It wasn't pretty, but the Toronto Raptors got it done.
Powered by Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, who combined for 29 points, 20 assists and 13 rebounds, the Raptors improve to 3-0 in the season restart with a 109-99 win over the Orlando Magic.
For more on the game, here are some quick observations...
1. An aggressive start from Marc Gasol
Gasol combined to take nine shots in Toronto's first two games in Orlando.
In the first quarter of this one? Six shots, of which he made three.
He came out slow out of the gates - he missed a rather easy layup on Toronto's opening possession and bricked a three on the ensuing possession - but he kept attacking and it paid off to the tune of six early points, which is more than what Nikola Vucevic scored in his seven minutes on the court in the first quarter.
While he finished the game with only 13 points, it was encouraging to see Gasol look for his own to start this game. He's dealt with injuries all season long and has basically been relegated to a 3-point shooter and passer on offence. Him posting up and rolling to the basket a little more would add another dimension to this Raptors team on offence.
2. Gasol is in Nikola Vucevic's head
Entering Wednesday's game, here's what Vucevic had done in his last seven meetings with Gasol:
- April 13, 2019: 11 points on 3-for-14 FG
- April 16, 2019: 6 points on 3-for-7 FG
- April 19, 2019: 22 points on 7-for-13 FG
- April 21, 2019: 11 points on 5-for-14 FG
- April 23, 2019: 6 points on 3-for-10 FG
- October 28, 2019: 5 points on 1-for-13 FG
- November 20, 2019: 3 points on 1-for-7 FG
That's an average of 9.1 points per game on 23-for-78 shooting for one of the best centres in the league. Yeah, not pretty.
As for his numbers in this one: 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting from the field.
I wrote earlier this season about how Gasol has every answer for stopping Vucevic. Nothing appears to have changed.
Vucevic hasn't been quite as good this season as he was last season, but he's still been Orlando's leading scorer with 19.7 points per game while ranking third on the team with 3.7 assists per game. The Magic have been a completely different team with him on the court, going from scoring 110.2 points per 100 possessions to 102.7 when he takes a seat on the bench.
If the Magic can't figure out a way to get him going against Gasol, I'm not sure they have much of a chance in a series against the Raptors should they meet again in the playoffs.
3. OG Anunoby keeps on driving
I feel like a broken record talking about Anunoby's improved handle at this point, but look at this:
Did @OAnunoby put @pskills43 on spin moves? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/C5O2RpIkxv- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 6, 2020
That's silky smooth.
Anunoby had another couple of nice moves in the first half of this one, driving past Terrence Ross for a layup and cutting backdoor on James Ennis III for a reverse dunk.
Makin' it look easy pic.twitter.com/J1FK8xvmAx- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 6, 2020
Anunoby even scored on a post-up against Ross! He continues to show something new each game.
4. Just call a drawn charge the Kyle Lowry
Speaking of sounding like a broken record, Lowry has now drawn a charge in each of Toronto's games in Orlando.
Best in the biz pic.twitter.com/tnlIGT5On8- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 6, 2020
That's the 33rd charge Lowry has drawn this season, the most in the league.
5. The Raptors are ridiculous defensively (when they want to be)
The Magic aren't the Los Angeles Lakers or Miami Heat, but they have had the league's No. 1 offence since the All-Star break, believe it or not. So holding them to 35 points on 12-for-40 shooting from the field and 2-for-16 from 3-point range in the first half is still incredibly impressive.
Halftime: Raptors 55, Magic 35. Orlando shot 30 percent from the field, 2-for-16 from 3-point range and committed nine turnovers. Orlando's offensive rating? 67.4.- Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) August 6, 2020
The Magic were able to make a run in the third quarter, but it wasn't quite enough to make this much of a game down the stretch, although some of that might have had to do with Aaron Gordon having to leave with hamstring tightness not long after Lowry committed a flagrant foul on him.
It also helps that the Raptors took their foot off the gas for a decent amount of time. The Raptors were a little sloppy on both ends in the second half.
6. Fred VanVleet's finishing is looking better
VanVleet has been one of the worst finishers in the paint this season. According to NBA.com, of the 210 players who have attempted at least 100 shots in the restricted area, only six - Darius Garland, Kent Bazemore, Devonte' Graham, Coby White, Dillon Brooks and Malcolm Brogdon - have converted them at a lower rate than VanVleet.
That's why it's encouraging to see him do things like this...
Right foot up, left foot sliiide pic.twitter.com/nDcAwepYNY- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 6, 2020
...as well as this:
Told you @FredVanVleet layup package is elite pic.twitter.com/6s1JiKRJcb- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 6, 2020
VanVleet's height is always going to be an obstacle in him becoming a more efficient paint scorer, but there are other players his size who have improved in that regard in their careers, one of them being Lowry. He's made tremendous strides as a 3-point shooter off the dribble this season. The next step is for him to become a more consistent finisher.
Another great game overall for VanVleet by the way. Gasol may have set the tone, but VanVleet led the way once again with 21 points, 10 assists and four rebounds. He's doing all he can to secure the bag this offseason.
7. Some strong minutes from Norman Powell
Powell struggled against the Lakers and Heat, but he showed some signs of life against the Magic. He finished with 14 points in 21 minutes off the bench, making for his highest scoring game yet in the bubble.
Safety first in the bubble pic.twitter.com/kDqtjNMaIz- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 6, 2020
The Raptors can only hope it's the start of him returning to the player he was prior to the season suspension because they could do with his scoring off the bench.
8. What's next
The Raptors are back in action on Friday when they take on the Boston Celtics.
The game is scheduled to begin at 9:00 p.m. ET and will air on TSN.
Catch you then.
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