— Sam Holako (@rapsfan) July 25, 2020
Two facts about the @Raptors players and organization:
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) July 25, 2020
The perfect matchup? Really?
“Because the way they play, we have size,” Ibaka said. “They have guys like Giannis, and you have to have some bodies, some bigs with size who can move their feet, and we have those guys. It’s still going to take an army of guys to stop him, but at least you have somebody he can see … because he can see nobody, you know him, he’s going to get to the basket.
“But if he can see a body before the help comes, I think it’s a big, big help for the team. We’ve got OG (Anunoby), we’ve got Pascal (Siakam) is tall enough, and sometimes you’ve got myself, and Marc (Gasol).”
(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
OK, so, a couple things. Ibaka was fantastic Friday against the Rockets with 18 points and some body pushing on James Harden (6-of-15 shooting). Ibaka was starting for Gasol, who was held out, in part because the Rockets play so small (hence Ibaka playing against Harden some).
“I thought he made some really great decisions on Harden tonight,” Nurse said. “Harden got into a floater once and Serge raced right up there and made him shoot it even higher and he missed it, then he jabbed at him and got back and Harden threw one out of bounds.”
Siakam added 13 points in 15 minutes and Kyle Lowry was really good with 11 points and four assists. These names are some of the biggies from the Raptors group that, you know, won it all last year.
But there is, of course, one name missing. The Raptors worked all season and succeeded in building an identity for themselves without Kawhi Leonard. They are disciplined and they have a system and defend, and they’re deep, too. Terence Davis (15 points) and Norman Powell (12) had big nights off the bench Friday.
But it was Leonard who neutralized Giannis as the conference finals wore on last season. Toronto either doesn’t have that neutralizer, or, is still trying to groom one in Siakam, who has been brilliant as Leonard’s replacement.
“You have a good idea, you think, you’ve seen what Pascal, Fred (VanVleet), Serge, Mark, Kyle and those guys do with high level, high stress games,” Nurse said.
Jack Armstrong and Josh Lewenberg discuss the Toronto Raptors’ odds and expectations as the NBA season is set to officially restart. The team’s selflessness and mentality could give them an advantage over the rest of the league.
Because of Powell’s history of inconsistency, you’d be forgiven for doubting. The biggest reason to believe it’s real? In a season filled with injuries, Powell has incredibly hit the ground running each time he returned.
After scoring in double figures in 16 of 20 games between November 8th and December 18th, when he first got injured, Powell scored 20+ in his first five games back, and put up double figures in nine of 11 contests before getting hurt again. Coming back from that, Powell ripped off five straight with at least 22 points, before playing just two minutes in the final game against Utah.
Ibaka was in the midst of one of the best years of his career when the NBA went on hiatus, combining high-end three-point shooting with his standard rim-protecting defence, but mixing in a better feel offensively. He’s never looked more fluid and connected with his teammates, has formed a great pick-and-roll partnership with both Lowry and Fred VanVleet and can even put the ball on the floor to score at times too.
Turns out all that didn’t go away after 138 days without a game. Ibaka had 18 points on 10 shots in 17 minutes, including 2-of-3 from deep. Clearly someone has been using their downtime wisely.
“I’ve put in a lot of time [on my three-point shooting] because the game has changed now,” he said on a Zoom call from Walt Disney World Resort. “As a big you have to spread the floor. The better you can shoot threes, the better your teammates are going to be because you open things up for your teammates to drive, pass to guys in the post and then defences have to worry about Pascal in the post, and Kyle, Freddy, OG and they have to worry about me. It just gives us more weapons on offence as a team.”
Ibaka’s role going forward is the closest thing the Raptors have to a ‘controversy’ as they prepare to defend their championship. With Gasol missing 24 games due to injury, Ibaka started and shone. What that will mean now that Gasol is healthy again bears watching. But Ibaka has risen to the challenge. He’ll likely never have Gasol’s quick twitch mind for passing, though his two assists against Houston are evidence that he’s working on that part of his game, too. Ibaka fit in nicely as the Raptors counted 25 assists in 34 made field goals, a ratio Nurse will take every time. But Ibaka’s game has grown and he has made himself invaluable in a number or roles, opening up all kinds of options for Nurse.
