Muscle Memory Pays off in Utah

11 mins read

With the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles in the rearview mirror, the Raptors traveled to Utah to participate in a scheduled loss. Only, the Raptors have no respect for what the schedule dictates. Kawhi Leonard sat out, but the Raptors thrashed the Jazz all the same. After Serge Ibaka’s sublime performance in LA, he decided he might as well try to never miss again. He shot 8-8 on the night, and we’re running out of words for how good he’s been. A well spread out “team game” delivered this win into the hands of the Raptors. You’d be forgiven if you hadn’t picked the Raptors in this one, even if you had a sign up bonus as an incentive. Here’s the story.

First Quarter

Jonas Valanciunas is in to start the game, and the Raptors promptly cough up three turnovers. Game is sloppy to begin with and transition scores from Kyle Lowry and Royce O’Neale have the game underway at 6-5, Jazz. Danny Green is fighting through a screen from Rudy Gobert, and pushes through as Joe Ingles hits a three. They call a foul on Green and go to review the timing of the shot. Upon review they take the shot away, likely because Gobert walked all the way from the hashmark to the 3-point line, while maintaining his “screen”. Ingles hits a three on the next possession anyway, but at least we know the refs are aware.

O’Neale breaks away for a dunk and the Raptors are looking at a 12-5 deficit. Valanciunas strings together a dunk and a triple. His offense is super important for the Raptors right now, but they’re force-feeding the ball down low and it’s leading to turnovers. It’s 18-12 for the Jazz as Matt Devlin calls Alec Burks “Alex Burks” and I’m sure Burks had an episode of PTSD, back to his grade school days: “It’s not Alex, it’s Alec.”

Pascal Siakam creates a lane for himself and finishes at the rim. Lowry finds Ibaka for a three, but they’re still stuck 20-17. As a sidebar, it’s incredible that players like Harden are getting so creative at using extra steps. Meanwhile, Siakam just hit a spinning layup while only using 1-step. He threw himself backwards toward the defender, planted his foot and spun mid-air before finishing. His touch around the basket is starting to remind me a bit of Antawn Jamison, so weird and fun.

‘T-Shirt’ by Migos plays in the background as Ricky Rubio misses a 3-pointer and I’m suddenly reminded that, that video was shot on a freezing mountain. Rubio’s jumper right now is a big, frozen brick. How poetic. Ibaka gets fed on the short-roll, that’s a bucket. Ibaka scores a couple more in the paint, and Fred VanVleet hits a deep 3-pointer to take us into the break, down 31-30.

Second Quarter

Gobert is still bullying the Raptors in the paint, and Delon Wright takes up the mantle as weak-side horse. Gobert scored a bucket to start things off, but a good job by Wright of sealing Gobert three possessions in a row stymies the Jazz. As Wright showed his mettle on the defensive end, CJ Miles hit a triple, nice.

Powell was chasing around a screen and got his arm yanked upwards, looks like he might have dislocated his shoulder – turns out it was a shoulder sprain, more tests on the morrow – tough break. He was starting to find a nice groove on the bench. A VanVleet triple has the score at 42-38, Jazz. Nick Nurse is leaning heavily on Wright-VanVleet-Valanciunas here. The Jazz have pushed their perimeter defenders out past the 3-point line, the Raptors are having a tough time getting inside. The Jazz defenders are really aggressive right now, and the whistle has been very friendly to that playstyle.

This is reminiscent of the WCF Finals of last year. Golden State had really long stretches of brutal physicality in games 6 & 7. Houston responded by hoisting up a boatload of triples, even as they got further away from the line. I don’t expect that from the Raptors here, but we’ll see.

Lowry checks back in, and immediately finds OG Anunoby for a triple. Every-time Anunoby does anything remotely good on offense I think every fan says “he’s young Kawhi”. Which is both correct, and not correct. 44-41 for the Jazz. Anunoby gets an opportunity in transition and he misses horribly. He’s so impressive when he’s attacking in a straight line, but when any finesse is necessary, he’s terribly inadequate. There’s no “slinky” effect to his game. If you’re wondering what “slinky” means, watch Siakam.

Lowry and VanVleet each take a turn going the length of the floor for tough layups. I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention that the Raptors still haven’t attempted a free throw. On the bright-side, the lead is now in the hands of the good guys, 46-45.

A turnover passing into the post to Valanciunas triggers the classic Leo Rautins “You can’t give it to him that low” comment. I understand post-entry passes are very important, but it’s a rare sight that a big man loses the seal on his defender if he’s doing his best. Generally when Rautins makes this comment, it’s just the big man being a bit complacent with his position.┬áSiakam gets a post-up against Rubio (I love this for Siakam) and bullies him for an and-1. With Ibaka in foul trouble, Greg Monroe checks in and gets a bucket! Great job by ‘Moose’ finding room against Gobert.

Siakam gets a post touch while being guarded by Crowder. His body starts morphing into an amorphous blob of white. Everyone covers their eyes, once the light fades a shiny washing machine sits in the middle of the floor. Crowder, intimidated, pushes up to defend. The fool, accidentally hits the button “Spin Cycle”. An anthropomorphized washing machine begins turning over it’s left shoulder towards the basket, The dial on the machine switches to “Silk”, and suddenly Siakam springs out of his transformation, devoid of Crowder, to finish at the rim.

The rest of the half is fairly uniform, save for a monstrous 28-foot bomb from Lowry. The first half wraps up 65-54 for the Raptors.

Third Quarter

Things are trending the same way in this quarter as they did to end the half. Lowry and Green both hit from downtown to stretch the lead to 16. This Raptors team is something else, man. Some sloppy play from both teams eats up a good chunk of minutes and after all of it, the Raptors are up 20.

The Raptors defense really picks up, holding the Jazz to 5-15 in the quarter so far. Long rebounds and turnovers are giving the Raptors a lot of chances to run. Siakam and Green have no problem getting a couple buckets in this type of game.

Lowry checks out of the game with 17-points, 7 boards, and 11 assists. A sublime performance, but he gets called for a tech on his way out. He seems to be fine with it, as he takes a seat at the end of the bench, happy as ever. The third quarter finishes 94-72, Raptors.

Fourth Quarter

Anunoby cashes a triple, really nice game for him. I always like seeing him try and get in his bag on offense. It rarely works and his handle is really awkward. How else does one improve, though? Ibaka is still killing it, getting himself a put-back. Also, working himself off the block and hitting a Duncan-esque bank shot. A pretty dubious foul call knocks Ibaka out of the game. He’s 27-29 from the floor over the past 3 games, that’s insane.

Both teams trading buckets, it’s 105-85. Rubio is a paltry 1-10 from the floor at this point, which is something. Anunoby actually pulls off a pretty slick up and under move for a bucket. Following that up with a triple off the bounce, really nice offensive game for Anunoby tonight.

The rest of the game consists of a lot of Grayson Allen jumpers, and a couple Monroe buckets. I’m finding it tough to spin that in an entertaining way at this time, so we’ll acknowledge it’s existence and move on. The Jazz got somewhat hot from downtown and this thing ends mercifully at 124-111.

The Raptors are 10-1, with wins over the Celtics, 76ers, and LeBron James. A few of those games without Kawhi to boot. It seems as if winning has been trained into the Raptors, they’re reluctant to allow anything else to happen. Life is good for the Raptors right now.

Have a blessed day y’all.


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