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 (Game Story)
The Toronto Raptors welcomed the dangerous Houston Rockets to the Scotiabank centre on Tuesday night for their second (and final) meeting of the year. The Rockets have been playing well, coming into tonight’s game they were winners of their last 5. On the other hand, Toronto was looking to get over the bitter taste of defeat after their disappointing loss in Detroit. This was a good litmus test for the Raptors to see how they matchup against one of the elite teams of the Western Conference. Both sides were healthy, playing at a high level and, most importantly, motivated for a win. The last time these teams met, the reigning MVP James Harden shocked everyone with stout defense on Kawhi Leonard on the final play of the game to secure a victory in Houston. Tonight, the Rockets asserted their dominance early with blistering shooting off their drive and kick game to take a sizable lead into the half. Coach Nurse must have done something to wake up his players, because in the third quarter, the Raptors looked like a completely different team. Led by the defense of Serge Ibaka, Toronto mounted a massive comeback to climb back into the game. However, in the fourth the Raptors went ice cold from the field as the Rockets slammed the door on any hopes of a Toronto victory with back breaking foul shots and three pointers. This was another disappointing loss for Toronto.
Houston 107 Raptors 95.
The Index (The Leader)
Serge Ibaka rallied Toronto in the second half by playing some of his best defense of the season. The Raptors strategy was to funnel Houston to the middle where Serge would be waiting to swat, deflect or discourage any attacking Rocket. Ibaka was a one man block party in the third quarter as he took control of the defensive end of the floor. He scored 10 points on 4/7 from the field to go with 15 rebounds, 2 assists and a season high 5 blocks. After a few quiet games, Ibaka was back to his double-double ways with an impressive night on the glass. He was the only reason why the Raptors looked competitive at all in this game.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Gerald Green had a great night off the bench for the Rockets. He, along with Austin Rivers, outplayed the Raptors second unit in every way. Their efforts turned out to be the difference in the game and a big reason why Houston walked away with the victory. Gerald Green scored 18 points on 5/8 shooting (4/7 from deep) to go with 3 rebounds. Green is a hard-nosed player who was blessed with incomprehensible athleticism. He doesn’t give an inch on defense, he knows his role and how to effectively play around Paul and Harden. He has matured and developed his game to the point that he can no longer be referred to as simply an athletic talent. Leave him open in the corner and Green will make you regret it.
The Ring (The X- Factor)
Kawhi Leonard played with noticeably more energy tonight; a welcomed change to his usual laid back, carefree demeanor. It seemed like he was looking forward to this game as he attacked (mainly PJ Tucker) with every opportunity. Unfortunately, Kawhi got caught up in the one-on-one battles as we saw an overabundance of dribbling and isolation ball. He still got his numbers, but he had to do it without the help of his team. Leonard scored 26 points on 10/22 shooting with 6 rebounds, an assist and a steal. It’s concerning that the Raptors are so late in the season and look to still be working out how to best integrate Kawhi with his teammates. His talent may be enough to overcome this concern on most nights, but with only a handful of games left, the Raptors will need to figure out an effective balance if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Pascal Siakam had a mini offensive explosion after halftime to complement Ibaka’s defensive efforts. He was being compared to Dennis Rodman by the TNT crew due to his ability to keep plays alive and get second and third chances. That’s a fair comparison in terms of energy but Rodman could not fill the basket in the same way Pascal can. Siakam scored 17 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 3 assists in the loss. It was a good game from Pascal, just not spicy enough.
Player of the Game
James Harden is known to have the uncanny ability to get off any shot he wants from anywhere on the floor. Tonight, he was hitting at a low percentage (12/30), but the sheer volume of his attempts was able to net him 35 points to go with his 3 assists and 3 steals. Harden has studied the rulebook and figured out the different ways to put defenders in compromising positions and to put pressure on the game officials to make a call. It took him a while to get going, but when the game was on the line, Harden was hitting his trademark step back three’s and earning trips to the stripe on every drive. The Beard is easily one of the hardest players to guard in the league. Never shave James.
- Players Only Baby – Tonight’s game was presented in TNT’s new “Player’s Only” format where former players call the action. I grant that the personal stories are interesting, but a lot of the play by play gets missed.
- Bench Mob? – Coach Nurse was slow to sub in his starters after the bench was obviously struggling (for the second game in a row). Gasol and OG both had a plus/minus -30, while Lin (-22), Powell (-16) and McCaw (-15) did not play much better.
- Free Pass – Last game, the Raptors let Drummond off the hook as he played the fourth and overtime with 5 fouls. Tonight, Harden was in foul trouble for most of the second half, yet the Raptors did not take advantage.
- Tight Rows– Gerald Green has the Rockets logo cornrowed into his head. That’s showing love to your team.
Toronto will head on the road to New Orleans to take on the puzzling Pelicans on Friday night. This will be a great game for the Raptors to get back on track as the Pelicans are in full rebuild mode.