0-1; Game 2
It is the one advantage the Magic have over the Raptors, one that is usually, if not always, overcome over the course of seven games if the talent advantage is overwhelmingly on the other side. The Magic know precisely how they want to play and who they are, while the Raptors’ identity over the course of 82 games was being able to play any style, not showing any obvious weaknesses.
That brings up an obvious philosophical debate: Is the absence of something a tangible quality, or is it just a void? In sports, having no weak links is an obvious positive attribute. However, it does not provide an obvious stylistic North Star.
“I think we’ve got to play a little better toward that goal (of showing off our identity),” Nurse said. “I think we’re still shaping that, though. Again I’ve talked about it. The more games we play throughout the playoffs, we want to see the ceiling continue to grow for us. But listen, we’ve got to be a more dominant defensive team. We showed some stretches and flashes of that. We’ve got to show a little bit longer stretches of it.”
Nurse agreed it was the relative lack of togetherness that has delayed that process — on both ends. There is no question that, at full health, the Raptors want to be a disruptive team on defence, active enough to deflect passes, swipe at dribbles and cause turnover-inducing indecisiveness from the opposition. Orlando is not a team that will readily acquiesce in that sense. As Nurse mentioned, it was there to see at some points.
One – Kyle Lowry needs to be more aggressive
It’s impossible not to gawk at Kyle Lowry’s donut, but it’s hardly surprising given his current state. Lowry has been on the decline since 2016, and now it’s to the point where he’s almost strictly a catch-and-shoot scorer. Functionally, he’s some strange cross between Marcus Smart and Patty Mills, not the 20-point scorer of old.
Lowry doesn’t have it in him to drive consistently, or to draw fouls for easy points, especially since continuation rules have tightened up to deny Lowry of those rip-through fouls that he used to bank on for at least four points a game. As seen in Game 1, Lowry has nothing when those 3s aren’t falling.
And those 3s haven’t been falling for most of the year. Lowry goes through hot spells — he shot 42 percent from deep in February and March — but he’s hardly a knockdown shooter. Lowry also shot 30 percent from November through January, and he’s at 26 percent since Mitchell Robinson rolled over his ankle during a meaningless blowout.
To make matters worse, Orlando is scheming for most of Lowry’s favourite moves. The Magic are running him off the line, daring him to scale a 7-footer at the rim, and denying the pocket pass to Serge Ibaka around the elbow. That’s how you end up getting scoreless performances from Lowry when 3s are his only option.
Having said that, there is still space to take the mid-range jumper if Lowry’s willing. It’s not his preferred look — only 12 percent of his field goals have come from the mid-range this season and he’s only made 37 percent — but at some point you have to take the shot that the defence is giving you, if only to make the opponent think twice about their game plan. Augustin took that approach and the Raptors were forced to adjust at halftime. Lowry needs to do the same.
Even in his limited state, Lowry must still upkeep the threat of scoring to be an effective playmaker. Ibaka scoring only five points is a symptom of Lowry’s timidity, because it’s up to Lowry to draw two players to him to free Ibaka for his offence. Likewise, it’s on Lowry to drive and kick so shooters like Green, Gasol and Leonard can cash in on open looks. Lowry doesn’t have the luxury of fading into the background with the way this team is built.
“This next game is going to be probably the toughest game we’ve played all season,” Magic point guard D.J. Augustin said. “We’ve just got to continue to do what we’ve been doing, and definitely we’re not getting relaxed. We have nothing to lose. Nobody expected us to be here, and we’re trying to do everything we can to keep going.”
One of Orlando’s strengths is its toughness. On Saturday, the Magic withstood an awful 13-minute stretch that spanned the final minute of the second quarter and the entire third quarter. The Raptors outscored them 35-18 and limited them to 5-of-19 shooting. But the Magic recovered.
Composure will be crucial again Tuesday.
“They’ve got to win their game at home,” Isaac said. “So it’s going to be a much better game (from Toronto), a much more intense game. And you know, we live for that stuff.”
Game 2 almost certainly will feature at least one Toronto run.
“If they get an early lead, if they jump on us and they go on, like, a 10-point lead, (we need) to just stay calm and not overreact to it,” Vucevic said. “That’s going to be the main part. Obviously, the fans are going to be into it. For us, (the goal is to) just stick with it, not overreact and just do what we do. That’s the most important (thing). It’s a long game. No matter what happens early on, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played.”
