Raptors lose finale to Suns, close out scrimmages 2-1

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I was going to start this post with a line like “The Raptors have never done well against a heat source….” but then I Googled up the temperature of asteroids and it turns out they’re around -73 degrees Celsius so it won’t work. That’s sort of where my mind is at right now, it’s a feeling of disappointment bordering on distress. I was excited to write this little recap but this opportunity being taken away has demotivated me to great depths.

Here’s the box and here’s the highlight pack:

This was a game marred by technical issues as the NBA was trying to figure out how to display logos dynamically on the court which gave us scenes like this.

It’s only a matter of time before someone somewhere leaves their Pornhub tab open a bit too long and turns the court into a theater. For most of the game nobody was quite sure what the exact score was as there were issues there as well. There were also virtual fans in attendance and the NBA took the liberty to place them in their seats:

Fantastic stuff. The Coronavirus has made us all question our long-held assumptions and needs, and so here we have the NBA experimenting with something that they wouldn’t otherwise think about. Usually we view the pre-season as a prep for players but in this case the prep is about how to organize a basketball league in its entirely and this game saw ESPN testing out all kinds of visuals and effects that would simulate reality. Should be interesting come Saturday night to see what the NBA’s version of a community theater production looks like.

The game itself had decent energy in the first half, the Raptors started Siakam, Ibaka, Gasol, VanVleet (back from his knock) and Lowry.  Some things that stuck out where Gasol’s mobility – he looks at ease navigating through defenses and setting screens; he’s looking to create more than usual and was strong defensively while in there.  My favorite big-man play in this entire game was this Ibaka to Siakam play:

The threat of the jumper setting up the drive – simplicity at its simplest. As Dave Hopla mentioned in my interview with him, basketball is the most simple and over-coached game there is. Sticking with the theme of fundamentals, eyes were on OG to see if he could have a second strong performance which he did. The ball-handling looks to be significantly improved, especially off the catch. He’s taking less time thinking about what he’s about to do and taking that first step much quicker. The play that I liked was him tracking defensively behind the screen to block Ricky Rubio. The weak side rotation by VanVleet was slow and there was a man open in the corner but OG did well to contest. This is a play that Danny Green would struggle making.

Here’s Terence Davis doing what I just mentioned OG needs to continue doing more of. Catch, see the seam in the defense and attack quickly:

Whereas Davis has a natural inclination to do this, OG almost gives the defense too much credit and becomes passive. Over the last two games we’re seeing him be responsibly aggressive and that needs to be a theme for him. It’s similar to how Norman Powell has progressed from being erratic to predictably productive. He had 14 points on 2/3 3FG and ends the scrimmages on a high, and that’s really what this whole thing was about: get a good run in and feel good.

The Raptors were down for most of this game and took the lead on Gasol’s three, but Phoenix had the higher energy throughout and won deservedly.

Having watched the three games the Raptors look like a team that is itching to get started. They’re probably one of a handful of teams that are already quite gelled and on the same page, making these games more about fitness than finding yourself.  If there were any kinks that needed to be ironed out before the real test begins they were minor, notably Gasol’s new weight and integrating OG better. Both receive passing grades.

Quick note on the “jumbo lineup”, we did see a lineup of Lowry, Anunoby, Siakam, Ibaka and Gasol, but I don’t know if it’s tenable. OG’s improved ball-handling make it slightly more feasible and our bigs passing (superb in these three games) is also good news.  What it can potentially affect is our transition game, both the ability to score easy ones and get back.  This is far from rocket science – we gain size and give up speed, that works in some cases and not others. We’ll leave it as the Raptors having another viable look to throw at people in suitable situations, not a new way of organizing ourselves.  There’s not enough of a sample size here to conclude anything but the Lakers will provide an opportunity to test this more.

These scrimmages didn’t see the Raptors go through extended offensive droughts or defensively poor stretches that were of great concern which would lead to any talking points. It was standard business executed professionally. If I had to give out a pre-season MVP I’d go with Serge Ibaka – the man is playing some fine basketball in every sense. Check out this move:

That is deliberate and speaks to the confidence the man is playing with. Right up there with him has been Kyle Lowry who looks healthier than ever:

He’s thinking quicker than anyone he’s been up against, he’s got the hesitation dribbles down and he’s nailing his jumpers. This is the Kyle you want to bottle up for the playoffs and not “waste” his performances in this setting.

All that being said, real test comes on Saturday night. We’ve done things right so far and everyone is looking good. There’s not much else to say here. Let the games begin. Again.

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