The Toronto Raptors defeated the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday by a final score of 115-105.
Pascal Siakam led the way for the Raptors with 28 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, but he got some help from Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka, the latter of whom scored 23 points and pulled down 12 rebounds off the bench.
With the win, the Raptors have now won five games in a row. They have three more games remaining before the playoffs, against the Charlotte Hornets (April 5), Miami Heat (April 7) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (March 9).
For more on the game, here are some takeaways from Wednesday's contest..
Throughout the season, Kawhi Leonard has reinforced the fact that the playoffs are what truly get his competitive juices flowing. With just three games now remaining in the regular season, that time is almost here.
Kawhi wasted no time in making it known.
From the tip, Kawhi was markedly more juiced and visibly more enthusiastic for a game that mostly held importance for a Nets team barely holding on to a playoff spot.
In the first quarter, the Raptors All-Star forward got physical with Nets rookie Rodions Kurucs, stepping up to a challenge brought by a rookie looking to prove himself. Leonard was also animated after converting an and one and threw down a vicious slam dunk in the opening frame.
DON'T JUMP! 😤 pic.twitter.com/4x13GUmEmp- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 4, 2019
Kawhi would finish the night with 26. In 87 career postseason games, he is averaging 16.5 points and 7.3 rebounds and in his most recent playoff appearance, Leonard averaged 27.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.7 steals.
Playoff Kawhi clearly turns his game up to another level, and tonight was just a preview.
The Ibaka-Gasol experiment
Nick Nurse started Serge Ibaka at power forward and Marc Gasol at centre for the first time this season in Toronto's win over the Chicago Bulls last week.
The two didn't start next to each other again against the Nets, but they did see some time together at the end of the first quarter.
The timing of Nurse's experiment is interesting. With the No. 2 seed locked up, he's likely giving it a look in case the Raptors play the Detroit Pistons in the first round and/or the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals. The Celtics don't always start two big men in the frontcourt like the Pistons do with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, but they have been starting Al Horford and Aron Baynes more lately.
With how dominant the Celtics have been on both ends of the court with those two in the lineup, we could see a lot more of it in the postseason.
The obvious concern of playing Ibaka and Gasol together is spacing. (Ibaka is shooting a career-low from the perimeter this season and Gasol isn't taking nearly as many 3-pointers with the Raptors as he was with the Memphis Grizzlies).
Fortunately for the Raptors, Ibaka had the touch on Wednesday, as he knocked down all five of his 3-point attempts, which tied a career-high set last season.
Pascal Siakam's shooting
Speaking of shooting, Pascal Siakam made three of his seven 3-point attempts against the Nets.
Siakam's shooting is going to be important come playoff time. While he's made encouraging strides as a shooter this season, teams will likely still dare him to beat them from the perimeter because he's neither a knockdown shooter (35.5 percent) nor a volume shooter (2.6 attempts per game) from the 3-point line.
For that reason, it was encouraging to see Siakam continue to shoot when the Nets left him open on Wednesday. He started the game 0-for-3 from distance but made three of his four 3-point attempts in the second half.
The seven 3-point attempts marks a new career-high for Siakam.
The Raptors are essentially locked in to the East's No. 2 seed, while the Nets entered the night holding on to the seventh seed.
While there is plenty to be sorted at the bottom of the conference, these two teams would meet in the playoffs if the season ended today. The 48-minute playoff intensity wasn't necessarily all the way there on Toronto's end, but Brooklyn's attempt to continue to fight for a playoff spot meant its intensity was at a high level Wednesday night.
The Raptors are 0-2 all-time vs. the Nets in the postseason but won the season series 3-1.
If anything can be taken from the regular season series, it's that the Nets won't be an easy out - they won the first game in overtime in Brooklyn, and things came down to the wire in the third meeting at Scotiabank Arena.
The fight Brooklyn put up indicates that this young, scrappy team should provide a good test in the first round even if it is a short series.
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