What else do the Magic need to do to escape Ontario with a 2-0 series lead?
“I think pick-up points are sometimes used to make a statement of, ‘We’re coming to get you!’ You know, a little bit of ‘We’re coming to attack you a little bit’,” said Nurse after his club practiced on Monday. “I like it. I have a European background where everyone picks up full court all the time, right? Point guards are up there all the time, hounding them back and forth. I like that a little bit.”
The challenge for the Raptors is that having Lowry chase Augustin around for 94 feet reaches a point of diminishing returns. Toronto needs Lowry to be sharp offensively – his zero-point outing in Game 1 notwithstanding – and his strengths defensively at this stage of his career are more off the ball as a help defender where he can make timely digs or step in for charges.
Green was happy to take over and give Augustine problems, using his 6-foot-6 frame to compensate for the quickness advantage held by the 6-foot Magic guard.
“[I] just try to slow him down,” said Green. “Use my length to my advantage. Make it tougher for him. I try to pick him up a bit full court, make them slow the offence a little bit … just bother him a little bit, make him wear down, tire him out, we know they don’t go deep in the rotation. But it ended up we didn’t go very deep, either. We got a little gassed as well. Just slow him down, tire him out, use my length to be able to bother him, his shot, his movements a little bit. I could have done a little better job, and I’m going to continue to try that.”
With Green bothering Augustin the Magic point guard managed to get up only two shots in eight minutes and was held scoreless. Behind the ball the Raptors were able to be more aggressive too. The Raptors picked up a pair of steals and scores six points on the fast break – no easy feat against one of the best transition defences in the NBA.
“For the most part, to be honest with you, it was them getting in the passing lanes more,” Magic head coach Steve Clifford told reporters on Sunday. “They were very aggressive; they had us pushed out away from the scoring areas.”
2 More Kawhi:
The whole load management program was established to keep Kawhi Leonard healthy and make sure he fully recovered, with no setbacks, from last year’s major injury. It worked, but one of the goals of the plan was to make sure he was ready to play a lot in the post-season. Leonard was in for 60 regular-season contests, he played more minutes than he did on Saturday in 40 of them. Now’s not the time to rein in one of the NBA’s best players and one of its proven playoff performers. Leonard committed all three of his fouls in the third quarter (and still played 10 minutes in that frame) so that wasn’t an issue. Leonard subbed out with 2:46 remaining in the first quarter, which was normal, but he didn’t check back in until 7:04 remained, meaning he missed a full third of the first half, which is too much for the best player on either side to spend watching. Leonard then sat for ages again before returning in the fourth. Leonard’s got to be up to 36 or 37 minutes by the end of each non-blowout playoff game. Perhaps a quicker hook in the first and third quarters and a far more expedient return to action would be ideal?
Orlando will have its work cut out for it. The Raptors know they have another gear and know what they have to do and how to approach the playoffs. Orlando is also making up for this learning curve too.
That was on full display as both Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam broke free from their regular season struggles. But the Magic showed some surprising grit in stealing Game 1. Their late-game execution was superb and Orlando consistently rose to the challenge.
This one will be a fight.
It has been a long time since the Magic were last in the playoffs. Six years between playoff appearances left a frustrated fan base hungry for even an opportunity like this. The rebuild is still ongoing, it seems, and this season is a big step in the right direction for the team.
Orlando might be slightly ahead of schedule and this playoff appearance is certainly a surprise. But this is certainly not the final destination in year two with Jeff Weltman at the helm.
This season is certainly a nice surprise at the least. And it is clear Steve Clifford has helped establish a foundation for the team to continue growing and building for the future.
The Magic are in the playoffs today. They will try to win today. Their future is not the biggest concern. But that question looms in the background.
As Orlando embarks on this playoff journey, I opened up the Orlando Magic Daily Mailbag to answer your questions about the team and what these playoffs will mean.
On this episode, friend of the program Josh Hart joins the show to contextualize the loss in Game 1 and brainstorm adjustments for Game 2.
Kyle Lowry’s Game 1 struggles have been well-documented but it’s not something the Raptors are worried about internally. The team knows what he is capable of and of more importance to them is that he continues to be an aggressive leader. Josh Lewenberg has more.
