51-21; 2nd game of home-and-home with the Thunder
Say hello to Marc Gasol, the 7-foot-1 product of the Spanish National team that is the poster child for team play and a game that leaves a fan wondering why anyone on God’s green earth would ever pass up that shot only to choke on those words before they get past his teeth as a better shot is created and the ball easily finds the bottom of the well.
It’s how the game, when the game is played at its best, is supposed to look. That ISO stuff is nice and all and even necessary at times, but personally, I’ll take the pretty passing and the open look three with frozen pose release as the ball finds its intended target any day of the week.
That, more than anything else is how Gasol has changed the Raptors.
His passing ability, his vision, his unrelenting need to keep his teammates involved has brought this back to Toronto Raptors’ basketball.
And that’s not just one man’s opinion.
“We’ve made a pretty big emphasis on it lately,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said of the added ball movement after the overtime win in Oklahoma City. “We’ve made a big emphasis on whenever you get in trouble throw it to Marc and start flying and that’s pretty good because he is going to find some passes. He’s going to keep that thing facilitating. He’s going to keep you moving. It’s one thing to cut but when you receive it once in a while … it’s like that receiver running that route hard. You got to throw him the ball once in a while and he does.”
If it was up to me, I’d have Ibaka start and Gasol be the closer.
Having those two important and defined roles could allow them to know what’s expected of them every night out. Ibaka’s energy and chemistry with the starting unit is valuable and Gasol’s playoffs experience and poise is more important when the game is on the line than it is at the start of games.
Like a relay race, Ibaka can get the team off to a good start and hand the baton off to Gasol, who can close the show. Gasol would then have the trust that Ibaka would be giving him a reasonable situation and Ibaka would also know that he’s put Gasol in a great position to secure a victory.
In their last 10 games, the Raptors are 143 for 368 from beyond the arc, for a nifty 38.8 shooting percentage. It’s elevated them to 12th in three-point accuracy. If they keep up the pace of the last 10 games for the next 10, they will end up among the best three-point shooting teams in the league, and few saw that coming during the dark days of December and January when it seemed they couldn’t shoot threes if their lives depended on it.
“It’s good, let’s keep it rolling,” coach Nick Nurse said this week. “I think we ought to be making more of them.”
Increased accuracy from beyond the arc is attributable to a couple of significant factors.
The ball is moving more quickly and decisively most nights, thanks in no small part to the presence of Marc Gasol, the February acquisition who has a knack for speedily dishing off to open shooters when he gets the ball near the free-throw line. Gasol’s passes might lead to passes that lead to made threes. So he might not get credit for the assist, but make no mistake, his initiating offensive movement makes it easier for everyone.
“I think the change in personnel would maybe be Marc moving it out pretty quickly to some guys,” Nurse said. “Maybe they’re getting another half-stride or full-stride look ’cause it’s getting to them so quickly.”
The other factor is simply that the Raptors have good shooters who are finally getting shots to go in. There is too much history and experience up and down the roster to think that the Raptors were going to be a bad three-point shooting team for an entire season.
Their recent improvement simply has them where many thought they’d eventually get. That it’s happening so late in the season might have created some mid-year frustration, but Nurse has been saying all year that he expected the shooting to come around.
“I think there’s some good shooters out there,” Nurse said. “Danny (Green) can shoot the heck out of it; Kyle (Lowry), Fred (VanVleet), Marc’s a threat, Pascal (Siakam’s) a legitimate threat.
“Kawhi (Leonard is) starting to climb back to more of where he’s accustomed percentage-wise. He’s about 10 percentage points off what he normally shoots, I think.
“Those are good shooters.”
Kawhi Leonard has been as good as just about anybody in the NBA on offence this season — perhaps better than he has ever looked at that end of the floor — but we haven’t seen the defensive player of the year, all-time great defender Leonard too much as a Raptor. Maybe it’s because of how hard he’s going on offence and his responsibilities there, maybe it’s carryover from last year’s injury, but we saw that Leonard a couple of times down the stretch on Wednesday. He simply said you’re not scoring on me. If that Leonard appears more often on defence in the playoffs — look out.
I’m not going to start on the reffing because I won’t stop and also because I don’t want a call from my friends at the league (but a lot of those calls were quite dubious).
OK, one point: Leonard sure gets mauled a lot without getting calls, doesn’t he? Maybe he doesn’t embellish enough to sell the calls, but should he have to? Maybe he’s just too big and strong and absorbs it too well, but you can’t tell me he didn’t deserve twice as many free throw attempts in that game.
That said, the Pascal Siakam charge call late was correct as was the no-call on a Paul George pullup that George was irate about before fouling out. Basketball is a difficult game to officiate, but sometimes you are left scratching your head, especially when certain referees are in action. How some of these guys get NBA Finals gigs on occasion boggles my mind.
Would still maintain that baseball umpires and NFL referees are far, far worse overall.
Three mid-range shot attempts from Fred VanVleet was different than usual. Especially since the rest of the team only combined for 10 more.
“You know, I’m still going back and forth with who is the better matchup with the Dubs,” Hardaway said. “You know, you got Toronto, they played the Dubs very well without Kawhi Leonard. You know, they came in here to Golden State and just beat them up, you know, without Kawhi Leonard. You’ve got the 76ers, you know, they still trying to find they way. I don’t think they are quite ready for the Dubs. Somebody like Boston, I think if they get to that point they understand how to beat the Dubs. I think they understand what they need to do and if they get to that position because they got a long way to go. After they won three of four games out west, they went back home and are going through the same stuff they’ve been going through. So, you know, it’s going to be kind of tough for them.
“But I still feel that Toronto is probably the best team that could come out the East to play against Golden State and give them a run for their money. You know, they have the size, they have the athleticism, they can switch out on guards and they can score the basketball. So I think that team — same way with Boston, but I don’t think Boston has found they rhythm yet. I still think they are looking for they identity, still looking for who is going to do what, how are they going to do it, but I think Toronto is right there. So that’s the team out of the East that can give Golden State a run for their money.”
Toronto has looked like a true title contender in what could be the only year of the Kawhi era. The arrival of the 2014 NBA Finals MVP coupled with the emergence of Pascal Siakam and the acquisition of Marc Gasol has made the Raptors a force to be reckoned with.
The Raptors defeated the Warriors in both games during the regular season with Curry and Leonard each missing one of the contests. Toronto has the versatility, athleticism, veteran experience and star power to give the Warriors problems with everything on the line.
The Raptors will have to get through a different looking Eastern Conference in order to bring the defending champs north to battle for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but if they do it’ll set up a Finals matchup that Hardaway believes would be quite the test for the Dubs.
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