In a league largely predicated on star power, high usage rates and isolation basketball, teamwork still goes a hell of a long way. OG Anunoby erupted for 24 points and Terrence Davis chipped in a career high 16 as the Toronto Raptors recorded a franchise-record 40 assists on their way to a 132-96 rout of the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.
Ahead of this season, most had Charlotte penciled in as an NBA basement dweller. But the emergence of players like PJ Washington and Devonte’ Graham alongside the rapidly developing game of Miles Bridges, have folks reconsidering their projections. Despite their recent success, the Raptors began this game playing with an apparent lack of respect for their opponents.
Lazy passes, rushed offensive sets and matador defense found the Raps in an uncomfortably tight first quarter of play. Although shots weren’t falling for Toronto early, their obsessive ball movement and control of pace laid the foundation for success that came later. Despite the close score early, the Raptors were playing good fundamental basketball, assisting on all 6 of their first made field goals. However, Charlotte would not allow for Toronto to find a rhythm early. Every run the Raps made was seemingly matched by a scoring burst from their opponents. Big defensive plays from Siakam and Powell stoked the fire for bullish efforts on the offensive end like this FVV drive inside.
But as soon as you turned your head, Charlotte was right back in it. The Hornets responded at the end of the frame with a swift 7-0 run, cutting the Dinos lead to just one ahead of the 2nd quarter.
The 2nd quarter was more of the same; a team that was moving the ball well and playing solid perimeter defense, but struggled create separation between themselves and a pesky Hornets squad. Nurse experimented with some wacky but effective lineups in this one, showing us the combination of Siakam, Thomas, Davis, Hollis-Jefferson & Boucher for extended minutes. It didn’t have a true point guard or center. It was weird. But it was lanky, it was energetic and most importantly, it worked. This collection of unexpected players began to figure it out as halftime approached. The Raptors were controlling the things they could control. Good shot selection, supreme levels of hustle and an I-don’t-care-who-scores attitude which provided objective confidence that this group would begin to roll sometime very soon.
That time was the beginning of the 3rd quarter. It was almost as if it took Toronto 24 minutes to look up at the scoreboard and say to one another “Hey fellas, think we should start trying now?”. Toronto began the 2nd half with a defensive moxie that set the stage for the best quarter of basketball OG Anunoby has played in his life. The 3rd year product out of Indiana made 6 of his 7 shot attempts in the third, including 4 of 5 from Hamilton, Fort McMurry and whatever other Canadian town Matt Devlin was screaming at the time.
OG opened the floodgates with his sticky defensive play, smooth stroke and nifty baseline cuts, showing his ability to affect the game as a complete basketball player. His teammates were also firing on all cylinders in the 3rd, making up for their shoddy first half shooting percentages by nailing their first 5 looks from deep in the 3rd quarter.
OG splashed 3 in a row, before handing the baton off to FVV who would sink the next two long balls. After an ensuing Hornets timeout, Charlotte coughed up back to back turnovers leading to two spicy and beautiful slam dunks from the reigning MIP.
The double dunk sequence from Siakam put Toronto up 20 – a mark from which the Raptors would not look back from. OG amassed 16 points alone in the 3rd frame, two shy of Charlotte’s team total. The 4th quarter was merely a formality. Seven Raptors finished the night in double figures, capping off a complete team victory.
It’s fun to use analogies in sports. We compare Jordan to James, pit dynastic teams from different eras against one another and even make parallels on coaching styles. There was a time when team-oriented basketball like this would incite 2013 Spurs or showtime Lakers comparisons. But there’s no need for that with this Raptors team. Monday night wasn’t an exception to the rule, it was the rule. Nobody cares who scores, everybody cares who wins. That’s become the culture. That’s become Toronto Raptors basketball.