“It’s just additional offence, and more confidence,” Ibaka said of his improved ball-moving skill. “This is my 11th year in the league, so of course you get better at understanding the game, and also playing with Marc really motivated me to work on my passing. … That’s something that, every time I’m going to have the ball, that’s my first thought, to look for who’s cutting, who’s open. Then, from there, I’m going to try to make my play.”
The Raptors played their first game against another team in over four months and although there was some rust, the team looked like they did before the NBA halted play. TSN Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg shares what he took away from the game, highlighted by the play of the bench, once again.
But for Nurse it was also served to change the way he will approach the final two scrimmage games.
His initial intent was to ramp up the minutes of his starters and key rotation players but that changed for Nurse after the win over Houston.
“I thought we would ramp this way (upward hand motion) through the scrimmages, minutes-wise, and my thought today is maybe it will stay the same or even go the other way. I think the scrimmages are going to provide just an opportunity similar to last night, and we still have the eight regular season games to maybe ramp up.”
Pascal Siakam who looked in fine form throughout the game, said it pretty much came as advertised.
“ I think just that it was expected, it wasn’t gonna be pretty, it wasn’t gonna be the best performance or whatever but that’s the reason we have these scrimmage games to come in and get the rust off or whatever, get out there and get shots up, focus on defence, kinda get used to the environment and all those things so that’s what we’re working on,” Siakam said. “I think it was a good day, good game for our team, obviously we got the win, but also just getting out there and playing against somebody else, I mean, we’ve been playing against each other for a little while here.”
Dare Siakam to beat you: Arguably the Raptors’ toughest playoff opponent last season was the Philadelphia 76ers, a group of huge and physical dudes who did everything in their power to make Toronto uncomfortable.
Physicality is a general way to wear any contender down, but the Sixers also put the 2019 Most Improved Player in quite a few tough spots. Starting in Game 2, Joel Embiid was switched onto Pascal Siakam. Embiid’s talents on defense are best used at the rim, a strategy he continued to use against Siakam by imploring his fellow Cameroonian to take 3s.
This resulted in Siakam going a dreadful 6-of-29 (20.7 percent) from beyond the arc in the final six games of the series. His game is predicated on putting constant pressure at the rim, something he can’t do very easily against someone like Embiid.
Granted, few potential playoff opponents have the freedom the Sixers did. Switching Tobias Harris onto Gasol was a huge risk; it just happened to pay off. Having two strong frontcourt defensive options is not commonplace in 2020.
Daniel Theis has been a pleasant surprise as the Boston Celtics’ defensive fulcrum this season, and between the defensive wing trio of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, one of them could potentially survive against Gasol. Of Toronto’s potential opponents, though, they’ll have the toughest time with Toronto’s frontcourt.
The Indiana Pacers have the proper pairing for this conundrum. Myles Turner is a rim protector who can also defend in space, while Domantas Sabonis is better off defending the post. Their path to Toronto is unlikely though, unless Victor Oladipo opts to play in Orlando. The Miami Heat may have trouble defending Gasol, but Bam Adebayo can hold his own against Siakam. They’ll just have to hope Meyers Leonard’s beer escapades will make him a sizable foe for the former.
The Milwaukee Bucks have arguably the best defender in the league in Giannis Antetokoumnpo, and Brook Lopez has been an excellent rim protector this season. If Toronto can run chalk through its first two opponents, the conference finals will be a slugfest.
When you look at Kyle Lowry, Norm Powell, and Terrence Davis it’s clear that Toronto likes tough, physical players in their backcourt and a player that fits this profile perfectly is Skylar Mays.
6’4″ and 210 pounds Mays is a stout guard who not only is big for the position but knows how to use his size. Not many players in this class protect the ball better than him when driving to the hoop and once he’s there he’ll initiate contact with ball handlers to get the space to finish as well as draw fouls.
Until this past season, Mays’ jumper was a question mark, an inconsistent element of his game as his muscular upper body made for a clunky release. However, he was able to answer these questions with a 39 percent clip from deep range this year, something that checks off another box for his NBA resume.
Mays’ strength and toughness also help him in switching scenarios and his tenacity helps him hang with much larger players. Toronto has had no place on their roster for players who can’t contribute defensively and for an unsigned free agent to earn a spot they’ll need to battle defensively and Mays will certainly do that.