Coming off a gut-twisting loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which broke the Raptors’ 11-game winning streak — Toronto won a closer-than-close game versus the Orlando Magic, an Eastern Conference lightweight. For the first time all season, Toronto was missing their star guard and MVP candidate DeMar DeRozan. ‘Deebo’ was out with what was categorized as a left thigh contusion. He’s been battered left and right this season, sacrificing his body time and time again throughout the 70 grueling games he’s played in. It was much-needed rest (and healing, obviously — wink, wink) for a player who’s consistently been a top 10 NBA performer all season long.
That brings us to a larger observation for the Raptors season — the team’s injury luck has been damn near incredible this season. Save for Ibaka’s weekly knee chalk-ups and Delon Wright’s early-season shoulder separation, Toronto has had the majority of their roster generally avoid the injury bug. It’s also helped that the team’s phenomenal depth has allowed for the core starters to stay fresh for the duration of the NBA campaign. Van Vleet and Wright have filled in seamlessly for Lowry, and the same goes for Siakam and Poeltl when Ibaka’s M.I.A.. Then there’s Lucas Nogueira who’s been forced to replace JV at times this year — another viable backup who’s shown flashes this season. Malcolm Miller and G-League call-up, Nigel Hayes have also had their moments while Anunoby was out.
Back to the game at hand, where I promised myself I wouldn’t copy & paste Blake Murphy’s last recap of the Raptors-Magic game where it followed nearly the same game script as this one. Orlando came out competitive early, and it stayed that way for the first three quarters of the game. Jonas Valanciunas played his heart out in the first as well as his point-mate, Kyle Lowry. Their pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets proved hard for Orlando to defend — another tool Toronto has successfully implemented to fully maximize JV’s potential in what has undeniably been a breakout year for the big. Lowry knew coming into this one he’d have to shoulder the vast majority of the load offensively, scoring and playmaking at will. He ended the first half with 16 points, looking hungry to lead his team out of the Sunshine State with a victory.
The Raptors forwards struggled to produce early as Orlando’s length and athleticism stifled and disrupted tons of plays. The impressive combination of rookie Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon gave the Raptors all they could handle on the defensive end. Former-Raptor Bismack Biyombo had his way with Toronto, especially in the second frame — where he essentially bullied the Raptors bigs (and guards), giving Toronto a glimpse of how ‘Big Bizness’ used to punish foes defensively, and on the glass while he donned the Raptors uniform. Biyombo finished with six points, eight rebounds and two blocks in just 16 minutes of game action.
The third quarter was a bizarre, ugly 12 minutes for Toronto as they were outscored 25 to 16. Nothing seemed to fall for them offensively. Powell fell apart after a strong start while Valanciunas was subbed off early for his own struggles — as he was replaced by Bebe Nogueira. OG Anunoby also seemed totally not interested in keeping possession of the basketball, turning it over to the Magic defense at will. The lead was as large as 11 until Toronto finally screwed its head on straight in the final quarter of the game.
A testament to Toronto’s depth, Dwane Casey rolled out a Lorenzo Brown, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira lineup — and boy did they do work. Orlando missed their first 11 shots of the quarter as Toronto locked up shop defensively. Don’t get me wrong, the offense was painful to watch from this unit (which is expected, considering who Casey played), but the defense was chomping at the bits and restored the Raptors lead in no time. It was good to see this energetic bunch replace Ibaka and JV late in the game. Ibaka’s mesopotamian knees and JV’s total incompetence at times forced Casey to make a move — that which he did, and didn’t look back.
The Raptors swarmed Orlando and it took the Magic essentially half of the quarter to realize what just hit them.
the magic won't stop until frank vogel loses the last 17 hairs he has left
— William Lou (@william_lou) February 13, 2018
The men in blue went on another scoreless run with a few minutes remaining. That seemed to be their last chance to make a comeback. By then, it was too late as Lowry hit a couple of clutch threes to ice the game and fed the ball around to his teammates with ease.
Shelvin Mack (or my supposed clone, according to William Lou) led the Magic with 17 points, while Gordon chipped in a 16/6/3 stat line. Evan Fournier and Jonathan Simmons missed the games with injuries. On the other hand, Lowry led Toronto with 25/8/8. In very irregular fashion, seven (!) different Raptors’ posted four or more rebounds in this one.
The next 11 games on the schedule for Toronto will be crucial, as they play the Cavaliers twice, Celtics twice and a bevy of other competitive teams such as the Pacers, Clippers, Nuggets and Heat. Seventy-one games down, people. We’re almost there.
Some cool tidbits from this game include Lowry hitting four three-pointers in the contest — reaching 201 for the season. He’s the first-ever Toronto Raptor to hit over 200 long-bombs in a season. Tracy McGrady, who played his first three seasons in Toronto, then his next four in Orlando — was inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame during their pre-game ceremony. Toronto has now won a franchise-record (yup, another record broken) nine straight road games. On the not-so-great side, Toronto’s streak of 23 straight games of scoring 100 points or more ended during this contest.