Kawhi Leonard continues to round into form, scoring 31 points and adding 10 rebounds, and Serge Ibaka bounced back from a rough opening night with an impressive 21 point performance as the starting center. They led the Raptors through most of the game before Kyle Lowry took over late allowing the Raptors to put away the consensus Eastern Conference favorites, the Boston Celtics. Heavy air-quotes on “favorites”.

Stat Recap

3 Observations

Serge Ibaka did “the five’s job”

Earlier this week Serge Ibaka promised Eric Koreen of The Athletic that if he was put at the five he would “do the five’s job” and if he was put at the four he would “do the four’s job”. Throughout the preseason and in the Raptors’ first game Ibaka struggled to do the five’s job. He floated on the perimeter and didn’t hit defenders with his screens offensively, while defensively he was often abused on the glass.

Tonight that all changed, especially on the offensive end of the floor. Ibaka looked like the quintessential modern big man, crashing the glass, cutting and rolling hard to the rim, all with the added threat of him being able to step out and make a three point shot if necessary.

After blowing numerous easy finishes at the basket on Wednesday, Ibaka reversed course last night. Part of this was the fact that he was doing a better job of freeing his teammates up with screens than he previously had, as he was able to force his man to step up and help, freeing him up for rolls to the rim.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

Ibaka also managed to make some good decisions on the short roll this game, in spite of his poor reputation as a passer, as he recorded both his assists on the night in short roll situations.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

Ibaka’s energy on the offensive glass was crucial to the Raptors’ late game push to put the game away, as he recorded all four of his offensive rebounds in the last six minutes of the game. Ibaka was an excellent offensive rebounder earlier in his career, before he began to regularly space out to three point range, hopefully he can re-discover that aspect of his game as he plays the five more often this year.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

The Raptors’ bench needs Delon Wright back

Fred VanVleet is really good. Through two games VanVleet has been a relentless attacker, slicing hard to the rim and making incredible finishes through contact to buoy the Raptors’ bench offense.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

With that being said, VanVleet is overburdened in the Raptors’ current bench lineup. He isn’t hitting his jumpers as regularly as he did last year through two games, which is due in large part to the fact that an enormous portion of his jumpers are coming off the dribble instead of as catch-and-shoot opportunities.

The rest of the Raptors’ bench simply isn’t equipped to generate those catch-and-shoot chances that VanVleet was so effective on last year. Norman Powell has looked horrific as a driver through two games, as he’s been unable to get separation or finish at the rim. If teams don’t respect Powell as a threat to drive then he won’t be able to collapse the defense and kick the ball out to shooters.

The Raptors have tried to alleviate some of the pressure from VanVleet by running C.J. Miles through screens to create open shots, but Miles has struggled to get open as well, and has begun the season just 1/7 from 3-point range as a result.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

Moving Pascal Siakam back to the bench in place of OG Anunoby to give VanVleet a secondary handler could be a temporary fix, but what the Raptors really need is for Delon Wright to return from his injury. Wright and VanVleet have near perfect interplay, as Wright is an excellent at the basket scorer in the pick-and-roll who forces defenses to collapse around him, and VanVleet, as an elite catch-and-shoot player, opens up driving lanes for Wright with his spacing and gets open shots off of Wright drive and kicks.

Kyle Lowry dominated crunch time in a very Kyle Lowry way

While Kawhi Leonard exploded in the 3rd quarter for 15 points to give the Raptors the lead, Kyle Lowry was the player who eventually sealed the game for the Raptors in the dying minutes. Lowry drew two charge fouls in the final 5 minutes, both against Celtics’ sophomore Jayson Tatum. Lowry’s ability to read the offensive player’s intent along with his willingness to give up his body has made this type of play a signature of his. It’s a type of play Lowry should get even more opportunities to make with Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard on the Raptors’ roster. Both should allow Lowry more time lurking off the ball, searching for chances to step in and blow-up offensive possessions.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

On the other end of the floor Lowry was equally clutch, running off a set of screens for a triple immediately after his second drawn charge, and then sizing-up Jayson Tatum and drilling a jumper overtop him to ice the game.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

The Celtics had no answer to Lowry, as the Raptors went on a 12-2 run in the last two and a half minutes, with the Celtics’ only basket coming when the game was well out of reach.

2 Questions

How long will it take Kawhi Leonard to be back at 100%?

For someone who’s coming off an extended absence Kawhi Leonard looks absolutely fantastic. After starting the game shakily, he was 2/9 on his first 9 shots, he shook off the rust and dominated the third quarter of the game. Leonard buried Celtics defenders in the post, getting to his spots at will, and either drawing a foul or rising up to finish over his defender with ease.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

Leonard’s jumper is already beginning to look better than it did during preseason. He was efficient from both midrange and 3-point range in this game, and after shooting just 15/25 from the free throw line in preseason he’s shot 14/15 at the line through his first 2 regular season games.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

Still, there are some signs of rust showing for Leonard as he shot just 6/15 at the rim tonight, and didn’t seem to have much lift when asked to finish through contact. Leonard is also clearly not quite accustomed to playing with his new teammates yet, as the offense often seems choppy and disjointed when he’s the primary initiator.

Even with Leonard being less than 100% the Raptors are a very good team, but I’m impatient to see what they can be when he really gets going. It’s been just two games but they look like they could be special.

What to do with Norman Powell?

The obvious answer to this question is “sit him” as Powell has had a large negative impact through the Raptors’ first two games. Still, when Powell gets on the court his role is unclear and finding a way that Powell can positively impact the game seems important, as the Raptors appear intent on widening the rotation in the event of injury, rather than simply playing their other 9 guys more.

Powell likely needs to play off the ball more to be a part of an effective offense. He’s been exceptionally poor on drives to the basket to begin the year, throwing up wild layups that have no chance of going in.

If Powell can cut, make spot-up 3s and recommit on the defensive end then he might not totally hamper the team whenever he’s in the game. The role he’s played so far, that of a secondary ball-handler with the bench, clearly hasn’t been a fit though, as he’s been the team’s least effective player.

1 Prediction

Danny Green will lead the Raptors in on/off rating this year

Green has been an on/off all-star through the Raptors’ fist two games, as the Raptors have gone from unstoppable with him on the court to terrible with him off it. And while it’s only been two games I’m ready to call it right now, this is a trend that will continue for the whole season (not necessarily the “terrible with Green off the court” bit though).

Green offers the Raptors an extremely versatile defender who can knock down the open 3s he’s given without disrupting the offense. While OG Anunoby would appear at first glance to replicate this skillset, Anunoby provides almost all of his defensive value at the point of attack, being a fairly average team defender. That will come to Anunoby with time and experience, but for the moment he lags way behind the veteran Green in that aspect, as Green has shown the ability to change the game with his intelligent positioning and reads in the halfcourt, as well as with his hustle in transition.

powered by Advanced iFrame free. Get the Pro version on CodeCanyon.

Header Image: USA Today Sports

Statistics: NBA.com & Cleaning the Glass

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.