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10 things: Lowry and Siakam thrive, while NBA bungles COVID protocols

·NBA reporter
·7 min read
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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 123-117 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

One — Gritty: It was a sloppy and choppy game from start to finish but it was the Raptors who emerged victorious over the heavily-favored Nets. The Raptors came out strong, capitalizing on the Nets’ soft interior defense for a parade of layups, but the Nets closed the gap with scorching three-point shooting and a foul shooting disparity that was 17-3 at halftime in their favor. The two teams traded punches in a second half, and it was Kyle Lowry who pushed the Raptors over the top with a series of brilliant plays in the fourth quarter. This was a strange game for many reasons, and no matter what comes of it, at least the Raptors came away with the win.

Two — Genius: Lowry was scorching hot from the start, nailing two pull-up threes, a long two, and a putback layup all in his first shift. He ceded control to Pascal Siakam in the third quarter as Siakam simply had his way in the paint, but Lowry subbed in early in the fourth quarter and closed the deal in emphatic fashion. He nailed three triples, a driving layup, and found Chris Boucher and Pascal Siakam for layups around the basket after drawing in the entire Nets defense, on top of collecting steals and hunting down rebounds on both ends of the floor. In a game featuring three of the league’s flashiest players, it was Lowry’s star that shined the brightest. It was his best performance of the season, by far.

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Three — Insistent: This also happened to be one of Siakam’s best games of the season, which might reflect on Brooklyn’s inability to defend. Siakam got to the basket at will, setting up shop in the post and torching every defender the Nets threw at them. The only player who gave him any hesitation was DeAndre Jordan, who flat-out ignored Aron Baynes to tag Siakam like a shadow, but the Nets preferred to downsize and play small with Jeff Green at center, and that freed the lane for Siakam to feast. He scored 15 of his 33 points in the third quarter, finishing the frame with a slick spin move that dropped Kyrie Irving while Siakam raised up for the turnaround jumper. Siakam was also everywhere on defense, collecting a steal and blocking Bruce Brown at the basket to help the Raptors secure the win in the fourth quarter.

Four — Distant: Siakam is finding his rhythm of late as his up-and-down season continues. His interior scoring is extremely promising, but his total disregard for the outside shot is already being written into the scouting report. The Nets’ perimeter defense on Siakam would have passed COVID-19 protocols and Siakam never once tried his luck to keep the defense honest. Although this could create spacing issues, it actually plays into Siakam’s hands since it allows him to dribble freely and get into his spot. The best way to stop Siakam is to put a wing player on him, attack his loose handle, while sending a second defender to help at the basket. Laying off as the Nets did just gives him an invite to bring the ball to the paint.

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Five — Mindless: The NBA has some explaining to do for their health and safety guidelines. First, it was announced shortly before tip-off that Kevin Durant would not be available due to contact tracing, which is still rather late since he warmed up, but at least it was caught in time. Then, eight minutes into the first quarter Durant checks into the game with the announcement that everything was fine. Midway through the third quarter, after Nets coach Steve Nash used his coach’s challenge to erase Durant’s fifth foul, the league suddenly yanked Durant with the notice that he came in contact with someone who was positive. But somehow the game was still allowed to continue, even though Durant had played 19 minutes and spent halftime cooped up with his teammates in the locker room. It’s just yet another example of how poorly mismanaged the NBA has been in regards to their protocols, and it brings into serious doubt as to how the Raptors and Nets can move forward.

Six — Aggressive: Without Durant, the Raptors were able to hone in on James Harden, who runs point for the Nets ahead of Irving. It’s not an uncommon strategy, as the Raptors used it last season against Harden when the Houston Rockets were in Toronto, and similar to that game, it led to a quiet night for Harden who had just 12 shooting possessions. Harden saw a second defender above the three-point line to dissuade his drives, and rotated out to cover the shooters as a secondary option. The result was that the Nets’ secondary players often had open looks, but it was the lesser of two evils, and it kept Harden from getting into a rhythm. Harden missed two step-back threes in the fourth and he failed to generate enough offense in crunch time.

Seven — Active: Nurse leaned heavily on Boucher throughout the game, playing him for the entire fourth quarter, and was rewarded for his trust. Nurse’s strategy to collapse heavily on Harden, and to a lesser extent on Irving, put a premium on energy and athleticism to beat the Nets’ passing, and Boucher was tireless in his efforts. Boucher was both a deterrent at the rim, as well as a factor at the three-point line with another blocked jumper to add to his already impressive tally. Offensively, with the Nets being so fixated on Lowry and Siakam, Boucher was consistently open as an option on the roll. Boucher finished the game with 17 points and nine rebounds with two blocks to snap out of his cold stretch over the past two weeks.

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Eight — Solid: DeAndre’ Bembry continues to produce when called upon. Bembry jumped ahead of Terence Davis as the lone guard off the bench for the Raptors, and he was given the on-ball assignment against Harden. Bembry’s activity on defense is consistently high, and while he isn’t a master of anything on offense per se, Bembry does a really good job of fitting in. He cuts behind the defense, he makes smart passes, he can knock down the occasional three, and he doesn’t force anything. In particular, Bembry continues to show great chemistry with Lowry, as the two connect at least once per game on an eye-catching passing sequence. Tonight, it was Bembry timing his cut along the baseline as Lowry drove in with the ball from the top, catching the pass down low, and Bembry instantly sliding it to Boucher for the easy dunk.

Nine — Steady: Baynes has quietly settled into his role after a miserable start to the season which saw him benched for Alex Len, who was promptly cut. There are still some chemistry and spacing issues to be worked out in the frontcourt pairing between Baynes and Siakam, but he seems to be on the same page as everyone else. Baynes took a charge, he nailed a three, got a putback, and did a decent job of sticking with Jordan and preventing him from elevating for lobs. The Raptors really don’t need that much from Baynes, and he should know how to play as an experienced veteran who has spent time with two winning franchises.

Ten — Invisible: This was a quiet night for Yuta Watanabe and Stanley Johnson, who had been the Raptors’ two most active defenders on the season. Watanabe was a step late on a few shot contests which led to threes for the Nets, and Johnson was hardly into the game which seems unlike him. Nurse wisely limited both their minutes in the second half and put in his starters early in the fourth quarter to close.

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