What the Raptors are focussed on is cleaning up those little things, those uncharacteristic gaffes on defence but primarily correcting some issues that crept into their offensive game really out of no where
A little scoring from Lowry will help of course, but it’s the lack of ball movement and general stagnation of Toronto’s offence for large parts of Game 1 that can swing the series in Toronto’s favour.
Shooting guard Danny Green actually chuckled on Monday when asked where the Raptors could improve defensively heading into Game 2.
Initially he conceded improvement is always possible, but that seemed more to appease the questioner than anything.
He quickly got to what he believes was at the heart of the Raptors’ struggles in Game 1.
“Obviously there is always room for improvement. There are always places we can clean up. I didn’t think our defence was bad. We showed flashes of great defensive clips, Green said. “Sure there were some breakdowns and miscommunication where we don’t need it to happen, especially at the end of the game. But we do have to score more. We do have to move the ball more. But when we are not shooting well and not scoring the only way to give ourselves a chance is to play defence.”
The thing is the Toronto defence was actually pretty good and everyone from Green to head coach Nick Nurse will agree with that.
The Magic only shot 40% from the field, their leading scorer Nickola Vucevic was held to 11 points and their primary bench threat in Terrence Ross was limited to just 10. Aaron Gordon, another offensive threat was held to just 10 points.
The Raptors have only scored less than the 104 they gave up to Orlando an even dozen times over 82 regular season games.
If there’s room for optimism that this performance won’t repeat, it’s shots like those. Augustin took only 24 well-contested 3s all season, hitting 7. The Magic as a team shot 28 percent on 3s with a defender within four feet, per NBA.com, and 32.5 percent with a defender four-to-six feet away. They were essentially only effective on wide-open 3s, yet hit at a 48.3 percent clip Saturday despite 23 of their 29 attempts being contested.
Still, a lot of what Augustin did was repeatable, and it’s instructive that the Raptors slowed it down for a while.
“D.J. Augustin exploded in the first half on us. Exploded,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Sunday. “That was the one guy we didn’t handle very well. We made some adjustments at half, and he had one point in the second half leading into his five in the closing moments. I liked how we game-planned and defended for the most part. These games come down to those half-dozen offensive (plays) we would like to have back and maybe at least a half-dozen or more defensive one’s we got to shore up as well.”
As covered in the Game 1 Recalibration, a change in defensive matchups helped. The Raptors as a team were significantly stronger on defence in the third quarter, and cross-matching the guard positions worked on both sides: Green did a better job on Augustin than Kyle Lowry had and Lowry did a really nice job preventing Evan Fournier from utilizing pin-downs to shake free for 3s or curls. While Green looked to limit Augustin, even picking him up full-court at times, the Magic struggled to punish switches and mismatches elsewhere on the floor. It was largely a team effort despite the matchup switch.
“We can do things because they’re switching a lot,” Clifford said. “But for the most part, to be honest with you — (Green’s) size, obviously, is a factor — but also it was they got in the passing lanes more. That’s what slowed us down in the third quarter. They were very aggressive getting out. They had us pushed out away from the scoring area, and that’s the biggest thing that we have to take care of.”
Who starts Game 2 guarding Augustin will be one of the more interesting things to see Tuesday. The Raptors seemed pleased with how they handled Fournier and Terrence Ross for the most part, as they shot a combined 9-for-29. They were also happy with being able to mute Vucevic’s performance (perhaps in an unsustainable fashion, as he missed some makeable shots by his standards), and the forward matchups didn’t produce a ton of scoring for Orlando. Augustin, then, was the primary culprit, and the Raptors have to hope the way they slowed him down in the second half — save for the final minute, which we looked at yesterday — can be reproduced.
There’s nothing to suggest it can’t be, but as series tend to go, it could mean there’s a new issue to address and adjust to next time around. There is, after all, the Ross Revenge Game waiting in plain sight.
But as for the matter of Lowry’s zero points on 0-for-7 shooting from the field — those bits of the boxscore could only be considered “terrific” if you were the Magic coach. Which you’d think would be obvious to everyone.
But even the 33-year-old Lowry was trying to advance the apologist’s narrative on Monday. He was trying but failing, mind you.
