Welcome back to Toronto, ladies and gentlemen.
The tinge of nervousness that was apparent before the weekend started has now been replaced by an air of inevitability after the Raptors swept the Magic aside in both road games enroute to a 3-1 series lead. It is the first time in the franchise’s history that they have led a series by that margin and now Toronto has the opportunity to close out at home in convincing fashion.
This series against a stingy Orlando Magic team has been incredibly beneficial for many reasons. Spicy P (aka the real ‘Playoff P’) has somehow improved even further while playing an insane amount of minutes, Lowry has hushed at least a few of his haters, and now Nick Nurse has offered us the GIF of the NBA Playoffs so far:
Nick Nurse is a legend. He really held this face for 11 seconds. pic.twitter.com/3U5aGybxnV
— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) April 21, 2019
I hear that Florida is beautiful this time of year, but we can hold off on another trip down there until after the playoffs have finished.
Kawhy don’t we just finish this series off?
The closeout game is always the most nerve wracking for Raptors fans. At least we definitively know that we are going to lose game one! The main reason for all this fretting has been the lack of a dominant scorer that imposes themselves in the moments that matter most. Enter Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard was downright nasty on Sunday evening. The boxscore alone was impressive – 34 points, 6 rebounds, and a pair of blocks and steals – but the manner in which he went about his business was the most telling. Any time the Magic put a pseudo-run together to get within touching distance, Leonard sauntered up the court, bullied his way to the hole, and either finished inside or went to the free throw line. There’s an indescribable sense of comfort having Leonard on your team during a playoff game.
As I wrote about yesterday, the Raptors improved upon their preposterously good defensive numbers in games three and four. The Magic were a walking turnover; they struggled to even get into sets and had hands in their face on nearly every shot. Even the times that Orlando did manage to get dribble penetration they were greeted at the rim in the most aggressive of manners.
Somebody show this to MIP voters please. Siakam's defensive abilities have been overlooked in the Pascal-D'Angelo debate. pic.twitter.com/zJdIJEeVXs
— Adam McQueen (@Adam_McQueen) April 22, 2019
The defensive intensity that has jolted the Raptors performances must continue if they hope to play deep into May. Nick Nurse’s defensive adjustments since game one have also been astute. I was hesitant on trapping in pick-and-roll situations, however Marc Gasol’s active hands and sense of timing combined with the freakish athleticism of the Raptor wings has demolished the bread and butter of the Magic’s attack. Toronto’s perimeter defenders have looked telepathic on a few of their off-ball switches onto different shooters.
An underappreciated part of Sunday’s game was the performance of the Raptors bench. Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell each had their best game of the series, combining for 29 points while going 12 of 15 from the field. When those two are contributing at that rate to the ridiculously effective starting unit, then it is lights out for the opposition.
The bench trio were only a +10 when playing alongside Lowry, Leonard, or Siakam in the first three games. On Sunday they were a dominant +13 in their minutes with those personnel. There was much debate prior to the playoffs comparing the value of OG Anunoby or Powell in the playoffs. Despite the unfortunate timing of Anunoby’s injury, Powell has picked up the slack and continues to show that he is a positive force in the playoffs. The bench will not decide the Raptors playoff fate, but they sure can make it a hell of a lot easier.
The Magic are not going to fold easily. Steve Clifford teams are mentally tough outfits and this squad has been scrapping and clawing since February to even get into the playoffs. In this series alone, Orlando have shown grittiness in spades. However, the talent disparity is obvious. The Raptors have figured the Magic out and are just beginning to realize their own potential: now it is time to execute at home.
TV: TSN Tipoff: 7pm EST
The Raptors are a 11.5 point favourites. O/U: 206.0
OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is out.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin
SG: Danny Green, Jodie Meeks, Patrick McCaw
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, 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