Here’s 10 takeaways from a mostly meaningless game.
One – Circumstances: Let’s set the scene for tonight’s barn burner. The Pelicans were without a pair of Raptor killers in Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore, and Anthony Davis didn’t even bother with his 20-minute “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” charade. New Orleans went with the “Who He Play For” tandem of Kenrich Williams and Frank Jackson on the wing, while Jahlil Okafor drew the start at center. This game was so bad that the Pelicans announcers (it was a Leo night) spent a solid five minutes in the fourth discussing the ramifications of the Andrew Bogut signing on Boogie Cousins. Huh? That’s not even your team, and who cares about the Warriors’ center rotation?? Are things that dire in New Orleans??? Yes it is.
Two – Speed kills: The Raptors racked up 53 fast-break points because, as I wrote in the title, this game was a glorified scrimmage. Toronto ranks fourth in the NBA in fast-break scoring with 18.7, so they essentially collected an entire week’s worth of run outs in one game. It was so bad that Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry called timeout less than 20 seconds into the third quarter because Kyle Lowry found Pascal Siakam streaking ahead of the pack for an uncontested two-handed slam. According to the Pelicans broadcast, Gentry and his staff spent most of halftime emphasizing the need to get back, so you could understand his frustration. Alas, Gentry’s fiery sermon did little to inspire his team, who were outscored by 18 the rest of the way.
Three – Too easy: Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points and still managed his load. Most teams devise entire game plans with the specific intention of slowing down Leonard with a combination of bulky wing defenders and double teams, but the Pelicans just threw Kenrich Williams to the wolves. (Seriously, who is Kenrich Williams and why did the Pelicans broadcast earnestly call him the future of the team. Word? Kenrich Williams is what people have to look forward to in the Bayou?) Leonard shot 14-20 and sat for the entire fourth quarter. He hardly broke a sweat.
Four – More of it: The Raptors ran a smooth play in the third where Marc Gasol had the ball out top, Kyle Lowry set a screen in the corner, and Kawhi curled up to the free-throw line. Lowry was too bootylicious for Leonard’s man to fight around the screen, and so Kawhi was able to rise up and shoot a short jumper over the mismatch. Let’s see that set more often.
Five – The little engine: Lowry was sensational as he recorded another Jason Kidd statline of 13 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. At least half of those helpers came in transition where Lowry would hunt down the miss and throw a prayer for Pascal Siakam or Leonard to finish. Lowry also flew in for a rare putback, and sealed the win with a pair of pull-up triples in the fourth before sticking around just long enough to get his much-deserved triple-double.
Six – How far he’s come: Siakam scored 19 points on his usual assortment of transition finishes and post-ups, but you can tell that he’s not done. Siakam has occasionally broken out this pull-up jumper when he faces up in the post, and while it’s not dropping just yet, that shot represents the next frontier of Siakam’s insatiable development. He’s not content in the slightest, and he wants to keep getting better. He’s carrying on the spirit of DeMar DeRozan.
Seven – Promising: OG Anunoby has quietly rounded into form over the past month, which will be a huge boost for the playoffs. OG was not just active defensively, but also purposeful with his help defense to force turnovers and covered up for his teammates’ mistakes. OG also drilled a corner three and hit a driving layup over Julius Randle to finish with a well-rounded statline of seven points, three assists, and three steals on 3-4 shooting. OG playing well gives the Raptors flexibility with their lineups, as he’s a player who can be on the floor when the Raptors want to go small or play big.
Eight – Breakthrough: I’m not going to get too excited over some garbage time buckets, but Jeremy Lin pulled up from deep twice in transition from the exact same spot for his first two threes with the Raptors. They weren’t the greatest of shots, but I like the confidence. Lin finished with 14 points on 6-9 shooting and rediscovered some of his chemistry with Lowry in the dual point guard lineup.
Nine – The new victory cigar: Chris Boucher won’t be a viable rotation player until he bulks up, but I do look forward to every one of his appearances. Boucher elicits the same excitement and anticipation that used to come in those rare glimpses of Bruno Caboclo, except Boucher actually makes highlight plays to live up to the hype. I don’t care that this came in garbage time – this is still one of the best blocks I have seen from a Raptor.
Ten – It’s just awkward: Gasol didn’t have as bad of a game as his stat line suggests. He shook off early foul trouble (he gets the Jakob Poeltl whistle way too often) to finish with a very solid defensive effort around the basket. But it’s hard not to be disappointed when you see just those four lonely points in the boxscore, because it speaks to the fact that Gasol is mostly an afterthought in the offense. This once great player now subsists on dribble hand-offs and the occasional jumper, and it’s sad to watch. Granted, this was a game where Siakam and Leonard both had it going, and these up-tempo matches are wasted on Gasol, but four points? It’s hard to get around it.