Bench Mob Pushes in Transition, Raptors Run Through Nets

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For the first time since Dec. 9th, the Raptors got to clock-in their de-facto starting line-up. After a month of turbulence as far as health goes, the Raptors are returning to form with Kyle Lowry lighting the way. The Nets, who started their turn of fortune with a win over the Raptors (Dec. 7th), came into this one as a member of the playoff-picture in the east. After 2 days off from game play, the Raptors brought the requisite energy – especially the bench – to run the Nets out of town.

The first quarter was, by all accounts, the D’angelo Russell quarter. He put Lowry on his hip every time down the floor, locking hips with his screening partner and leveraging himself into downhill opportunities with aplomb. He snaked the pick n’ roll when Ibaka stepped out, warping the defense and finding the open man behind the arc. When his shot was available he put it up, and hit the majority of them. This wasn’t particularly surprising as he does have a proclivity for torching the Raptors, but his playmaking and shotmaking were both on a level early on.

On the other side of the court, Kawhi Leonard got into the paint early to contend with the lights-out shooting of the Nets. Leonard’s exit from the game led to one of the most surprising developments of the year so far: the Lowry+bench unit didn’t eviscerate the opposing team. Lowry’s apprehension towards shooting the ball is still omnipresent, and the vacuum left by Leonard wasn’t filled by anybody. All told, the Raptors fell behind 35-31 after the opening frame and had some defensive lapses to sort out.

After the first quarter ended though, something happened. The ‘Bench Mob’ seemed to remember what a major strength of theirs was: they defend the ball and attack the rim. There was no version of last year’s terrific bench that was sold as: “Terrific shooting bench.” They were a terror on defense and sprinted down your throat. A throwback game from Delon Wright engaged this part of the bench’s hive-mind and sans-Siakam they broke loose in transition. They punked the Nets for 60-points, getting terrific performances out of OG Anunoby, Wright and Norman Powell.

After the poor showing in the first quarter, the quartet of Powell/Monroe/Anunoby/Wright marched to the rim. Taking 26 shots in the paint over the rest of the game and hitting 16. Minimizing the effectiveness of two very good bench players in Spencer Dinwiddie and Ed Davis on the other end was equally impressive. Dinwiddie didn’t even hit a shot after the first quarter.

*Just as an aside, every once in a while, Nurse will allow Monroe to play-make out of the post. It’s always a fun wrinkle to throw at undersized teams as he really is a gifted passer for his position. Also, ‘OG’ is a terror jumping off two-feet, there’s no stopping his upward momentum when he gets to plant like this.

Nick Nurse per Doug Smith:

“Our transition defence started out kind of poor and we started showing a little bit more length and deflections,” Nurse said. “We got a lot of tip-outs and run-outs from primarily playing good defence. We started getting to the rim a little bit more, we started moving the ball. I think we ended up with 32 assists tonight, which is a big number.”

After Leonard checked into the game with 7:34 to go in the second, the Raptors shut everything down. They strung together a 9-15 performance from the floor over the rest of the half and limited the Nets to two made shots. With the terrific play of the bench – save for a 14-0 run against the deep bench – the Raptors found themselves walking away from this game laughing.

The start of the second half showed us a small display of the Siakam-Leonard synergy that we’ve all been clamouring for. Siakam has worked really hard to find a way to work off of the MVP candidate and Leonard has made strides as a playmaker from the start of the season. With that as well, Lowry showed off one of his “I contribute in so many ways you can’t count them, accept that I am that good” plays. As Siakam brought the ball up the floor and sized up Allen, Lowry snuck behind and set a screen behind him. With Allen none the wiser, Siakam slid past the held up Allen for a layup. Things like that happen every game, and it’s incredibly frustrating for opposing teams.

I remember the drama over Matthew Dellevadova’s screen-setting in the Raptors-Bucks series. The Bucks were obliterating the Raptors with a corner offense that utilized Dellevadova’s screen-setting to turn Khris Middleton loose for corner triples and a multitude of post mismatches. There’s not that many guards that can screen effectively, but of course, Lowry is one of them. Lowry recognizing that Siakam only needs an inch of space to glide to the rim and ensuring that he creates that for his unorthodox, point-forward. He did tons of stuff like this for DeMar DeRozan, and now for another All-Star in Siakam.

The rest of the game was largely without any drama. The aforementioned bench quartet played big and physical against a Nets team that wasn’t equipped to deal with that. Running the Nets off the three-point line shifted the game into the paint and the Raptors handled that easily. Monroe locked it down on offense, and Wright and Powell were a flurry on defense.

After all the dust settled and not a single player logged more than 27-minutes, the Raptors won this game 122-105. A very good win against a surging Nets team, and one that started the game on fire. Over the past 4 games – save for Atlanta – the Raptors have been playing the role of fire extinguisher on some of the NBA’s hottest teams, and now find themselves on a 4-game win streak after a forgettable night in San Antonio.

Jonas Valanciunas continues to progress, the rest of the Raptors have a decent bill of health – Lowry might not be all the way healthy – and they’re 20 games above .500 at 32-12. Top of the league once more and trending upward.

Have a blessed day, and let’s all do our best to vote Siakam, Ibaka, Leonard and Lowry into the All-Star game.



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