In the hierarchy of acceptable losses in the NBA, headed into Utah on the second night of a back-to-back at the end of a 5-game west coast while missing two important rotation players, and then with another getting hurt barely a minute into the game, falls firmly into the category of what you can live with. Had the Raptors just not had it in Utah on Monday night, it would’ve been difficult to criticize too much, with how much adversity this team has had to deal with this season. That’s not, however, what happened.
After winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week earlier in the day, and being scorching hot since returning from injury, Norman Powell collided with OG Anunoby 1:34 into Monday night’s game in Utah, and exited the game with what the team is calling an ankle sprain, and then shortly after OG Anunoby appeared to tweak his ankle as well and headed to the locker room. OG would return at the end of the first quarter, and seemed to be fine as the game went on, however.
Still, with Marc Gasol out once again and Fred VanVleet still not back, and the team having had a tough game in Sacramento on Sunday, the Raptors had to gut out a tough one and found ways to do it in this game. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam were great, with Siakam delivering a complete game, with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists, but the box score line doesn’t capture the performance here, as he read the Utah defense brilliantly throughout the game, constantly drawing extra attention and either taking what the defense gave him when he had his own look, or finding the teammates left open as the Jazz collapsed on him. Pascal has shown a lot of growth in recent games in this area, seeing the double teams coming before they get there and taking advantage, and this game he used that to the Raptors advantage frequently. Lowry, for his part, was exactly who he needed to be, as always. He hit big shots late in the game, drew offensive fouls, and was the driving force for the Raptors.
They also got 27 and 13 from Serge Ibaka who outplayed Rudy Gobert in this one, and while OG only had 7 points, his defense was a big difference maker, as he’s shown a lot recently, forcing Donovan Mitchell into a tough game. As well, Patrick McCaw contributed 42 minutes off the bench with Norm out and Terence Davis struggling, and he was solid, if not spectacular, most of the night in that role.
It’s been said many times this season, but there’s a palpable energy and confidence to these Raptors that is just a joy to watch, and they force opponents to match their intensity and toughness, a challenge that few teams seem to be up to. Toronto plays a physical brand of basketball that the Jazz couldn’t seem to match, despite a big 20-point game from Joe Ingles off the bench that threated to keep the game close late, and Utah had a 87-85 lead with just under 6 minutes to go before the Raptors outscored them 16-7 the rest of the way. OG Anunoby and Rudy Gobert got ejected in the closing minute after they got tangled up in an altercation and OG tried to elbow Gobert, and it felt like it was Gobert’s frustration that boiled over there. The Raptors had made his life difficult, making it hard for him to control the boards, keeping the paint packed to prevent him from establishing any offensive presence, and attacking him frequently in the pick and roll and taking advantage of any space that he gave up on the defensive end.
Heading back to Toronto now, the Raptors don’t play again until Saturday when they host the Pistons and then the Warriors on Monday, before heading into a stretch of games with 7 of 10 games against playoff teams, which will hopefully be an opportunity for them to get some tuneup games with their full rotation, should VanVleet, Gasol and Powell be able to return to the rotation.