“Me not scoring any points doesn’t mean I didn’t affect the game,” Lowry said.
Exactly. It means you effectively gifted it to the Magic.
Look, nobody’s saying Lowry is the sole reason the Raptors find themselves down a game against a seventh seed in a first-round series in which they’re heavily favoured. But somebody needs to say this: If Lowry is not more aggressive and more effective in Game 2 and beyond, the Magic have a great chance of making this thing way more interesting than anyone figured it ought to be.
If your point guard, who also happens to be one of your two all-stars, is as passive as Lowry was in Game 1, you’ve got a problem. If he reduces himself to a stand-still shooter, rarely ventures into the paint, shoots just two free throws, and isn’t quick enough to guard his counterpart, D.J. Augustin, who was checked mostly by Danny Green as the game wore on — you’re in tough. A point guard on an alleged championship contender has to give his team more than Lowry gave the Raptors in Game 1.
If you don’t believe me, believe Steve Nash, who was talking about this very topic for a piece by Kevin Arnovitz on ESPN.com.
“(As point guard) you’re still the head of the snake, so the health of your team, and its spirit, has a disproportionate weight and responsibility on your shoulders,” the hall-of-fame point guard said. “But the way these guys play today is different. I came into a league built on the philosophy that a point guard was running the team, controlling the tempo, making your teammates better, organizing, and doing all of those things. But today, point guards are asked to be aggressive and score. You have to maintain the balance between efficiency and scoring.”
So, what was the difference between Saturday and the times Siakam struggled against Orlando during the regular season?
“I think, for me, it’s just trying to be more aggressive and kind of patient. I think I rushed a little bit every time we played them,” Siakam said. “It’s playoffs. You kind of look at every single detail and try to use whatever you see in your advantage. I think I’m just trying to learn and see different things. I don’t think I did a great job. There’s still things I feel like I can attack better. And just be more patient and understanding of what they’re doing.”
One thing the Magic definitely took away from Siakam were the long outlet passes he’d corral while sprinting in transition — with one notable exception we’ll highlight shortly — as Orlando did the obvious and tried to slow the Raptors down. Siakam was also at-times challenged by Orlando’s length in the paint — as all the Raptors were — which is part of the reason why his 12-for-24 night wasn’t more efficient.
But aside from the bizarrely underused Leonard, Siakam was Toronto’s best player on the floor for long stretches of the game. And any slight deficiencies you can find in his night are far outweighed by aggressive, opportunistic attacks
Raptors coach Nick Nurse said he thought Toronto had “rattled” Vucevic with a variety of defensive looks, anchored by veteran Marc Gasol, and it’s hard to disagree with him. But Vucevic, who averaged 20.8 points and 12 rebounds a game in the regular season, doesn’t see himself having a second bad game in a row.
“I went 3-for-14,” he said. “I don’t see that happening again.”
Vucevic, Terrence Ross and Aaron Gordon were a miserable 8-for-35 combined from the field. Orlando only shot 40 per cent in the game, but won despite off nights from three key offensive components.
“The bottom line is, the offensive game that we played (Saturday) night won’t win Game 2,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said. That’s what I told them this morning. It just won’t.”
Clifford said Monday he expects much the same from Toronto on Tuesday night.
“Their defence was really good,” he said. ”I mean, it’s not like they’re going to go back and change a lot. If you want to talk about what needs to be done to improve if you’re them, I would say you’re going to look at their defensive game and say: That’s a game that’s going to win most nights. So it wasn’t like we took great advantage of anything.”
Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse Fails His First Test
Chau: The regular season was Nurse’s laboratory for six months. The NBA’s most visually poindexterous head coach experimented with lineup permutation after lineup permutation—occasionally at the expense of easy wins—in a greater pursuit of knowledge. Kawhi Leonard’s “load management” mandate, which held him out back-to-back games to keep his body fresh for the long haul, funneled into Nurse’s impulses: He needed to know what he could get out of his non-superstars. But so much of the narrative surrounding these Raptors broadcast how this season would be different from the five prior; how Leonard would be unmoored. So, uh, what happened on Saturday against the Magic, Nick?
