The High 5 is where I give my reaction to the night’s games. This includes a look at the players who made a difference in the outcome, some additional notes and unique details that caught my attention.
The Thumb (Feel of the Game)
It feels good to be back!
The Toronto Raptors have entered the most compelling and exciting era of their history. When we last saw them, the Raptors had strung together a few wins while at the same time introduced some new and very important pieces to their roster. However, before any of us were able to process the changes, the All-Star break came leaving Raptors fans salivating at the potential of this new lineup. Although Toronto was well represented in Charlotte, the break also allowed for bruises to heal, aches and pains to be treated and for Coach Nurse to have some valuable practice time with his new squad.
Toronto began their post All-Star run with one of the most anticipated and emotional games of their season as they welcomed the talented and well coached San Antonio Spurs. The history between these two teams is well documented with enough plot threads and story lines to satiate any Hollywood executive. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement that surrounded DeRozen’s return. The crowd was alive and invested in every basket and there was energy and emotion at the Scotiabank Centre that is usually reserved for the playoffs as both teams were motivated to get a win.
After the respects and tributes were paid, the tempo of the game picked up turning it into a nail biting back and forth affair. Coach Popovich, Nurse and later Griffin were calling timeouts and making adjustments on the fly as their players were hitting big shots and executing plays. It was an incredibly tense atmosphere between two playoff tested teams that featured a lot of energy, entertainment and quality basketball. As the final minutes dwindled away, the Raptors were able to make clutch plays on both ends of the court to secure the win.
What a fantastic game in what is most likely Demar’s last visit to Toronto this year.
Toronto 120 San Antonio 117.
The Index (The Leader)
With Marc Gasol unable to get into a rhythm thanks to a loose whistle, Serge Ibaka once again stepped up to take control of the middle. Although he flooded social media with his vacation pics (#mafuzzyvacation), he was locked in all night with excellent rotations, close outs and strong work on the glass. Ibaka has improved his ability to seal his man which gives him better opportunities to corral loose balls off missed shots. What impressed me most tonight was his conditioning as he looked game ready despite the week off. Serge scored 13 points, dished out 2 assists and pulled down a game high 15 rebounds. This was another great game in what is becoming Ibaka’s best season of his career.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Toronto’s favourite son, Demar DeRozan, returned to lead his new team against the squad he thought he would never leave. Despite playing for a legend and alongside some seasoned veterans, Demar has stepped up as a natural leader. His presence is magnetic, and it seemed that most of what San Antonio was trying to do ran through him. DeRozan has continued to improve his playmaking and shot selection. His passing is toeing the line between good and great and he still scores at an elite level. He showed off his crafty moves including a silky 360 layup which elicited oohs and ahhs from the crowd. Even though he was not named to the team, there is no doubt that Demar is an All-Star. The Comp10 kid scored 23 points on 7/12 from the floor (9/9 from the FT line) to go with 4 rebounds, 2 steals, a block and a game high 8 assists. He should have taken the last shot for the Spurs. I would have been happy with either outcome.
The Ring (The X Factor)
Kawhi Leonard took a backseat to all the hype and attention that was brought on with the addition of Gasol, the subtle second coming of Linsanity and the return of Deebo. He looked disengaged to start the game and struggled mightily with his shot hitting only 8 of his 23 looks. He was able to balance out his dreadful shooting by netting 9 of 10 foul shots to finish with 25 points overall while pulling down 6 boards and handing out 2 assists. Kawhi shook off his struggles to play excellent defense which included a blocked shot and two steals; the most opportune one coming at the end of regulation against Demar which led to the eventual game winning basket. For Toronto, this was one of the most important games of the year but for the even keeled Kawhi Leonard, it was just 1 of 82.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Pascal Siakam turned up the heat in the second half to take control of Toronto’s scoring attack until Leonard was able to shake off his shooting woes. Siakam’s ability to fill the basket in bunches has become invaluable for Toronto. He has surpassed Lowry and is now challenging Leonard as the primary scoring option in Toronto’s pecking order. He went 7/10 from the field (including 2 threes) for 22 points to go with 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Most impressively, Siakam finished with 6 assists which is a testament to his improved playmaking.
I want to give a little love to Danny Green who carried over some of his hot shooting from the 3-point competition to the game tonight. He hit 5 of his 7 shots from beyond the arc.
Player of the Game
Considering how important the game was, we all knew Kyle Lowry would be motivated tonight. KLOE has shaken off his up and down play which plagued him early in the season to find his rhythm again. He was shooting at a good percentage (5/10 from the field) while balancing the Raptors offense with his poise and leadership. Kyle frequently attacked Demar, baiting him into fouls and frustration. On the other end, he checked his old teammate and best friend with good footwork and tight physical defense. Great night for Kyle, he showed everyone who still wears the crown in the 6.
- Standing Ovation – As expected, Toronto showered Demar DeRozan with cheers anytime he touched the ball. This was an awesome display of the love and support that the Toronto faithful can bring.
- Foul Line Chatter – As there is not too much time for opposing players to talk, it was interesting to see Lowry and DeRozan chatting it up while either was at the stripe or when there were breaks in play. Demar also did the “ghost dap” after a free throw which he popularized throughout his time in Toronto.
- Sharing the Wealth – The Raptors had 6 players in double figures. OG missed making it 7 by 1 point.
- Early Ejection – Coach Nurse earned his first ejection of the season courtesy of NBA official Mark Davis. There was some chippy plays and suspect calls that sparked the crowd’s rage against the referees. Raptors Commentator Jack Armstrong was livid.
- Sunshine – One thing I noticed amongst all the players on the floor was that everyone had a tan.
- Fitting Tribute – Toronto gave a touching video tribute for DeRozan during the first quarter. One that brought tears to the eyes of the 20, 000 plus in attendance and the thousands more watching from home. Coach Popovich encouraged Demar to watch the video; he knew that it was an important moment not to be missed.
Toronto is back at it on Sunday afternoon against the rebuilding Orlando Magic. This should be a good game for the Raptors to continue to build their chemistry.