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)
The Raptors had the opportunity to put the bitter taste of their loss in Boston behind them tonight against the lowly Phoenix Suns. Toronto played with tired legs and were challenged by the youth and energy of the Suns. What looked like an easy win on paper turned out to be a nail biter as the game went down to the wire. The Raptors had to dig deep, rely on their bench and pull out some gritty performances to snatch the win away from Phoenix at, literally, the last second. Toronto 111 Phoenix 109.
The Index (The Leader)
Fred VanVleet was due for a good game. Its been an up and down season for Freddy and he was looking to break out against a Suns team that is not known for their defense. He was aggressive tonight with tight handles and crafty plays. He helped fill some of the scoring void left in the absence of Kawhi by going 6/11 from the field for 15 points and 4 assists. VanVleet made a concentrated effort to get his old 905 running mate, Pascal Siakam, going as well. They hooked up on a couple plays and showed great chemistry. The Raptors offense opens when Fred is hitting his shots and is engaged in the game.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Devin Booker has one of the prettiest shots in the league. His game reminds me of a young Ray Allen; shifty yet balanced and always squared up on his release. It’s too bad we do not get to see him play more often because he is fun to watch and is a true star in the making. Tonight, Devin was hot going 10/21 from the field for a game high 30 points while also adding 2 rebounds and 8 assists.
Shout out to Deandre Ayton who also had a fantastic game scoring 15 points and grabbing 17 boards. He may be a rookie, but he plays like a seasoned vet.
The Ring (The X Factor)
Pascal Siakam was quiet in Boston and had no real impact on the game. Tonight, he was not going to let that happen again. Siakam showed his usual explosiveness to the rim, transition sprints and leak outs to match the energy of the young Suns. He only took 8 shots but filled the stat sheet by scoring 10 points to go with 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks. In a gutsy call, Coach Nurse surprised everyone by putting the game in Pascal’s hands with less than 10 seconds. That was 9 more seconds then Pascal would need. The building exploded as Spicy P hit the game winner off a running left-handed layup.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Serge Ibaka continues to play inspired basketball for Toronto. He seems to be improving as the season wears on and he has really impressed me with his savvy leadership, shot making and stellar defense. He faced some quick double teams and battled Ayton in the middle all night but, when the game was on the line, Serge seemed to come alive with clutch plays. Ibaka pulled down 6 rebounds to go with his team high 22 points on 11/19 from the field.
Player of the Game
Without Kawhi Leonard to shoulder the load, Kyle Lowry got tough and played a great game. Kyle was playing off ball for most of the night. This is starting to look like an option the Raptors may want to consider more often, especially if Fred is shooting well. Playing at the 2 allows Kyle to focus on getting his own offense going. Lowry was animated, engaged and showed excellent leadership qualities (especially in the way he protected Chris Boucher after he was sent to the floor on a dirty play). Kyle nearly earned a triple double tonight by scoring 16 points to go with 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals. He has always carried the moniker of a pit bull that gets down and dirty and tonight it showed. The black eye only reinforces that image. Great game for KLOE.
- The New Guy – The absence of OG and Kawhi allowed Coach Nurse to get his first real look at Patrick McCaw. The kid looks in shape, versatile and defensively aware. Nice insurance pick up for Toronto.
- City Reds – Toronto wore their “Earned” jerseys tonight. I admit, they do look fresh, but a lot of teams have red alternates now. I think that is part of the reason why the jerseys with the Gold accents (black or white) stand out so much more to me.
- Wake up! – CJ Miles played some inspired minutes tonight. He is still trying to shake off the Go Daddy curse, but he took advantage of some weak defense to attack the basket with aggression not seen since his days in Indiana.
- Bench Mob – Toronto’s bench took this game personal. Wright, Powell, Miles, Monroe and even McCaw showed up with energetic plays and all made an impact.
- Mo Pete in the house – Toronto legend Morris Peterson was at the game giving away jerseys between quarters. I will always remember Morris for being a reliable shooter and for getting away with some ridiculous play like a wild desperation three, a blinded-by-the-sweatband layup, or a sky-high rainbow finger roll.
Toronto is at it again against their former Naismith rivals, the Memphis Grizzlies, on Saturday night. The Grizzlies may be in rebuilding mode, but they always seem to play the Raptors tough.