In a perfect world Lowry wouldn’t have needed to play 40 minutes. In a perfect world the Raptors would have put away the vulnerable Magic early — Toronto led by 11 after three minutes played. Instead they went defence optional for the second and third quarter as Orlando — 9-21 since they played Toronto in London in January — built up a seven-point lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.
But the Raptors held Orlando to 18 points on 38-per-cent shooting and somehow managed to pull their way back into a game even while shooting just 8-of-22 from the field in the fourth quarter themselves.
But big picture? They did win their fourth straight game and seventh in their last eight while sitting out Valanciunas (due to a bruised hand, though he could have played if needed), Swiss Army knife guard Cory Joseph (rest) and Patrick Patterson (ankle), while James Johnson (foot) and DeMarre Carroll (knee) were already out.
Ultimately, Casey’s looking beyond April with his approach.
“I’d rather have health than anything else. Freshness, I think that’s so important,” he said.
“Nobody wants to win more than me, but the overall health of your players and the overall minutes on their bodies is something that we’ve got to watch and be smart with.
“It’s a double-edged sword. I understand that it’s important to our organization and our city to fight for a championship. To even talk about fighting for a championship, it’s never been done here before. I think that’s important to say, ‘Hey, we’re fighting for a championship,’ and play with that pride no matter who’s out there on the floor.”
With DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors’ offensive engines, going a combined 11-for-31 from the field, it fell to others to pick up the slack and they did just that.
In addition to the 20-point night from Scola and 12 from Biyombo, the Raptors got 11 off the bench from Terrence Ross and needed all of them as the Magic battled them hard all evening.
With Biyombo in the starting lineup in place of Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph getting a day of rest and Patrick Patterson out after tweaking his ankle in the win over Boston on Friday, the pickings for Casey were somewhat slim.
“I thought I was going to have to pull Cory out of mothballs there for a little while,” Casey admitted after the game. “But our guys found a way. It wasn’t pretty again, but the effort and the energy down the stretch was good.
“We accomplished what we needed to accomplish against a good, solid team. Defensively, we knew that it as going to be a struggle. They made us execute things with different people and that’s going to help us down the road.”
The Raptors reeled off a 10-0 run to turn a six-point deficit into a five-point lead midway through the fourth. Kyle Lowry scored or assisted on eight of the 10 points as Toronto dialled up the intensity on the defensive end of the floor and held the Magic to 36.4 percent shooting in the quarter after they had shot 52 percent coming into the fourth.
Toronto certainly caught a break or two against Orlando as well. In addition to Orlando’s best scorer Nikola Vucevic missing the game, Ersan Ilyasova, normally a Raptor-killer and the exact type of player that gives Luis Scola fits, was an ugly 4-of-13 on the night with multiple air balls. It also helped that the horrifying match-up advantage Aaron Gordon should have had over Scola didn’t really get time to manifest itself. Scott Skiles held Gordon to just 18 minutes on the night.
Still, it took 40 minutes from Kyle Lowry and some nervous fourth quarter moments for the Raptors to take their 48th win of the season. It was far from pretty. But down so many crucial pieces, you could have hardly expected it would be a breeze.
Thanks to the modest-but-meaningful roles played by guys 11 through 13 on the depth chart, Toronto will now go on the road with a high probability of returning as the first 50-win team in franchise history. That would certainly be a pretty thing to see.
After scoring just three points in the second half, it would be DeRozan that sealed the Magic’s fate – burying a three-point play with less than a minute left to extend the Raptors’ lead to four. His backcourt partner Kyle Lowry would then force a turnover on Victor Oladipo, ultimately putting the game out of reach.
The All-Star tandem of DeRozan and Lowry would have an odd night collectively, shooting a combined 11-of-31 but scoring 43 points thanks to their combined 26 free throw attempts.
This was a good game overall for Orlando. They played with good energy and intention and stuck with the game despite falling behind by 11 points in the first half. The Magic are playing better basketball.
There were still undoubted holes though. They fouled DeMar DeRozan (25 points on 13-for-16 free throw shooting) and Kyle Lowry (18 points on 7-for-10 free throw shooting). They turned the ball over a lot and did not look sharp.
Once those tightened up, the Magic were able to execute, get good shots and take the lead. They were dialed in.
It was once again those late moments where the team got tight and failed to execute. Or executed and failed to make shots. Those moments where the team needed to get a stop and could not secure the rebound.
The frustration from the team, from the coaches and from the fans is real. And it should be as this happens again and again.
