Here’s 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 111-82 win over the Orlando Magic in Game 2.
One - Therapeutic: The Raptors owed it to themselves to finally play to their potential. No matter how you slice it, the Raptors simply weren’t engaged in Game 1 and the Magic capitalized. What followed was a a three-day waiting period in which the Raptors - Nick Nurse and Kyle Lowry in particular - absorbed body blows from every critic in the media, and that seemed to finally wake them up.
Two - Redemption: This is why it was so ridiculous to defend Lowry for his dud in Game 1, because he clearly wasn’t engaged. This is what it looks like when Lowry is actually involved - he’s unmistakable and ubiquitous. Lowry bounced back in a major way, and it wasn’t just with his 22 points. He was fearless in going to the rim, dove on the floor for loose balls, sacrificed his body for charges, guarded just about every wing on the Magic, blocked D.J. Augustin at the rim, and broke down the defense to create open looks for his teammates.
Three - Promising: Not only were the threes falling, but Lowry attacked the rim with a ferocity that has been absent for most of the season. There was one possession in the third where Lowry went end-to-end for a layup in about five seconds, and he needs to stay in attack mode. The Raptors should be considered favorites to come out of the East if Lowry plays like this consistently throughout the playoffs.
Four - Encouragement: Even by Toronto standards, this was an outstanding crowd, and they were determined to cheer on their point guard. Scotiabank Arena exploded with the excitement (decibel levels rivalled that of free pizza) when Lowry hit a free-throw in the first, and the night ended with Lowry getting a standing ovation as he checked out in the fourth.
Five - Superstar: You won’t catch anyone complaining about load management after Kawhi Leonard exploded for 37 points on 15-of-22 shooting. It’s only Game 2 of the playoffs, but Leonard has already put together one of the best Raptors postseason performances of all-time. It still falls short of Lowry scoring 35 in Game 7 to qualify for the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals, and it’s not Vince Carter’s 50 points against the Sixers, but is there any doubt that Leonard can top those performances if need be? Leonard delivered a reminder tonight - he’s a top-three player and this is why Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster risked everything to get him.
Six - Omnipotent: Leonard was in such a groove that he started toying with the defense, which is highly out of character for an otherwise straightforward player. He busted out every crossover in his bag, pulled up for threes over 7-footers, split traps before driving through the lane for dunks, picked the ball at will, and even tried acrobatic reverse layups. He did everything short of sip a beer and spin the ball in Serge Ibaka’s face. It was a “LeBronto” performance, only in reverse.
Seven - Unstoppable: It’s abundantly clear that the Magic have no answer for Leonard and Marc Gasol working pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor. Gasol’s screens are too robust for Gordon to evade, and Nikola Vucevic is too slow to affect Leonard in any way. The Magic can either double Leonard, which leaves Gasol open for three, or switch on the play and risk Leonard attacking Vucevic in isolation. The Raptors should spam this combination ad nauseam for the remainder of the series.
Eight - Shutdown: Gasol has single-handedly turned Vucevic into a liability. Vucevic followed up a miserable 3-of-14 shooting performance in Game 1 with just six points on seven shots tonight. Not only has Gasol entirely swallowed up Vucevic in the post, but Gasol was also able to show higher and cut off Augustin while also denying the pocket pass to Vucevic.
Nine - Adjustment: After tinkering with dual-center lineups and other misconceived lineups in Game 1, Nurse just went to the simple solution of having Leonard and Siakam cover all the important minutes at power forward in the absence of OG Anunoby. That’s how it should be for the remainder of the series - play the best lineups so you can rest instead of resting until your best lineups are needed.
Ten - Concern: However, the absence of Anunoby was still felt in Terrence Ross’s 15 points off the bench. Fred VanVleet stuck to Ross like glue, but Ross is nearly eight inches taller and was easily able to rise over VanVleet for a clean look at three. Nurse could switch Norman Powell onto Ross, but VanVleet would still be covering a bigger player in Evan Fournier.
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