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 Houston Rockets welcomed Toronto to the Toyota Center for a nationally televised game on Friday night. Many NBA pundits have penciled these two teams as potential finalists. Toronto struggled to find a rhythm and was held at arms length for most of the game. The Raptors nearly pulled out a miracle and, unbelievably, had a chance to win the game at the last second. Kawhi missed a three point attempt to end the game. If he hit that it would have been one of the greatest heists in basketball history. In the end, Houston’s offense and energy was too much for Toronto to handle.
Houston 121 Toronto 119
The Index (The Leader)
Danny Green was given the responsibility as the primary defender on James Harden; a tough task for any player. Harden has been blistering hot as of late and, believe it or not, keeping him to 35 points was a result of a good defensive effort. Green was conscious not to foul on Harden’s 3’s and forced him to get most of his points from the paint and the line. Danny added 6 three pointers to finish the night with 22 points on 8/14 from the field. Green came up with a huge shot in the dying seconds to give Toronto a chance to steal a victory.
This credit could have easily gone to Pascal Siakam who also had a decent night. I gave the nod to Green because he showed good poise and discipline while having to keep up with one of the most prolific scorers in the league. Siakam was clutch late as well but, he let Faried get off to an incredible night which turned out to be the difference in the game.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Houston’s newest acquisition, Kenneth Faried, looked amazing tonight. He earned a double-double by the end of the first half and was flexing and skipping down the court after every big play. The Manimal used his energy to support the Rockets depleted front court on both ends of the floor and he gave Harden another athletic target to pass off to on his surgical drives. His energy was impressive and reminiscent of his days in Denver when he was all over the highlight reels. Faried ended the game with 21 points on 8/11 from the floor to go with 14 rebounds and 2 blocks.
The Ring (The X Factor)
Kawhi Leonard was served an injustice tonight by the lack of calls he received from officials. Kawhi relentlessly attacked the rim and was hacked and slapped by the likes of PJ Tucker and Gerald Green every time. Leonard was quietly effective and led his team with 32 points on 11/19 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. After sitting a few games, some were worried that he may have sustained an injury, but he looked fresh with good lift on his shot and he drove the lane with enthusiastic aggression. Leonard was uncharacteristically sloppy when handling the ball which resulted in 6 turnovers. Kawhi had a chance to win the game at the buzzer but unfortunately his magnificence was not enough to elevate his team to victory.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Kyle Lowry is still struggling to find his form and played an ugly game against a very talented Houston backcourt. He got beat off the dribble, his shot looked inaccurate and he showed little to no athleticism. However, what Kyle will never lose is his determination and his willingness to play hard on every play. Somehow, Lowry managed to get his team in a position to steal a win. I appreciate his willingness to get everyone else involved, but Toronto will not go anywhere in the playoffs if Kyle is scoring in single digits. Kyle laboured his way to 9 points, 4 rebounds, 11 assists and 1 steal.
Player of the Game
James Harden was toying with the Raptors all night. The Beard makes the game look incredibly easy; he has figured out how to stretch every rule and maximize every opportunity. Again and again James cut through the defense for an easy assist, a soft floater or a trip to the line. Harden led his team scoring with 35 points on 9/25 shooting (15/15 from the foul line) to go with 3 rebounds, 7 assists and a block. The reigning MVP has been playing the best basketball of his life and, unless Giannis has anything to say about it, Harden is well on his way to another MVP title. You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.
- Revival in Red – A few games ago I wrote about how Kenneth Faried looked disengaged and unmotivated in Brooklyn. Now that he has been traded to the Rockets, he has been inserted into the starting lineup and suddenly Faried looks like a contributing player again. He went from garbage minutes on a terrible team to starting for a contender. Nice bounce back!
- Buckets galore – This is now 22 straight games that James Harden has gone for 30 plus points.
- Nice Kicks – My favourite new rule introduced this NBA season is the relaxed shoe policy. It’s pretty cool seeing all the creative colours and designs on the floor.
- All-Star Honour – Congratulations to Kawhi Leonard who was named as an All-Star starter. This marks the 5th straight season that the Raptors have a player starting in the All-Star game. Here’s hoping Leonard isn’t the only Raptor to be represented in Charlotte.
Toronto will now travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks and potential rookie of the year, Luka Doncic. Dallas is rebuilding their team, but Luka has been must watch TV every time he plays. This should be a good game and a great opportunity for Toronto to get back to their winning ways.