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)
With the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, the Toronto Raptors began a new era of basketball tonight in New York. Coach Nurse has an improved roster and will now usher in, what should be, the most competitive chapter in Raptors history. Toronto is loaded with dynamic, defense first players that can match up against any team in the NBA. They are also incredibly diverse on the offensive end with a collection of shooters, bangers, slashers, play makers and clutch performers. The Knicks are playing for lottery balls and were on a second night of a back to back, but you wouldn’t know it considering the energy they played with. The Raptors scuffled a bit on offense as they experimented with different lineups, but they were immediately bolstered by the presence of Marc Gasol. Gasol fit in seamlessly with the Raptors and gave Toronto a boost of energy and excitement. The Knicks fought hard, but Toronto is too deep and too talented to be denied. Once Coach Nurse learns how to maximize the potential of this roster, this will be a scary team.
Toronto 104 New York 99.
The Index (The Leader)
While Pascal and Kawhi had rare off nights Serge Ibaka stepped up for another good game. He may not be the flashiest player, but he is reliable and efficient on both ends of the floor. Serge scored 15 points on 5/10 shooting while pulling down 13 rebounds, dishing out 4 assists and grabbing a steal. His ability to adjust his game may be his most important attribute as a player. Serge should adapt quickly to the addition of Gasol as they have experience playing together on the Spanish national team. One of Coach Nurse’s biggest challenge will be to maintain Ibaka’s production while reducing his minutes. It may force some difficult decisions but having too much talent is not a bad problem.
The Middle (The Enemy)
I was going to give this credit to DeAndre Jordan for his work on the glass (18 rebounds) but I think the real player of the game for the Knicks was rookie Kevin Knox. Along with Dennis Smith Jr., Knox is projected to be a big piece of New York’s future, but these are the Knicks, so nothing is ever certain. He logged a heavy 40 minutes (no other Knick played more than 30) and scored 20 points to go with 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. He has a good nose for the ball and played well while being severely outmatched against Toronto’s suddenly implacable frontcourt.
The Ring (The X-Factor)
In 19 minutes, Marc Gasol gave the Raptors a preview of what he can bring to this team. What was most impressive in his debut was that it looked as if he had been playing for Toronto all year. His defensive awareness was apparent through crisp rotations, being able to stay vertical without fouling and especially, in the way he communicated with his new teammates. He scored 7 points to go with 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and a block.
I want to also give some love to Danny Green who had a few minutes of hot shooting that helped Toronto get some separation down the stretch. He used the extra spacing on the floor to score 14 points while hitting 4 of 6 shots from deep.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Norman Powell has worked hard to move up in the Raptors rotation. He has taken advantage of his minutes and done everything Coach Nurse has asked. He now finds himself in position to re-solidify his spot as the first (guard) off the bench in Toronto’s revamped lineup. Norm gives the Raptors a little bit of everything and he has been gradually improving his outside shot and playmaking. He scored 14 points (including three 3 pointers) while adding a rebound and 3 assists. Powell is surging and is playing his best basketball at the most opportune time.
Player of the Game
Kyle Lowry was brilliant tonight and played with a smile that I have not seen since Demar was in town. He was rejuvenated and energized showcasing his vintage pestering defense and deadly outside shooting. Kyle is smart enough to realize the opportunity that sits before him. He has now strung together a few games of solid play and should continue to excel with all the talent around him. Lowry led Toronto in scoring with 22 points on 6/10 from the field (5/7 from deep) to go with 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Lowry played like a kid opening presents on Christmas morning.
- Spanish Connection – Marc Gasol should have an easy transition to the 6. Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world with a rich international presence. The Raptors also have the coach of the Spanish national team Sergio Scariolo as an assistant and Spanish teammate Serge Ibaka to help him get acclimated with the playbook. Marc Gasol mentioned that former Raptor and fellow Spaniard, Jose Calderon gave him a call to praise the quality of the city and organization.
- Showtime – Along with the Staples Centre, Madison Square Garden has the best basketball presentation in the league. The theatre lighting gives games an epic feel and makes every event seem like a spectacle.
- Defensive Juggernauts – The Raptors have two defensive players of the year (Gasol, Leonard) and a two time NBA blocks leader (Ibaka). They are also loaded with defensive minded players and a few others that have made the All Defense first and second teams.
- Travelling Fans – Toronto has the best fans in the NBA. Their presence tonight was audible as cheers of “Let’s go Raptors” rang out in the Garden throughout the game.
Toronto will face first time All Star D’Angelo Russell and the scrappy Brooklyn Nets on Monday night in Toronto. The Nets are one of the a feel good stories of the year and always play the Raptors well.