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 (Story of the Game)
The Orlando Magic took a trip out of sunny Florida to take on the red-hot Toronto Raptors on this frosty Sunday afternoon. Coach Nurse continues to play the role of ‘mad scientist’ in the way he manipulates and adjusts his roster. He is constantly changing his parts, now on his 15th different starting lineup of the season, in hopes to Frankenstein* a monster out of the Raptors. Today’s change was the introduction of Marc Gasol and OG Anunoby into the starting lineup which meant Ibaka would come off the bench while Kawhi took another ‘rest’ game. The last time these two teams met, the Raptors crashed on Vuc-Island and suffered an embarrassing defeat. The Magic seem to have Toronto’s number as today’s game played out in a similar way and ended with the same result. The Raptors looked out of sorts and moved like they had weights on their legs. The Magic kept Toronto at arms length until they were able to stretch their lead in the final minutes to hand the Raptors another ugly loss. Orlando is fighting to get into the playoffs, so this was a big win for them, they worked hard and deserved the victory.
Orlando 113 Toronto 98.
The Index (The Leader)
Kyle Lowry was the only Raptor that showed any real energy to start the game. He continues to improve his shot while doing a seamless job integrating his new teammates. Kyle excels at finding his big men in the shooting pocket with timely bounce passes. He was hooking up Serge and is developing good chemistry with Gasol. One standout moment was when the Raptors converted on a slow-motion pick and roll play between him and Marc in the third quarter. Kyle was doing a little bit of everything with hustle and force. His aggressiveness got him into a bit of foul trouble, but it was intended to try and wake up his teammates. He earned a double-double with 19 points and 10 assists, while pulling down 4 rebounds and stealing 4 more in a losing effort.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Nicola Vucevic was a monster for the Magic in the middle. Today he put in work, set up residence in the paint and was pretty much automatic from anywhere within 10 feet of the net. When the Raptors went big, he would stretch his range to beyond the arc where he went 3/4. Nicola filled the stat sheet with 23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block. In a league of shooters, Vucevic is a throwback player to build a team around, and one could argue that the Magic’s current standings shows that this method doesn’t entirely work but, in a small sample, he certainly is impressive.
The Ring (The X-Factor)
Coach Nurse did his best to integrate Marc Gasol into the offense, working his playbook to get his big man shots. Marc is still struggling to find his role on this team, and it looked like he forced a bit of the action, but when he was able to connect with his teammates, you could see the potential in his game. Gasol is a very intelligent player who elevates the play of those around him. He deserves to start but, on this team, his passing, intelligence and slowed pace may be better suited coming off the bench. The big Spaniard scored 16 points on 7/13 from the field with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Expect Coach Nurse to continue to heavily feature Gasol on offense as he leans on the wily vet to carry his team through some dry offensive spells.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Coach Nurse struggled so much to find a spark of energy from his team that he resorted to giving minutes to 10-day contract signee Jodie Meeks. Meeks has bounced around the league over these last few years but has always been a pretty decent spot up shooter. Today he made the most of his opportunity by scoring a handful of points in the second quarter while adding an injection of instant energy off the bench. He was spry, lively and kept his head on a swivel. Most interesting was the way he and Lowry would talk and draw out plays on their hands whenever there was a break in the action. Meeks put up 10 points in his Raptors debut and showed that he is hungry for a second contract.
Player of the Game
Former Raptor Terrence Ross had his own mini revenge game against Toronto with 28 points off the bench for the Magic. He showed impressive versatility in his offense with three pointers, slashing drives and thundering dunks. He was unconscious for a stretch in the third with some unguardable moves that helped push the game out of reach for the Magic. Considering his incredible athleticism and gorgeous jumper, Terrence Ross is the poster boy for unfulfilled potential but, as he enters the second half of his career, he seems to finally be finding his place as a dependable 3 and D option. Fantastic game from T-Ross.
- Oak-Tree – Toronto and New York legend Charles Oakley sat court side for today’s game. The Raptors could have used some of his grit to muscle Vucevic out of the paint tonight.
- Block Party – The Magic loomed large in the middle and protected the rim with 8 blocks while influencing many more. Players would second guess going up against Orlando’s length and athleticism.
- Journeyman – It feels like DJ Augustin has been in the league forever, but it turns out he is only 31. I guess it seems that way because in his 10-year career, he has played for 8 different teams.
- Have you seen this man? – What happened to Aaron Gordon? He set the league on fire with his highlight reel dunks, but his star has dimmed significantly since his showcase at the All-Star game in Toronto back in 2016.
This felt like a trap game for the Raptors as it seemed like they overlooked Orlando in favour of their big matchup against the Celtics on Tuesday. The Raptors will need to be on their ‘A’ game as Boston will be looking to pick up a statement win.
*Yes, I know Dr. Frankenstein was the real monster.