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 (Story of the Game)
Tonight, the Toronto Raptors hosted the storied Los Angeles Lakers on another nationally televised game. LeBron James may be starting to show the first signs of humility as it looks like his Lakers are all but out of the playoff picture. Despite the hype train that pushed the Lakers as being on the precipice of greatness, James has been unable to turn those dreams into a reality and now, their season and future is in flux. Meanwhile, the Raptors were salivating at the chance to put in a strong performance after stubbing their toes in embarrassing fashion against the Cavaliers on Monday night. As added incentive, Toronto had an opportunity to extract some vengeance against their old nemesis. Coach Nurse had to spin the roster wheel again, this time because Kyle Lowry was too banged up to go and Serge was serving the first of a three-game suspension after sonning Marquese Chriss. The Raptors were never threatened and were able to keep the Lakers at arms length for the duration of the game. Toronto essentially out-talented their way to a victory as the Lakers could not keep up with the overall skill and cohesiveness of this Raptor unit. It was not the most exciting game, but Toronto will take the win either way.
Toronto 111 Los Angeles 98.
The Index (The Leader)
Marc Gasol was asked to carry a heavy load tonight in his first real opportunity at extended minutes. His transition from superstar player to point-centre has been an intriguing story. His intelligence allows him to make plays and find teammates in the narrowest of opportunities. Not only is Gasol fun to watch, he also brings an aura of trust and calmness. He settled in nicely in the absence of his front court running mate and will have a couple more games to develop his chemistry with the starters. This could be a playoff rotation defining stretch for Gasol and he looks to take advantage. Gasol scored 15 points to go with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. In his short time here, he has been able to raise the overall ceiling of this team.
The Middle (The Enemy)
The Superhero persona of LeBron James is starting to wear thin as he enters the twilight of his career. He looked like he was playing at half speed carrying an attitude of indifference and disappointment. But even at 1/2 effort, LeBron is still 1/2 amazing and he was able to have another All-Star night. It’s all relative, a poor game for LeBron is still better than 80% of the league. James scored a quiet 29 points in a team high 32 minutes (so much for minute restrictions). He also pulled down 4 rebounds, dished out 6 assists and stole one other. He needs help in LA because for the first time, in as long as I can remember, LeBron James looks human.
The Ring (The X Factor)
Norm Powell had one of his best games of the season after what he did in the first quarter. He was hot off the bench early for an unexpected scoring punch. Norm coasted off that start for the rest of the game picking and choosing his spots to make an impact. This was the perfect game for Norm to assert himself as Coach Nurse is looking closely at who is playing well as he crafts his playoff rotation. Powell scored an unexpected 20 points on 7/14 from the field (3/6 from beyond the arc) and added 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block in 24 minutes. A great showing from the streaky guard.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Pascal Siakam had a poor shooting night (3/16) but made up for it by doing a lot of damage from the foul line. It’s important for Pascal to learn how to be effective in different ways as teams will key in on the strong parts of his game in the playoffs. His unpredictability is tough to prepare for and will always demand attention. Tonight, Siakam worked the free throw line and continued to develop his passing. He had a couple of emphatic blocks including a vicious one against Lakers top prospect Kyle Kuzma in the third quarter. Siakam was frustrated that he couldn’t get his shot going but he was still excellent tonight scoring 16 points (including 10/12 from the stripe) to go with 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks and a team high 6 assists.
Player of the Game
Kawhi Leonard took the reigns and stepped up without Kyle Lowry. He looks so much more comfortable now than he did at the start of the year. Where he was once robotic and disengaged, he is now animated and immersed in the action. Leonard was his usual efficient self, using an assortment of moves and three pointers to keep the defense honest. He even threw in an all too easy buzzer beater going into halftime for good measure. Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points including 5 three pointers to go with 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals to lead the Raptors to the convincing victory.
- Grey Mamba – Andre Ingram, the 33-year-old G league legend, was recently signed to a 10 day with the Lakers. He has a fascinating story; one of perseverance and determination. He also has one of the best nicknames in the league.
- Gold Standard – Everyone was looking fresh tonight in their OVO gear especially Coach Nurse who wore a nice gold tie and handkerchief to accent his outfit.
- Live by the 3 – The Raptors drained 16 three pointers. This team is taken to another level when they are hitting from deep.
- Gift from the 6 God – Drake and his OVO team have re-branded the former Biosteel centre to the OVO Athletic Centre. With it will be the first time that a team in the NBA will market their practice jerseys. The facility looks beautiful from the outside, I can only imagine how it feels to train there.
The Raptors head back to the Motor City for another matchup against potential first round opponent Detroit Pistons. Toronto should have plenty of motivation for this one after suffering two emotional losses at the hands of the Pistons earlier this year.