Before we start today’s preview, everybody take a deep breath. Inhale deeply…. and exhale. Positive vibes only.
The Raptors game one loss on Saturday was deflating to say the least, yet the performance itself was not nearly as mucky as previous playoff openers. For those that refuse to separate this current team from previous iterations and are forecasting a similar fate, well, Toronto are 7-8 historically in Game 2’s so there is at least nearly a 50/50 chance the Raptors will win tonight!
Realistically, the Raptors could’ve won and now must win tonight. Their win probability was as high as 82.1 per cent with a minute remaining on Saturday. Now this statistic doesn’t lessen the blow of a disappointing result, but it does indicate that not all hope is lost. Here are three reasons why:
Vucevic vs. Gasol
The Vucevic-Gasol matchup was a fun off-ball wrinkle to watch for those who could no longer stand to witness DJ Augustin nail contested pull-up threes. Throughout his career, Marc Gasol has always upped his game when faced against another noted European big man. On Saturday, he displayed his stout post defense – an incredibly valuable asset that I’d envisioned being more important in the potential Joel Embiid showdown in round two. Yet, the Eastern Conference underdogs have proven more dogged than in years past and Gasol will have to continue to summon his physicality of yesteryear in order for the Raptors to escape an early exit.
Vucevic will likely be featured more prominently in tonight’s game (unless of course Augustin maintains his ludicrous scoring). But, if Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams don’t hit some of those tough game one buckets, the Magic will quickly turn to Vucevic to bail them out. Gasol must continue to deter Vucevic attacking the rim down low (seen in the clips above) in order limit his efficiency in post-up scenarios. Vucevic averaged the fourth most post up touches in the league and has been prolific as a scorer and passer on the low block. A few more missed jumpers combined with this Gasolian defense will put Orlando’s offense under immense pressure – hopefully this can trigger more turnovers and transition opportunities.
Side note – I understand that OG Anunoby’s injury has skewed the projected rotation. I understand that every Orlando player has a twelve foot wingspan. Despite this, surely there is a world in which Serge Ibaka and Gasol do not have to share the floor together. The experiment was an eye sore on the offensive end of the floor.
The Completely Avoidable Back-Breaking Run
The Raptors were down 42-41 with 3:35 left in the second quarter. The game had been a slow burn to that point as both teams were still feeling each other out. Suddenly, less than two and a half minutes later the Magic had rattled off 15 points unanswered and the world was on fire. Augustin is hitting off-balanced threes, dishing behind-the-back dimes, and Terrence Ross started mean mugging on the sideline. What bizarro planet was I on?
It feels like a cop out to lean upon the cliched ‘it’s a make or miss league’ mantra, but this scorching 15-0 run truly encapsulated the ridiculousness that is professional basketball. Just take a look at the Raptors misses during that stretch:
These are all clean looks. If even one of those shots goes in then Toronto are in a different position to begin the second half. Unfortunately my hypothetical world does not exist and the game requires the ball to go actually into the hoop. Nevertheless, even during their worst spell of the evening Toronto were generating reasonable scoring opportunities. They were not being stifled into submission like years past.
Also, in case you didn’t know, Kyle Lowry scored zero points. Nil. I’m not going to beleaguer this point nor divulge into the Lowry argument, however if he even hits a handful of shots then the geometry of the floor entirely shifts and these already open looks for his teammates become even less contested.
In the last few days there has not been a hint of panic amongst the Raptors camp. Their responses to reporters felt natural. Lowry was not snappy at questions asking about his scoring (or lack thereof) output, Nick Nurse quickly acknowledged that his substitution errors accounted for far too few minutes for Kawhi Leonard, and Pascal Siakam saw the silver lining amidst a surprise loss.
They let a game slip against a young Orlando team that stuck with them for 48 minutes. The NBA Playoffs are a marathon. Look at how Philadelphia responded on Monday night after an abominable performance over the weekend that had all of Twitter calling for another full ‘Process’ rebuild.
Toronto’s reaction to the Saturday stems from a combination of the experience within their ranks and their understanding of the talent that they possess. Leonard, Gasol, Ibaka, and Danny Green all have varying degrees of playoff success under their belts. Leonard was a killer to open and close the game, if he remains a focal point for the entirety of the proceeding then Orlando will be hard-pressed to keep up. The Siakam-Isaac matchup was a delightful glimpse into the NBA’s future, but Siakam still managed to outduel his younger counterpart. Lowry somehow remained an effective orchestrator despite losing his shooting abilities to the MonStars. There is a reason that Toronto finished with the second best record in the league. Tonight they will get another chance to show why.
TV: TSN Tipoff: 8pm EST
The Raptors are a 10 point favourites. O/U: 211.5
OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is out. Patrick McCaw (thumb) is a game-time decision.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Jodie Meeks
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher
Markelle Fultz (shoulder), Isaiah Briscoe (knee), Mo Bamba (leg), and Timofey Mozgov (knee) are out.
PG: DJ Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams, Jerian Grant
SG: Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross
SF: Jonathan Isaac, Wesley Iwundu
PF: Aaron Gordon, Jarell Martin
C: Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch