

Poor defensive rebounding contributed to a lack of defensive discipline

The Raptors won, and they limited the Cavs to just 40 percent shooting, but there were still some obvious defensive mistakes to correct in this game. The Cavs are functionally bigger than the Raptors, starting Kevin Love, a hulking seven footer, at power forward alongside an elite offensive rebounder in Tristan Thompson. Still, the Raptors didn’t make things any easier for themselves on the defensive glass, fumbling easy rebounds out of bounds or into the hands of the Cavaliers. The Cavs had a sky-high 34% offensive rebounding rate in the game, and these boards led to numerous scramble situations, where frantic Raptor defenders would often commit fouls trying to make up ground.

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2 Questions

Why was Serge Ibaka on the floor in the closing minutes?

Serge Ibaka shot extremely poorly from the field, finishing the game 2/10, and the offense suffered accordingly when he was in the game, with the Raptors posting a 96.7 offensive rating with him in the game and a 138.1 offensive rating with him off the court. Even when they included the Raptors’ two primary creators, lineups with Ibaka struggled offensively, as lineups featuring all three of Ibaka, Lowry and Leonard posted only a 91.4 offensive rating. And yet Ibaka was on the floor throughout the 4th quarter. Why?

Nick Nurse offered an answer to this question in his post-game discussion with the media, saying that he thought Ibaka played well outside of his poor shooting performance, and mentioning that he didn’t want Jonas Valanciunas to have to guard Kevin Love on the perimeter.

Ibaka certainly made some outstanding defensive plays, protecting the rim and switching well for a big. The Raptors were also remarkably better on the defensive glass with him at the five in place of Valanciunas, though Ibaka did spend less time facing two big lineups.

However, while Ibaka is arguably a better matchup for Love at center defensively, I disagree with Nurse’s decision to play him late in the game due to how much Valanciunas improved the Raptors offense throughout the game. With Ibaka in the game, the Raptors ball movement ground to a halt, as the Raptors posted an assist percentage of 28.6 percent with him on the floor, compared to a 62.5 assist percentage with Valanciunas. Valanciunas is not some outstanding passing big man, the 3 assists he recorded last night tied his career high, but he remains massively better at making quick decisions than Ibaka.

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Will Lowry and Leonard’s minutes stay this high?

Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry played 37 and 36 minutes last night, respectively, despite the game remaining firmly in the Raptors’ grasp the entire time. Lowry is used to playing extended minutes, having been among the league leaders in minutes per game in both 2015/16 and 2016/17. However, this always seemed to impact his health as the season wore on. In 16/17 he needed wrist surgery at the All-Star game and the year before that he developed bursitis in his elbow just as the playoffs rolled around. Last year Lowry’s minutes were slashed, he averaged barely over 32 minutes a night, and the result was a healthy Lowry who put forth the best playoff performance of his career.

Leonard, on the other hand, has never averaged more than 33.4 minutes per game, a relatively low figure for a star. Especially coming off an extended absence it seems unwise to ride him for so long. Indeed, after coming on strong midway through the contest, Leonard began to look gassed towards the end of tonight’s game, as he settled for jumpers where previously might have attacked and tended to miss short.

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Until we get a better feel for Nick Nurse’s rotation we can’t know for sure what kind of load he plans to put on his two stars. Lowry’s extended minutes may simply have come as a result of Delon Wright’s injury, and OG Anunoby’s midgame departure with an orbital contusion will have impacted Leonard’s minutes as well. With that being said, C.J. Miles and Pascal Siakam only played 10 and 20 minutes tonight, respectively, and could easily have been used to spell Leonard for longer stretches.

1 Prediction

Ibaka and Anunoby will start against Boston in place of Siakam and Valanciunas

Provided Anunoby is good to go it seems likely that Nurse will flip-flop his frontcourt in the Raptors’ matchup against the Celtics on Friday, given the predisposition he has shown towards matching up. When compared to Siakam, Anunoby is better suited to guard the Celtics’ bevy of wings, whether he is put on Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward. Nurse favoured Ibaka over Valanciunas when the Cavs deployed Kevin Love as a stretch five, and as such it seems likely Ibaka will again be called on again to defend Al Horford.

Whether or not Nurse would be right to make these choices is certainly up for debate. Ibaka and Anunoby are both worse ball handlers and passers than the players they would be replacing, and as such the switch could overburden the Raptors’ backcourt. And while it seems likely that Valanciunas would have some trouble defending Horford, given Valanciunas’ significant size advantage it stands to reason that Horford would have trouble against Valanciunas as well.

Header Image: USA Today Sports

Statistics: NBA.com & Cleaning the Glass

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