Raptors 97, Timberwolves 72 | Box Score
Ahh, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the dastardly would-be rival who not only injured Delon Wright at Las Vegas Summer League a year ago but also ended the Toronto Raptors’ championship hopes with a Tyus Jones buzzer-beater. The rosters may not have very many of the same players, and you almost certainly didn’t remember that game until being reminded of it, but damn if the Raptors weren’t fired up for revenge. Or, you know, just because that’s how you’re supposed to play here.
Either way, the Raptors came out strong and never let up on Saturday, steamrolling the Wolves to improve to 2-0 in the tournament. While the team has talked up the value of close games as a learning experience, they’re okay with a decisive victory, too.
“Yes, absolutely, because the game started 0-0 and then we got to the blowout,” coach Patrick Mutombo said. “Guys played hard from the start. I thought it was good focus on details and preparation, guys did a good job executing.”
You want a culture reset? Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and Kennedy Meeks all attempted threes in the first quarter, shooting a combined 2-of-4. It’s nice that they all have the confidence to let fly, and it’s letting the Raptors try some different things like Poeltl winding up in the corner. This may or may not be a larger part of the NBA plan next year – the summer Raptors have always tried new things that didn’t necessarily materialize in October – but it’s nice that all five bigs the Raptors have under contract (plus Meeks) at least have the confidence to step in to one as a trailer at the top or popping out to the elbow.
“if our offense produced the shot, we’re okay with it,” Mutombo said of his bigs taking threes. “Nothing forced, and as long as it’s in the flow of our offense and it makes sense, we’re okay with it.”
Still in the “new things” department, the coaching staff looked to get a few different players some run at the shooting guard spot, and Jordan Loyd gave them a really nice boost early on. The push to impress in small minutes can sometimes lead to mistakes in this environment, but Loyd, Cole Huff, and Justin Edwards were steady and within themselves.
“You didn’t see as many big outbursts from me, Pascal, and Jakob,” Fred VanVleet said. “But I thought we had a lot more contributions from our bench. Jordan Loyd came in and he was a surprisingly good addition. He was great today. I don’t know what his stats ended up being, but he just made the game work easier.”
Some nice defensive possessions that forced Minnesota into some late-clock attempts held them to 20 points on their first 20 possessions, and the Raptors held a five-point lead after a frame. Where a bench-heavy group struggled yesterday, the Raptors kept course early in the second. Will Sheehey shook off a tough opener to provide a veteran hand alongside Poeltl, and Troy Caupain acquitted himself well running the offense. Edwards missed a put-back but chased down the rebounder for a mid-court steal, and the resultant Sheehey triple had the Raptors up double-digits midway through the quarter. VanVleet returned and, after having a pull-up attempt on a big switch blocked, brought some nice pace variation, pushing for his own shot or outletting for lightning-fast Alfonzo McKinnie in transition but slowing things down if nothing was there.
It was enough to hold a seven-point lead into halftime, out of which VanVleet flipped that switch he’s shown here and in the G-League before. Pushing off of rebounds, getting into bodies for tough finishes (and and-ones), and then using the attention he was getting to dump off to Siakam, VanVleet was in complete control for a few minutes, quickly stretching the lead to 13. Potential harbingers of system tweaks continued, with the Raptors running a split-cut above a Poeltl post-up (something they should have been doing much more of above Jonas Valanciunas post-ups for some time), and it flowed nicely into a pick-and-roll.
VanVleet continued taking a beating to finish (the biggest part of his game he needed to work on this summer), Loyd gave a few more good minutes including an acrobatic and-one, and Meeks cleaned up as a rim-runner and offensive rebounder inside. A filthy Siakam drive for a dunk against Raphiael Putney drove the hammer home on a huge third quarter, giving the Raptors a 22-point edge heading into what promised to be a garbage-time frame.
Poeltl still saw a few minutes to complete the double double, and the Raptors got an extended look at some of the depth pieces they brought in, always a valuable endeavor.
“The thing is, we focus on us and we wanna make sure that regardless of the score we are still working on good habits, we’re executing our system,” Mutombo said. “Because ultimately, this is a great platform for our guys to keep learning and growing. So regardless of what the score is, we still wanna make sure we have the right approach, the right focus, and we work on the right stuff.”
Coming off of a slow start that built into a fun comeback with some strong late-game execution Friday, this one was a bit more to formula for a team with more NBA and near-NBA talent than some other teams in Vegas. Players like VanVleet, Sikam, and Poeltl should be outplaying some squads here, and getting to see them pull out a tough one and then dominate in short order has made for a good all-around start to the tournament.
- As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason.
- The three NBA Raptors once again led the way. VanVleet had 18-5-5 in 22 minutes, Siakam was dominant with 17 points in 22 minutes, Poeltl had a 15-and-10 double-double in 26 minutes, and all three had a plus-minus of at least 17.
- Meeks had another solid outing, too, with 12 points on seven shots in nine minutes (he’s not shy). Loyd, Huff, and Sheehey gave good minutes on the wing. McKinnie continued to show really interesting flashes that show why the Raptors want a long look at him, too.
- Minnesota didn’t have a ton of NBA talent here. V.J. Beachem is a shooter whose shot wasn’t dropping, Perry Ellis had a quiet game, and Raphiael Putney was just OK. Marcus Paige and Jack Gibbs had nice nights.
- OG Anunoby (knee) and Malcolm Miller (ankle) are out for the tournament. There was once again a large Raptors presence, from the office to coaching staff to roster out in support. You can’t convince me Norman Powell isn’t actually an assistant coach.
- Shout out to The Starters. I got a chance to catch up with them quickly today, and they remain just the best group of people. They deserve all the success that’s come their way.
- The Raptors don’t play until Monday, but they’ll have an intrasquad scrimmage tomorrow morning.