Leonard averaged 34 minutes per game in 60 regular-season games. He played 33 in Toronto’s 104-101 Game 1 loss to the Magic, a sort of recurring nightmare that has seemingly embedded itself permanently within the team’s playoff DNA; the Raptors are now 2-14 all time in Game 1s. Given how effective Leonard was scoring in limited time (25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3), that lone minute disparity could have been the difference.
Since the deadline, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the team’s lack of size on the bench; the only perimeter player taller than 6-foot-4 is second-year forward OG Anunoby, who will likely miss most of the postseason recovering from an emergency appendectomy. Anunoby gave the Raptors a defensive wild card—a player who would theoretically allow the Raptors to downsize without giving up a strength advantage in the frontcourt. Without him, as we saw in Game 1, the Raptors are forced to go full Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The second-most-used lineup on Saturday had Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam up front with a three-guard backcourt of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell, whose average listed height is a tick under 6-foot-2. Their lack of size and penetration ability played right into the outstretched arms of Orlando’s cadre of strong, long-limbed wings.
The Raptors shouldn’t be too worried about the state of the series. They still have the talent advantage, and have all the weapons to neutralize the Magic’s most dangerous players: D.J. Augustin may have gone off, but Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Terrence Ross combined to go 11-for-35 from the field. Toronto also has a very obvious solution on its hands: Be true to their word, and let Kawhi cook. But the Raptors are undoubtedly vulnerable; without the depth and versatility that they touted earlier in the season, they’ll be far more reliant on Leonard’s and Siakam’s individual brilliance to carry them. Nurse’s job is no longer about experimentation. It’s about ensuring that nature takes its course.
Kobe Bryant is the latest to add his name to the list of those fawning over the development of the Toronto Raptors forward, doing so in the latest episode of ESPN’s Detail.
The 18-time All-Star and 2007-08 MVP saw Leonard firsthand in his rookie 2011-12 season, and had glowing reviews of how far he’s come.
“His growth as a player is phenomenal… phenomenal.”
The play that got Bryant so effusive in his praise was Leonard’s left baseline fadeaway over Aaron Gordon late against the Orlando Magic that temporarily gave the Raptors a lead with under a minute remaining.
“Funny thing is, I remember when he first came into the league and we were playing the Spurs at Staples Centre, and I get to Staples Centre early to get my shots up and I see this young kid out there shooting the ball, and I’m looking down at him shoot and I’m telling you, Kawhi could not shoot a gun when he first came in the league.”
Still, Bryant respected the effort and dedication to put the work in and improve and acknowledges that Leonard’s shot now looks smooth and natural.
The five-time champion used footwork to become a master of the mid-range, but was impressed with the way Leonard uses strength to create separation and fire up efficiently from an area of the floor frowned upon these days. Leonard is in the 89th percentile among forwards in shooting from the mid-range at 46 per cent, and that’s also where 44 per cent of his shots come from.
It wasn’t all peaches and cream, though, as Bryant also had three key areas where he saw room for improvement in Leonard’s offensive game based on Toronto’s Game 1 against the Magic.
This is the consensus view. Danny Green gave the obligatory Kyle-does-all-the-little-things observation on Monday, and then said this about his scoreless night: “That’s the life of a shooter,” he said. “Sometimes you make some, sometimes you miss some. Hopefully he’ll make some more next game. Hopefully everybody will make some.”
And yet, as much as the team is confident that Lowry will regain his shooting touch — and there are several years of evidence to prove that one bad night won’t carry over — it is also true that this has been a season of change for his role on the team. Lowry was the leading scorer on the Raptors in their last playoff series, which is, admittedly, as much an indictment of the departed DeMar DeRozan as it is indicative of Lowry as a first option. But if he is the leading scorer at any point this year, then something will have gone horribly wrong. Kawhi Leonard creates much of his own offence, and Gasol and Pascal Siakam are good facilitators themselves. Lowry was second in the NBA in assists per game this season, and yet the offence doesn’t have to run through him as much as it once did. Might he have been pressing in Game 1, trying to make up for past playoff struggles after a regular season in which he was asked to score less and less?
There was a hint of answer to that in something Nurse said about Lowry’s rough night.
“I gotta take some responsibility for this myself, too,” Nurse said. “I thought we had Kyle in a really good place all the last half of the season. He was playing well, feeling good, et cetera. Obviously he wasn’t in a good enough place to impact the game on the scoreboard the other night.”
