Toronto improves to 31-25 after trouncing an injury-depleted Magic squad.
Sometimes, a competition is so fierce, scribes are not needed, and the legends write themselves. Sometimes, a mere smidgen of war-paint leaves the deepest of impressions. Sometimes, the fight is so compelling that the battle-scars themselves make paintings and poems redundant. Sometimes, when the fortunes of man are propped upon the outcome of battles, the story need not be told, they are simply understood.
However, none of the above applied to last night’s game between the Raptors and Magicians.
As an aside, I will be referring to Orlando’s professional basketball team as the Magicians because calling them the “Magic” sounds dumb. A team implies multiple teammates, and according to Merrian-Webster, (kids, look away if you’re reading this), “magics” don’t exist (okay now you can look again). So, Magicians.
Tipping-off was a mere formality — a tally was recorded in the W column for the Raptors before the game even started. That’s not to overstate the ability of this Raptors team, nor am I dismissing the validity of an NBA franchise. I’m simply pointing out that the scales were heavily tipped in the Raptors’ favor. The Magicians were on the road — where they are 3-26 on the season — and they were missing their their top scorer in Afflalo due to injury. Like most other days of the week that end in the suffix “-day”, it wasn’t going to be the Magicians’ night.
To their credit, the Magicians gave it their best punch. While the Raptors resembled a legions of sleepy-eyed Canadian hockey
nationalists zombies fans, the Magicians came out wands ablazing, stupefying and winggardium leviosaing (when you’re dropping HP references, it’s time to go to bed, Will) in the first quarter. Tobias Harris, having been newly freed from the shackles of playing behind Big Baby in the depth chart, dropped 10 points in the first quarter by curling around screens and stretching the defense.
Meanwhile, the Raptors tried to capitalize on a weakened opponent by featuring Jonas Valanaciunas in the post, which netted less-than-satisfactory results on offense. Jonas failed to secure decent post position against Nikola Vucevic, and failed to create permissible angles for post-entry passes. This lopped off significant portions off the shot clock, and forced the Raptors into settling for a myriad of lazy jumpshots. The Raptors ended the first quarter shooting 7 of 20 from the field, with 9 of their attempts coming from the midrange area (16-24 feet). This resulted in the shot-chart below:
As he is wont to do, Dwane Casey elected to go to his bench unit to start the second quarter, but the changing of the guard did little to alter the outcome. The offense continued to be sloppy, and in addition to turning the ball over, the jumpers continued to rain — and miss — from the dreaded midrange area.
The lone exceptions to the Raptors’ general malaise in the first half were play of Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson. Trey Rosay was active on defense, disrupting passing lanes and running shooters off their sweet spots. He also tacked on a pair of three pointers for good measure. Amir Johnson did his part by pouring in 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, scoring on easy putbacks and an assortment of hook-shots.
However, despite their best efforts, the Raptors’ lead tallied a mere 3 points going into the half thanks to poor shooting from Derozan, Lowry and Patterson. To be fair, none of them really forced their shots — the exception being Demar launching long jumpers in the first quarter, but that’s his game — they simply missed intentionally manufactured shots within the flow of the offense.
The trend reversed itself in the third quarter. The Raptors played with more urgency, and despite running largely the same sets — minus the sheer insistence of posting up Jonas — their shots were falling to the tune of 86% in the third quarter. Yes, that’s correct, the Raptors shot 12-for-14 from the field in the third quarter, including 5-of-5 from deep. They also shot a perfect 7-of-7 from the line. Please take a moment out of your day to graze upon the green in the shot chart below:
Kyle Lowry’s efforts in the third quarter were nothing short of magical (see what I did there?) As he did in their previous match-up, Lowry blew the doors off the game with a barrage of three-pointers. A visibly fired-up Lowry took matters into his own hands, and sunk all five of his field goal attempts, including four three pointers. He also cleverly drew a foul on a three-point attempt, and sunk his three free-throws. He did record five turnovers in the quarter, but he was the key to R.Kelly’s ignition, and his efforts helped his team win the third by a decisive 36-24 point margin.
From there, the Raptors simply rode their lead to the finish line. Tobias Harris continued to dominate, scoring a game-high 28 points (get him back into your fantasy lineups), including 11 in the final frame. The two teams played to a standstill in the quarter, and the large lead permitted the Raptors’ depth-chart bench members to briefly see the light of day. New acquisition Nando de Colo managed a five-minute stint, and chipped in with some rebounds and an assist. Greivis Vasquez played out the entirety of the fourth, and steered the team steadily towards an easy 105-90 point victory.
The only blemish in the game came in the middle of the third quarter, when Amir left the game with a sprained right ankle. Zarar gratuitously giffed the incident here, so you can see the injury for yourself. Unfortunately, this is the same ankle that Amir tweaked earlier in the season. His injury significantly hampered his performance and forced him to miss a pair of games. Ironically, the injury occurred the last time the Magicians were in town.
Anyhow, the Raptors walked away with an easy victory, and as Jay-Z would say, it’s on to the next one for the Raptors, who now sit 1.5 games up on the fourth place Chicago Bulls.
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