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 faithful were excited for another look at Toronto’s revamped lineup as they welcomed the surging Brooklyn Nets to town on Monday night. Led by break out star D’Angelo Russell, the Nets have been getting better all year and under Coach Atkinson’s tutelage, Brooklyn is now known for playing hard, unselfish basketball. They lived up to that reputation tonight by taking it to Toronto from the opening tip. The Raptors woke up in the second half to lock down their checks and attack Brooklyn’s inexperienced defense. The Nets would not back down, and matched Toronto shot for shot for the entire game. This was an exciting back and forth affair that went down to the final minute. As the seconds ticked away, Kawhi Leonard hit a big shot and Toronto played good defense to hand Brooklyn a heartbreaking loss. There are some kinks to be worked out but the potential for Toronto’s new lineup is there.
Toronto 127 Brooklyn 125.
The Index (The Leader)
Serge Ibaka took his lunch pail to work and put in another efficient night for Toronto. Serge has been collecting double-doubles for weeks and has been a pillar of Toronto’s defensive front. With all the Kawhi hype, the trade excitement, and the breakout of Spicy P, it is easy to see how Ibaka’s story gets overlooked. He is not getting nearly enough attention for the work he has done this year. Tonight, Ibaka did most of his damage in the third quarter. He finished with 18 points on 9/13 shooting from the field to go with an assist, a steal, two blocks and a game high 12 rebounds. Impressive night from Ma Fuzzy centre.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Joe Harris made a push for the enemy award after he started the game absolutely scorching from beyond the arc. However, he cooled off after the first quarter which allowed D’Angelo Russell to take his rightful place as Brooklyn’s most dangerous weapon. Russell had a terrific game for the Nets, leading them in scoring and assists with 28 points, 7 rebounds and 14 dimes. He showed excellent ability to survey Toronto’s defense and pick apart weak spots. D’Angelo almost stole the win for his team, but his shot rimmed out at the buzzer.
The Ring (The X-Factor)
Marc Gasol was the difference in tonight’s game. He helped the Raptors find some rhythm on offense in the fourth quarter with some deft passing, heads up playmaking and accurate shooting. He showed off all the tricks tonight and helped to wake up his teammates and the Toronto crowd as they slogged through most of the game. Gasol is a calming presence that adds a dynamic wrinkle to Toronto’s attack. He scored 16 points on 7/9 from the field along with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block. He is going to make it very hard for Coach Nurse to decide who gets minutes between him and Ibaka. Both are playing at a very high level.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Patrick McCaw played solid if unspectacular minutes for Coach Nurse in an impromptu point guard experiment tonight. Don’t get me wrong, there were some obvious growing pains. He made a lot of mistakes out there and he struggled to initiate the offense, but Patrick is scrappy, he hustles on defense and he never gives up on the ball. I can see why Masai took a flyer on him. McCaw scored 13 points to go with 3 rebounds, an assist and 2 steals. The addition of Jeremy Lin may reduce McCaw to garbage minutes which means he may not make this list too often so I will give him this honour while I can.
Player(s) of the Game
Kyle Lowry has looked a lot better over these last few games. Lowry has adjusted something in his shot mechanics, and it seems to be paying off. His posture looks much straighter and upright on his release and he is holding his follow through to get good rotation on the ball. He seems to be taking control of this team after differing to Kawhi for the first part of the season. This bodes well for Toronto as Lowry is the engine that keeps the offense running. Tonight, he scored 13 points to go with 6 rebounds and 7 assists. KLOE was fired up and looks to be rounding back into his familiar All-Star form.
Of course, we must give some love to Kawhi Leonard who had the quietest 30-point game I have ever seen. He went 10/20 from the field, 9/9 from the FT line with 8 assists, 2 rebounds and a steal. Leonard came through in the dying seconds with a huge shot to win the game.
- From A Distance – Brooklyn’s Joe Harris and Toronto’s Danny Green will be competing in the 3-point competition at the All-Star weekend this year. Joe won the head to head matchup by going 7/8 from deep while Danny only hit 3 of his 8 shots from beyond the arc.
- Colourful Commentators – Brooklyn commentators Ian Eagle and Sarah Kustok called and excellent game tonight. They were unbiased, excited for both teams, called players by their nicknames, and made fun of DeMarre Carroll’s broach.
- Budding Chemistry – I noticed that Norman Powell and Marc Gasol are starting to develop some chemistry playing together. This could be an interesting pair to watch over these next few weeks.
- Load up – The Toronto Raptors continued to make moves to strengthen their already deep lineup. Along with the trade for Marc Gasol, the Raptors added Malcolm Miller, Chris Boucher, Ben McLemore (10 day) and Jeremy Lin. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri now seems to have settled on the team he believes is ready for a deep playoff run.
The Raptors have one more game against the Washington Wizards at home before going into the All-Star break. This could be a trap game as many players may be looking to head out of town. Toronto will need to be focused if they want to come away with the win.