Marc Gasol terrorizes Vucevic yet again as Raptors bully Magic

10 mins read

Leading up to the game — well before the clock began to tick, Toronto fans were dreading the inevitable game script that routinely exudes from matchups involving the Orlando Magic. Let’s be truthful. Be it a fan, a writer or even a basketball casual — most can agree that Raptors games generally produce entertaining, attractive basketball regardless of opponent. This is almost always the rule. This is what most are used to. Unfortunately, the Orlando Magic of the National Basketball Association qualify as the sporadic anomaly. The rule-breakers. The glitch in the system. All in all, did the incredibly mundane aura permeating from this game change the ultimate desired result for Toronto? Not so much. It was an old-fashioned beatdown that reminded every younger brother reading this of their childhood. The older brother beats you down in your favourite video game (that you usually watch him play, but today he gave you that one chance), soon after — he eventually gets disinterested in the dominance, allowing you to make a slight comeback, then quickly realizes you’re smiling a bit too wide, and finishes you without remorse or a shred of empathy.

To the game itself — in a classic late-night exhibition, Nick Nurse made it a point to feed Marc Gasol early and often. Gasol had five (5) field goal attempts in the first six (6) minutes of the opening quarter. No typo. Marc Gasol had five (5) field goal attempts in the first six (6) minutes of the opening quarter. Sometimes you have to read things twice to fully believe them. Gasol is known widely across the league as an elite defending big, but extremely selfless offensively (at times to a fault). Offensively, he generally enjoys playing off others and only takes what the defense gives him. Wednesday night was totally different. This made the start of the game that much more strange to regular viewers of the Raptors.

Nurse, as well as anyone with an ounce of basketball knowledge understands that a fully-engaged Marc Gasol means the Raptors can reach tremendous levels both offensively and defensively. Out of the five field goal attempts, Nurse’s play design compelled Toronto to attack every level of the court with Gasol at the forefront. A hookshot, a three-point attempt, a turnaround mid-range jumpshot and a layup. Each of these plays included numerous off-ball actions, with the ball eventually finding its way into Gasol’s large Spanish palms. Orlando countered with running player-specific sets for Vucevic, with hopes to get him in a rhythm as well.

Quickly after that, the Raptors widened the lead but noticeably felt as if the referees were constantly swallowing the whistle. Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol were all fed up (with Siakam even slamming both hands on the ground in frustration after falling extremely hard on a made layup). As per the usual theme of the last few meetings between both teams, Toronto defense was absolutely stifling from start to finish. The defensive momentum was carried over from Monday’s exhibition versus Miami, and similarly brought on Wednesday night versus Orlando. Toronto’s defensive mastery overshadowed the early struggles they suffered from offensively. Overall, a great first quarter for Toronto was ended with a dejected-looking Magic roster wandering towards their benches. Toronto limited Orlando to just 11 points in the first quarter, a season-low for any opponent thus far.

As the second quarter began, it was more of the same for both teams. Toronto maintained complete control while the Magic looked flatter than Kyrie Irving’s imagination of planet Earth. Just about every Raptor chipped in with the scoring output, with Gasol — come hell or high water — categorically bullying Nikola Vucevic defensively. OG Anunoby introduced himself yet again, with a beautifully-ran backdoor alley-oop, followed by a perfectly-timed baseline cut resulting in an effortless reverse dunk.

This was clearly Anunoby’s quarter, as he dominated multiple mismatches caused by a whirlwind of off-ball movement. DJ Augustin in the low-block? Couple backdowns, spin, pump-fake. Food. What about Terrence Ross on the elbow? Hard drive right, lowered shoulder, two steps. Food. As much as we’ve seen Anunoby raise his defensive level from very good to elite — OG’s emerging offensive repertoire has been the talk of the bubble for Toronto. His moves look more decisive, his handle has improved drastically, and he’s finally learned to use his extraordinary strength, speed and athleticism to his advantage in isolation sets.

As the first half came to an end, Toronto held Orlando to a putrid 30% shooting from the field and an embarassing 2/16 from 3PT range.

The second half started off with a bang for Orlando. An immediate 6-0 run cut the lead from 20 to 14 in the blink of an eye. Momentum was firmly in the hands of the Magic. At one point in the quarter, Orlando actually cut the lead all the way down to eight points. That was when Toronto collectively decided they had enough. Both teams traded baskets for the vast majority of the quarter, leaving the lead fluctuating between 10-14 points. If you’re reading this and possibly wondering where Vucevic and Gasol fall into this, it was still wholeheartedly Gasol’s game. It got to the point where Raptor fans set Twitter ablaze with legitimate sympathy for Vucevic and his struggles versus the Spanish giant. Others (like myself at times) found the sheer dominance from Gasol entertaining.

As the final quarter commenced, Toronto did more of the same. Each Raptor began to chip in almost equally, as if they were taking turns in a scrimmage-like atmosphere. Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam each had their way with Orlando’s defense. It helped that elite wing-defender, Jonathan Isaac was missing for the Magic due to a recent knee injury. Magic head coach, Steve Clifford relied heavily on Isaac in the past to disrupt Siakam offensively, which in turn would cause problems for Toronto. Orlando refused to close the lead once and for all, as they made mini-run after mini-run throughout the 2nd half. As the game ticked down to a close, Nick Nurse showed off his ruthless side — leaving all Raptors starters in the game until there were just 28.3 seconds remaining. Keep in mind, this was with a comfortable 12-point lead. Funny enough, as soon as Nurse decided to release the ‘905 contingent’ of Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller, Chris Boucher, Terence Davis and Matt Thomas — Magic guard, Evan Fournier caught Boucher off his feet on what became a possible four-point play. It didn’t change much with regards to the final result, as Toronto triumphed in a dominant all-around victory.

VanVleet led Toronto with 21 points, 10 assists and four rebounds. Four other Raptors chipped in with double-digit point efforts. Kyle Lowry had a near-triple double with eight points, nine rebounds and 10 assists.

For the Magic (32-37), both Terrence Ross (someone please save him) and Evan Fournier tallied 15 points apiece. Orlando swingman, Aaron Gordon left the game in the 3rd quarter with an unfortunate hamstring injury due to a hard Kyle Lowry foul. Referees deemed the foul a Flagrant-One, with Gordon eventually having some choice words for the Raptors guard before exiting the game.

Toronto (49-18) has won its third consecutive game since the official restart, making it seven consecutive dating back to before the NBA hiatus. On the other hand, even with the Raptors loss — Orlando preserved their 7 1/2-game lead over the Wizards for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Up next, a challenging test looms as the third-seed Boston Celtics await Toronto on Friday night.

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