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Playoffs 2019

NBA Playoffs 2019: Why the Toronto Raptors reserves can and will be better in Game 3

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Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell (NBA Getty Images)

While they have split the first two games of their second-round series with the Sixers, there is plenty of room for improvement for the Toronto Raptors.

The outcomes of Games 1 and 2 couldn't have been more different -- Toronto put forth a dominant performance in the series opener, leading by as many as 20 points in their Game 1 win. In Game 2, the Raptors trailed by as many as 19 points but put forth an impressive rally to have a number of chances to send the game into overtime before losing by five.

Unfortunately for Toronto, the biggest constant from the first two games of the series isn't a positive one, as the bench has put forth two underwhelming performances to open the series.

Now that each remaining playoff team has played two games in their respective Conference Semifinals series, the Raptors reserves rank last in bench scoring (7.5 ppg), shooting percentage (20.7%) and free throw percentage (33.3%).

Toronto's second unit has shot a combined 6-for-29 from the field through the first two games of the series and has been outscored 50-15 by Philly's reserves, something very notable considering the team's depth was a big question mark heading into the series.

As things shift to the Wells Fargo Center, two simple yet big questions loom surrounding the Raptors bench:

Can they be better?

While it's a widely held belief that role players struggle on the road, that notion doesn't necessarily apply to this Raptors team.

A trend for Toronto's second unit on the road isn't necessarily the easiest to gauge with the number of lineup changes that came in the regular season and the small sample size of the two playoff games in Orlando, but there is plenty of reason for encouragement.

With a number of Raptors reserves filling in as starters during the regular season, they've become accustomed to producing on the road. Game 4 of the first round serves as the biggest example of the second unit's ability to produce on the road as Norman Powell led the charge with 16 points (on 7-for-9 shooting), Serge Ibaka added 13 points and eight rebounds while Fred VanVleet added nine points and four assists.

The second unit is capable of better performances as the series progresses and has expressed an understanding that it needs to be better.

VanVleet told reporters after Game 1 that "the five or six-man unit is really good, and the other guys - myself, Norm and Serge - need to continue to find ways to keep impacting the game."

He continued, adding that he was upset that he didn't "play as well as I thought I could play" as a result of the stellar performances from Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam in the series opener. As the duo struggled more in Game 2, it became evident how crucial the bench is to the team's success.

All things considered, Toronto still had an opportunity to win despite struggles across the board and can be in a great position if it cleans some things up moving forward.

Will they be better?

Of course, this is a question that can't be answered until the second unit spends time on the floor during Game 3, but there is plenty to make an inference on how they'll perform.

The second unit has proven that it's able, expressed an understanding that it needs to be able and has now shifted focus on how to be better.

Days after the bench scored just five points in Game 2, Powell told reporters that, "we've been studying the film, me, Serge and Fred have been talking about how we can make an impact offensively."

The fourth-year reserve added that "defence is just about energy and limiting the mistakes and breakdowns on what we're trying to do with the gameplan, but offensively it's just trying to find a rhythm and trying to find a flow."

It's clear that a collective focus on improving is evident which should translate into better performances from the team's second unit as the series progresses. History indicates that the bench will find a way to get it together as well.

Toronto's five-point performance from the bench ties a season-low, set in a road win over the Bucks on Jan. 5. Just one night later, the reserves bounced back in a major way by combining to score 52 points in a home win over Indiana as Norman Powell led the way with 23 points of his own.

The role is reversed as the team is going from Scotiabank Arena to the road, but this team - and its reserves - has shown an ability to bounce back from a letdown. It might not be to the tune of 52 points, but another bounce-back performance should be expected in Game 3.

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