Ahh, sweet relief. A win on the road against the Rockets would have been nice under any circumstances, but a win after the sting of Sunday’s, what-just-happened, loss to Boston is a soothing balm. Especially when the team is set to face two of the most feared characters under the employ of the Pelicans later today, and I’m not talking about Boogie and Davis:
Otherworldly terror aside, last night’s game was a nice one. OG Anunoby getting his first start this season can and should be taken like a nod from Casey that he’s embracing this whole business of a culture reset, too, by taking the right risks when the stakes are high enough that the chance paying off can’t be counted as a fluke. It was all contingent on Powell being out of the line-up but I’m choosing to turn that negative into a positive omen that Casey might still be capable of learning some new tricks, or at the very least a little versatility.
And OG showed up. He’s been on since the season started, making steady improvements and highlight worthy moves each game, but last night was without a doubt his breakout game. From the first quarter until closing it out he mixed the flashy stuff with the integral blocks needed to build out a win against a team like Houston, coming off a six game winning streak. Add to that the unflappable quality that makes him so magnetic to watch on court and off, in the way he looks to Lowry and DeRozan for playmaking, and how he seems to have a knack for being where his teammates need him—rebounding, ready for a corner 3, slipping around his defender to get open—and you have a rookie that was just waiting for a platform like last night’s game to show he’s the real deal. Something most Toronto fans had already figured out.
OG also showed that he’s a capable defender. He dogged James Harden for so much of the 4th that when the Rockets point guard’s energy started to flag it didn’t seem like such a stretch to equate some of that to Anunoby.
After a bit of a lag in the season it was the kind of game the Raptors needed going into this November-December stretch, and they played like it. DeRozan is excelling in his role as an elevated playmaker, and has clearly found an easy grove to it that has complemented the rest of his game. His passing continues to be clean, intelligent, only really getting tripped up at times after the play has literally left his hands along with the ball. His confidence is high and when it’s not manifesting in maintained ball movement it comes in, thank god, dunks. And DeMar’s dunks are honestly getting better with age, like a fine Dwyane Wade wine.
Kyle Lowry came out explosively after some frustrating last few efforts. And while DeRozan is thus far having an easier time integrating the onus on ball movement and cultivating plays into his game, Lowry is looking more comfortable with less touches and making the ones he’s getting count. There’s no question that the guy drilling the bench on closing the play is Lowry, and Lowry plus bench is proving to be one of the most productive line-up configurations the Raptors have in their artillery, especially against a team that’s going to hack away at a lack of interior defence.
That was the main problem for Miles and the bench in the 3rd quarter, bailed out only by a couple of wild 3s from C.J. I can’t believe I’m writing this but Fred VanVleet’s size was a bit of an issue late in the game, since the Raptors were already lacking an answer to no inside defence. Fred would, of course, go on to remedy what he could through grit and grind but it felt a bit like the bends losing a 21-point lead that fast. Anyway, let it be known that Fred does not fear any beard and worked some turnover magic on Harden, likely unaccustomed to being guarded by anyone that fast or, frankly, kind.
Ibaka was a blip and I mean that as kindly as I can. He had two fouls in the first three minutes of the game and one assist, numbers both too high and too low, respectively, to really fit with the rest of the Raptors’ gameplay. Don’t put any used hotdog wrapping tinfoil on your head because this is by no means a conspiracy theory, but I just don’t get the sense Ibaka is fitting into the overall dynamic the way Ujiri imagined. Whether Casey hasn’t figured out how to best compliment him or there’s something greater at play, consider me unconvinced.
Otherwise I’d like to extend a special thanks to PJ Tucker, for doing us one last solid by getting ejected from the game, JV, for looking especially tanned (how?), and to Mike D’Antoni, who stomped around the sidelines with his privilege showing and drove his already faded team to distraction. Somebody tear him a page from the Raptors playbook on “Calls”, which is subsequently just a list of numbers for all the places to get decent takeout after road games, since the Raptors themselves are not accustomed to getting the other kind on court.