On Sunday at the Air Canada Centre, the Magic suffered from a toxic combination: a massive free-throw discrepancy, an inability to collect defensive rebounds and a late stretch in which their offense simply went cold.
After Orlando took a 91-85 lead with 7:54 remaining, Magic players misfired on a bunch of good looks at the hoop. They closed the game by making just four of their final 15 shot attempts, and they also turned the ball over twice.
“It’s real tough,” Magic guard Victor Oladipo said. “They made big plays down the stretch. We’ve got to do a better job of closing out the games when we play them.”
Actually, not just the Raptors.
The Toronto Raptors came out strong and attacked the Orlando Magic with everything they had. Literally because DeMar DeRozan was making a living at the foul line. They took advantage of the Magic’s sloppiness early on.
Toronto though was not incredibly sharp. Not until the end of the game when they buckled down and picked up the win. They seemed content with attacking and getting to the foul line when the opportunity arose.
Bismack Biyombo was probably the best non-DeRozan player on the floor with his energy on the glass and shot blocking. The Raptors got contributions from the players they needed and stepped up their defense when the Magic got tight late.
Toronto won the battle of the boards against the Orlando Magic, 45-40. Biyombo and Jason Thompson put up a great effort on the glass combining for 21 rebounds. Mississauga native Andrew Nicholson had a nice game of his own finishing with 9 rebounds and 15 points. It was the Raptors second chance efforts that really allowed them to get to the line and get the edge in this contest.
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With no Patterson available against the Magic on Sunday night, Thompson played 28 minutes and came just one bucket shy of posting his first Raptors double-double in the 105-100 Toronto victory. Also, the Raptors were a team best +13 points with Thompson on the court.
“You need players,” Luis Scola told Pro Bball Report after Thompson’s arrival. “You need a solid team of players you can trust, so it’s a good thing for us. (Thompson) is a good player. He’s been playing for quite a few years. He wants to have an opportunity to be on a winning team. He is going to help us. For us it’s a race for how fast we can adapt him to what we do here by the time the playoffs come.
“It’s very important because stuff is going to happen. You just have to make sure you overcome whatever happens. Stuff is going to happen. Bad things are going to happen to every team. You are going to go through a slump, somebody is going to get hurt, you are going to get a bad matchup. Stuff is going to happen. It’s a long road to the playoffs, a lot of time, a lot of games. Good teams (just) walk around whatever happens and become even stronger after that. So you need guys like (Thompson) for that to happen.”
The Raptors are within one game of the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers. Our team doesn’t play again until a visit to Boston on Wednesday. Here’s hoping coach doesn’t allow Kyle and DeMar to do anything more strenuous on Monday than take their families to the park. Rest, guys, rest.
It may not impress some, but Powell’s production has brought some consistency at a position where the team has lacked some for most of this season.
While Powell’s recent production has been big for the Raptors, it could potentially be a bigger factor for the team down the road.
The Raptors are expecting to get their big free agent acquisition, DeMarre Carroll, back on the court within the next two weeks. However, due to the severity of his injury and his subsequent recovery, it’s hard to expect Carroll to return without some rust and play a significant amount of minutes instantly.
Additionally, due to James Johnson’s limited role and Casey’s wariness to insert Terrence Ross in the starting lineup, this experiment with Powell could continue well beyond March if Powell can keep up this encouraging production for the Raptors.
But if there is one thing that we have learned about these Raptors under Casey, it’s that they simply refuse to be outworked and out-hustled. It’s a identity that has been forged ever so consistently since Casey took over from Jay Triano back in June 2011.
Under his leadership, we have seen Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan become one of the premier backcourts in the entire league while Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo have become everyday contributors. This season, as the Raptors seem poised to crush their franchise-record 49 wins from last year, it is worth noting that DeMarre Carroll has missed 45 games. Carroll, the recipient of a four-year contract worth $60 million from the Raptors last July, was the team’s prized acquisition of last summer and was signed partially to fill the void that the Raptors seemed to have at the small forward spot.
Turns out, it appears the Raptors may not have even missed him.
When I think of the Toronto Raptors in the past, I can’t remember any team in a good enough position where we could rest players, let alone win those games as well. These were qualities of a San Antonio team, perennial champions. These were qualities that I almost never envisioned for our Raptors team. Even if it doesn’t seems academic, the idea of our Toronto Raptors being able to rest players AND still win games, let’s me know we’ve stepped up in a major way.
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