I had to write the recap for this? Totally forgot but since I did watch bits of the game, albeit with an infant hanging around, I believe I possess sufficient authority to comment. You can take a couple different angles to this one, the most popular being that the Raptors should have comfortably won against a Magic team that is, frankly, terrible. On the other hand, you could commend the Raptors for pulling one off against a team that had beaten two playoff sides in Portland and Charlotte, and boasted a respectable 17-18 home record coming into this one.
[Read: Quick Reaction - Raptors @ Magic]
After the high of beating Boston and clinching the playoffs, Orlando could be seen as a potential pitfall instead of a routine trampling. In the second quarter, Steve Novak, Landry Fields, and Nando De Colo combined for 11 points as the Raptors won the second 30-11 and entered halftime with a comfortable 19 point lead. The half saw the return of Landry Fields into the lineup and the swingman looked fresh as a spring daisy all night dropping a modest yet effective 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assists and 1 block in a 17 minute spell that can best be described as encouraging.
With Salmons struggling again and Terrence Ross inexplicably on the bench instead of checking Victor Oladipo (16 points, 7-12 FG), Casey called upon Fields who looked to be up for it. This is obviously a good sign with the playoffs fast approaching and the Raptors wing depth being called into question of late. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were chugging along shooting a low percentage, so it’s good that Valanciunas gave the offense a much-needed interior left. I have visually transcribed his entire offensive game here:
What you don’t see in that video is that he was guarding Nikola Vucevic, whose 22 points were offset well by Valanciunas. Casey usually has Valanciunas guard the weaker opposition front court player, but chose to stick him on Vucevic this time. Last night, we’ll say that he played defense by having a good offensive game, if that makes any sense. He made Vucevic work and in the end it was an offensive wash, which basically means that the Magic’s best player had little net impact.
The third was a disaster, not so much offensively because you expect the team to go through dry spells, but defensively. The retaining wall of the Raptors success has been their defense and when you let Orlando shoot a whopping 67% in a quarter when they were coming in 19 down, it throws a wrench in the Raptors engine and speaks to the team stepping off the pedal. This late in the season teams like Orlando, with one eye on the Bahamas, usually whittle and die when they’re down by that much, so I almost, almost can’t blame the Raptors for letting up a little.
I think it’s a positive sign that the Raptors can be in second gear and still pull off road wins. A third quarter like the one they had would spell doom in the playoffs, so it’s good news that they have time to re-focus, get Patterson back, and hone in. They don’t have enough of a cushion in the standings to ease up, which I think is a good thing because it ensures that the team will be heading into the post-season playing meaningful basketball rather than playing out a string of inconsequential games where they have danger of losing form.
As it turned out, the game needed rescuing and who else but Kyle Lowry to do it. In the weekly pod we spoke about the reliance on Lowry and whether it’s a problem. In short, yes, it is, but that’s what big players are there for – having them rescue you when things aren’t going right is par for the course. Lowry had 9 points in the fourth quarter and DeMar DeRozan chipped in with 7 including a huge three from the corner which served to ice the game. I could gripe about the defense on Oladipo and why Ross wasn’t tasked with the job, but leave that for another day. Orlando did make a late run and had a chance to tie the game but Dwane Casey’s out-of-bounds defense struck again with a five-second violation which left Jacque Vaughan looking like an idiot (they’ve struggled with inbounding all season and they even took an extra timeout to set themselves up). Vaughan later called it, “just good defense by Toronto, denying the basketball in”. Below is the play:
John Salmons almost turned the ball over after receiving the ball on another inbounds play, but luckily it got deflected off a Magic body, sparing the ex-King further blushes. The Raptors escape Orlando with a win, and the main regret here is that our players had a chance to take half a night off but were called into way too much action in the second half on a first night of a back-to-back. Lowry, Valanciunas and DeRozan played 36, 37, and 38 minutes respectively, which doesn’t leave much in the tank for tonight against Miami. I’ll leave the final words to Casey:
“We’re happy about the win, but cannot be satisfied about the way we got it.”
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