When he hasn’t been a primary scorer all season, perhaps Lowry was a little out of his comfort zone as the playoffs opened.
Or maybe he just missed shots he normally makes. Lowry, when he met the media on Monday, sat down on a folding chair at the team’s practice facility, and then leaned back on the back legs, propped up against the wall. He looked like a guy who had just scored 35. He said he felt fantastic.
That might even be true. But a couple of made shots would help, too.
One man who was somehow played to a draw by the Magic’s D.J. Augustin. The diminutive point guard had 25 points of his own, including the last five points for Orlando — and the game-winning three in the face of both Kawhi and Gasol. “We just switched, and he knocked down a big shot,” said Leonard in response to Game 1’s final outcome. “Pretty much that’s what happened.”
Unfortunately, there’s a lot in that “pretty much” for Toronto. There’s the sudden case of the yips from behind the three point line for a huge chunk of the first half, there’s the team’s lack of presence on the glass (and a sizable gap at the 4-spot with OG Anunoby absent), there’s the donut the team’s emotional leader, Kyle Lowry, managed to put up, and then there’s all that history. That it was Augustin, a former Raptor the team cut after a handful of appearances in 2013, who took that game-winning shot just adds to the load. It’s a lot to take for Toronto.
And there’s just no way it doesn’t weigh on Lowry. He’s too smart, too cognizant, too aware for it not to be rattling around somewhere in his mind. It is perhaps Lowry’s finest skill, the application of his brain, that has seen him ascend to be one of the best players in the NBA. But it is that brain that can be his undoing. How else to explain Lowry’s line? Yes, a +11, and sure, eight assists, seven rebounds, but also a huge, gaping black hole at the end: zero points, on 0-for-7 shooting (with three missed free throws tossed in for good measure). Toronto cannot win many games this way, even if Lowry can acknowledge that he doesn’t need to score the way he did in the past.
“I got some looks and missed them. That’s about it,” said Lowry of his Game 1 performance. “It’s nothing in me. I just missed some shots. I was open. I did floor well on the floor general side, but I missed some shots.” In this Lowry is not wrong, the Raptors need him to play well on the “general side”, but does it always have to be this way? Do we always have to ask these questions year after year? Will it ever change? The Raptors are still favoured to win this series against the Magic, but it is hard not to feel the tug of despair.
If there’s a way forward for the Raptors it most definitely can be found in Leonard’s play. For whatever reason, he only got 33 minutes of run in Game 1, and sat for almost half the fourth quarter. It felt like Kawhi had more to give. “I think once I go back through [the game tape],” said coach Nick Nurse. “It wasn’t by design to play under 35 minutes or any of that kind of stuff.” One can only hope.
There aren’t many players who have had success slowing Siakam down and keeping him out of the lane or away from the rim over the past six months, but Magic sophomore is one of them. With his athleticism and lateral quickness, Isaac has the rare ability to keep Siakam in front of him, and at 6-foot-10 with a massive 7-foot-1 wingspan, he’s got the length to challenge his high release.
Safe to say, he was aware of it. The first two questions Siakam faced a couple days before the playoffs began were about the Magic forward and how Isaac had defended him, and he dodged them both.
“That’s your first question?” he responded before speaking more generally about Orlando’s length.
However, if Isaac or the Magic were in his head, you wouldn’t know it on Saturday. Siakam may have gone into Game 1 as the Raptors’ biggest wild card but he came out of it as one of their lone bright spots.
“He had a good game, and he hadn’t gotten a lot going against them the last time,” Nurse said of Siakam, who finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and four assists in a team-leading 42 minutes. “He did a nice job of getting it where he wanted to go with some physicality, moving it around and finishing.”
After taking a notable step forward in his second year and turning heads around the NBA with his development over the summer, Siakam was expected to take an even bigger leap this season. But few anticipated him growing this much this quickly. The 25-year-old averaged 16.9 points per game, nearly 10 more than the year prior, in addition to 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 55 per cent shooting – all career-bests.
As the year went on he became a crucial part of the way the team played. At worst, Siakam was their third offensive option. But with Lowry and Leonard missing a combined 39 games to injury and load management, Siakam often functioned as their second, and occasionally even their first, scorer. He took the pressure off Leonard to carry the load and allowed Lowry to settle into a more complimentary role, which seemed to suit him more.
