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 trade deadline has come and gone resulting in several changes to teams in both conferences. The NBA now looks drastically different than it did 24 hours ago. Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was not going to stand pat as conference rivals Milwaukee and Philadelphia loaded their rosters. He responded by making massive waves with a franchise changing trade. In two deals, the Raptors moved 5 players out of town: Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles, Delon Wright, Greg Monroe and Malachi Richardson. In return, they welcome one of the best centres and most versatile players in the game: Marc Gasol. This is an upgrade in the centre position for Toronto, but it will take Coach Nurse a few games to figure out how to deploy his new roster into effective lineups. With all these changes and Kawhi Leonard sitting out due to knee issues, the Raptors could only suit up 9 players to take on the Atlanta Hawks tonight. Toronto looked shook and distracted to start the game; the sudden loss of teammates will do that. The Hawks smelled blood and blitzed Toronto with Warrior-esque three-point shooting. However, Toronto dug deep and got some outstanding individual performances to come back and power the Raptors to a huge win.
Toronto 119 Atlanta 101.
The Index (The Leader)
Kyle Lowry may be the Raptor that will benefit most with the addition of Marc Gasol. Having another defensive minded All-Star on the floor will take even more pressure off Kyle and allow him to hunt for his shot and gamble on D. After the trade, it is now obvious that this is the best roster that Kyle has played with. He has a wonderful opportunity to have an explosive second half of the season. Tonight, Lowry rallied his troops to play through a rough start and gut out an impressive road win. He was tough and gritty like sandpaper, and though he struggled with his shot, he found other shooters with marvelous precision. Kyle scored 13 points on 3/13 shooting from the field to go with 8 boards, 13 assists and a block.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Trae Young plays with a swagger and edge that encapsulates the type of culture that the Hawks are trying to develop in Atlanta. Young is incredibly skilled with excellent quickness and an unselfish attitude. Young has been dealt a difficult hand to start his career; he will always be remembered as the one that was traded for Luka. Trae will have to do a lot to outgrow that shadow and even more to cast his own. To his credit, Trae has taken on that challenge without hesitation and is looking to bring the Hawks out of obscurity and into contention again. Young played great tonight, leading his squad with 19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal.
The Ring (The X Factor)
When he gets featured on offense, Fred VanVleet seems to pull out all sorts of crafty moves. The deep three, the surgical drives, the soft floaters. He has learned so much from Lowry, from his passing, to his defense, to his bulldog attitude. VanVleet was superb tonight, shooting lights out and showcasing excellent command of the offense. He finished the game with a career high 30 points on 11/22 from the floor to go with 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Fred looks ready to take on a larger role among Toronto’s guards now that Delon has been traded away.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Serge Ibaka has adjusted his game so much this year, transitioning from a power forward to the centre position, learning how to platoon with Jonas, logging heavy minutes due to injuries, and now, being asked to share the front court with an established All Star. All throughout, Serge has been a consummate professional. Not only is Ibaka a consistent and reliable shooter but he has also built on his game with improved rebounding and passing. He was solid for the Raptors in the win, scoring 12 points with 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
Shout out to Patrick McCaw who gave excellent defensive effort for Toronto off the bench. He is another player that is looking to step up with additional playing time.
Player of the Game
Pascal Siakam had a monster game tonight and continues to be the workhorse for Toronto. He can be counted on to provide instant offense and was asked to do so on several occasions when Toronto struggled to make a basket. His energy, speed and length is simply overwhelming and with each game, Siakam is learning how to adapt and adjust to different defenses. Tonight, Pascal was all over the floor, pushing the offense, pressuring on defense and when he was not finishing, finding the open man in transition. Spicy P was extra hot and came alive in the second half to spark the Raptors come back. He stepped up for a massive night to carry his team to a win. Pascal finished with 33 points on 12/19 shooting from the field with 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block. More importantly, Siakam looked like a leader out there. He earned a new career high and had his best game as a pro.
- Thank you Jonas! – Love and respect goes out to the big Lithuanian who grew and developed right before our eyes. He went from a skinny, unknown, international prospect to a fantastic player that has yet to reach his full potential. He is a coach’s dream who improved every year and was beloved by Raptors fans. Of all the players moved, the absence of Jonas will be felt the most. Best of luck JV.
- The Wright stuff – Delon Wright has a unique skill set that will fit in with any roster. He has great basketball instincts and an undying passion to play. Delon will thrive in Memphis and has the chance to be the point guard of the future once Mike Conley is moved.
- And the rest – Thank you to CJ Miles, Malachi Richardson and Greg Monroe for their contributions to the Raptors. These guys played hard for Toronto every night. Respect.
- A Game of Runs – The Raptors were down by 17 points but came back to win by 18. Talk about swinging momentum.
- Hotlanta – The Hawks wore their City jerseys tonight. I like the change, but it looks like the sides have been run through a shredder. It’s curious that, like the Raptors, they are a “Red” team that adopted a “Black and Gold” colour scheme. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
The Raptors will get to debut their new lineup in the mecca of basketball against the New York Knicks on Saturday night. The Knicks are in tank mode, so this should be a great game for Toronto to work out some growing pains.