Powell powers Raptors past Magic in ugly win

A staple of the Toronto Raptors impressive title defence this season has been their consistency. Every player that Nick Nurse has turned to this season has responded by drastically outperforming expectations and providing steady contributions on both ends of the floor. 

Well, almost all of them. 

Norman Powell has been consistently inconsistent throughout his five years in Toronto. This made it all the more fitting that on a Friday night in which every other Raptor flailed on the offensive end, Powell would notch a career-high 33 points and carry the team past the Orlando Magic. 

During the first half, Toronto were abhorrent. They entered Orlando as the league’s top three-point shooting team at 40.1 per cent, but shot a ghastly 5-for-24 from deep as a team — many of those were on wide open opportunities— and 5-for-12 from the free-throw line. For those of you that had the good fortune of missing the opening two quarters of basketball, Fred VanVleet summarized it best.

“That is probably as ugly as you can start,” said VanVleet after the game.

The only appealing aspect of Orlando basketball (apologies to Samson Folk’s basketball crush, Jonathan Isaac) is their classic blue and white pinstripe jerseys, yet today we weren’t even offered those and were instead subject to a very questionable neon city jersey. The only positives from those orange outfits was that it provided an occasional distraction from the barrage of turnovers and missed jump shots.

Orlando’s length is a problem that can stifle the best of teams. VanVleet was consistently funneled to the rim against his will and swatted by towering shot-blockers. When he found shooters they failed to knock down open looks from and cutters were a step slow. Fortunately, the game always remained in touching distance due to Orlando’s dearth of offensive talent, especially given the absence of the injured Nikola Vucevic. Toronto closed the first half down 40-47, but it was a hole that they dug themselves into.

“They are one of the longest teams in the league, give them credit, but there’s nothing that we haven’t seen before,” said VanVleet.

While the rest of Toronto’s starters finished the night a combined 6-for-26 from the field and their bench unable to hit a three-point shot, Powell knocked down five triples and was an efficient 66 per cent from the floor, including a nuclear 19-point third quarter that finally granted the Raptors a foothold in the game. Powell outscored the entire Orlando team by seven points in the frame, hitting back-to-back-to-back triples followed up by a beautiful and-one finish in transition.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s fourth-ranked defence began to lock in. They frustrated Orlando by trapping the ball-handler aggressively in pick-and-roll scenarios. Orlando’s bigs, Khem Birch and Mo Bamba, don’t possess the passing acumen to pick apart a defence in 4-on-3 scenarios and Toronto continually dared them to do so. On other occasions the point guards would spend a majority of the shot-clock trying to squirrel themselves out of the double team and hoisting up ill-advised shots. These sequences got Toronto in transition situations that they dearly needed.

“They are bought in. They know what the defence means to this team,” said Nick Nurse. “There weren’t many mistakes in coverages — some, not many— but just real good, hard, tough play by all five guys at the same time over the quarter ends up in a lot of stops.”

Once Toronto gained the lead, the rickety wheels of Orlando’s offence fell off. The Magic coughed up several of their 24 turnovers in critical possessions which resulted in easy transition buckets and trips to free throw line for Toronto to close out the game. Given how this season has gone thus far, there was a sense of inevitability that the Raptors would pull this game out despite the ugly performance.

“That’s the good thing about being experienced and going deep into the playoffs is that during these games you are able to stay level-headed. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, we just had to figure it out and get out of here with a win. We’ll take it,” said VanVleet.

At the end of the season, this game will likely fade from our consciousness. But a win is a win, and like VanVleet, we’ll take it.

Other takeaways

  • Terence Davis II and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson continue to provide an early spark off of the bench. The lineup of Davis-VanVleet-Siakam-Hollis-Jefferson-Gasol has an obscene 43.8 net rating in 27 minutes of action.
  • The emergence of Davis’ outside shot has been a much noted, however more impressive has been his development as a playmaker in the pick-and-roll. I still wouldn’t roll out Davis as a primary ball-handler, but he continues to feel more comfortable and calm as both a passer and driver. There were a few impressive pocket passes today.
  • Speaking of passing, how fun is Hollis-Jefferson? I expected him to bring the feisty ‘chip on the shoulder’ energy, but man can he find cracks in a defence. In a league where shooting is rightfully a needed skill, I love watching guys figuring out unique ways to be a plus offensively in lieu of an outside shot.
  • The six-game win streak has been great and all, but I’m looking forward to the Raptors facing some sterner competition. Donovan Mitchell and reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert will be a great matchup on Sunday.

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