But would it translate to the playoffs, when opposing teams have more time and incentive to lock into what star players do best and try to take those things away? There’s still a long way to go. That he passed his first big test is encouraging.
“I think for me it’s just trying to be more aggressive and kind of patient,” Siakam said. “I think I rushed a little bit every time we played them [during the regular season]. It’s playoffs. You kind of look at every single detail and try to use whatever you see in the game to your advantage. I think I’m just trying to learn and see different things. I don’t think I did a great job. There are still things I feel like I can attack better. And just be more patient and understanding of what they’re doing.”
According to Basketball-Reference, Anunoby was worth 1.7 defensive win shares, despite the fact that he averaged just a hair over 20 minutes per game and started just six times over the course of the season.
What Anunoby lacks in productivity, he makes up for in versatility. He’s the rare player who is able to defend nearly every position on the court. It’s impossible to forget him going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the postseason last year during Anunoby’s first trip to the NBA playoffs.
The Raptors are a roster constructed of players with strong defensive reputations. Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard have all been major defensive studs at one point or another in their careers, and Anunoby will join those names soon enough.
That being said, the flaws in the Raptors’ defense were exposed by the Magic in their surprising Game 1 upset in Toronto. Orlando managed to put up 104 points, led by D.J. Augustin‘s 25-point performance. Those were fewer points than Toronto gave up on average this season, but still the third-most points surrendered during Saturday’s NBA slate.
Nurse on Lowry: "I've gotta take some responsibility for this, too. I thought we had Kyle in a really good place all the last half of the season…and obviously he wasn't in a good enough place to impact the scoreboard. I've gotta do everything I can to help him succeed."
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 15, 2019
KYLE LOWRY, RAPTORS
Kyle Lowry’s 0-for-7 contest to open this year’s postseason will live on for a long time.
Lowry will not be able to avoid the shade the internet is going to send in his direction, so he just needs to embrace the idea that he has more to prove in April. For starters, it can only get better after being held scoreless and watching the opposing point guard go for 25 and hit the game-winning three-pointer in his building. But if it doesn’t get significantly better, Lowry’s postseason play is going to be the focus of the entire offseason in Toronto.
His best friend and former coach were sent away after last season, and this year feels like the ultimate crossroads for the Raptors. If they win the East, and potentially a title, the trade for Kawhi Leonard was worth it, even if he doesn’t re-sign in July. But if the Raptors fail to get out of the East again, and Kawhi dips for the States while DeRozan stays under contract in San Antonio, the fate of Lowry and the franchise are then put into question.
The five-time All-Star is not only playing for a championship, but also for his future in Toronto. There is belief the Raptors will blow everything up if they fall short of their goals and Leonard leaves after this season. And at 33 years old, there is no telling exactly when Lowry’s natural decline will come.
He took a leap this year as a passer and playmaker, but he still needs to score points.
If we can never expect greatness out of Lowry in the postseason, why keep him and continue the trend of disheartening playoff endings?
Toronto Raptors: Where’s Kawhi’s Sidekick?
Kawhi Leonard’s postseason debut for the Toronto Raptors wasn’t perfect. During the contest’s final five seconds, he was involved in a defensive miscommunication that allowed the Orlando Magic to grab a three-point lead and air-balled the potential tying shot.
But he looked like the game’s best player more often than not, netting a team-high 25 points on an efficient 10-of-18 shooting (3-of-5 from outside). Unfortunately, he also looked like he might be the solo star on a championship hopeful.
Kyle Lowry, Leonard’s only All-Star teammate, played 34 scoreless minutes, misfiring on all seven of his shots. His floor game was fine (eight assists, seven boards and a team-high plus-11), but postseason goose eggs shouldn’t happen for high-level sidekicks.
“We need to get him involved a little bit offensively, and we need some points from [him],” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said, per The Athletic’s Eric Koreen.
Pascal Siakam is a great glue guy, but he’s not a star. Marc Gasol hasn’t worn that label in a little while now.
For Toronto to make a lengthy run, Lowry needs to be great. He has that in him, but he’s also coming off his worst scoring season since 2012-13. That his career averages show worse shooting rates and per-36-minute production in the playoffs than the regular season doesn’t inspire confidence he can flip the switch.