The High 5 – Week in Review – Week 12
The High 5 is where I review the last week of Toronto Raptors basketball including how the team did, who were the impact players as well as some news and notes from around the league.
The Thumb – How was the week?
The Raptors are going streaking!
Carrying over from last week, the Raptors have reeled off 6 straight games, vaulting them up the Eastern Conference standings. There are two obvious reasons for this recent stretch of dominance: overall team health and the emergence of Fred VanVleet. Whereas before any VanVleet/All Star talk was just a whisper, it has now grown into an undeniable chatter.
As the team’s health improves so does Masai Ujiri’s vision of what this team can ultimately be. Players are understanding their roles and how to be effective. Siakam is living up to his spicy moniker while Anunoby, Barnes and others have contributed consistently.
Together, this team has been exciting and entertaining. Granted, some of their opponents have been missing key pieces, but the Raptors can only play who is against them, and they have been handling their business like professionals.
A few more weeks of this type of effort will have the Raptors in the mix for playoff home court position, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
One game at a time.
Week Record (4 – 0) Season Record (20 – 17)
San Antonio Spurs v Toronto Raptors W 129 – 104
The Raps have been playing well and are starting to build momentum. They were hungry for wins and the shorthanded Spurs, missing their leading scorer, looked like fresh meat. Late in the 2nd, the Raps started exploiting mismatches for high percentage shots. VanVleet turned into Hawkeye and couldn’t miss from deep. The rest followed his lead and found some offensive cohesion. San Antonio simply had no answer. This was a game where everyone did their best to make their teammates look better. Toronto provided plenty of footage for the highlight reel.
Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks W 117 – 111
For the second time this season, the Raptors dodged a bullet when Giannis decided to sit on Wednesday night. Toronto rolled in Milwaukee with a boat load of momentum. Their offensive options were clicking, but the Bucks aimed to prove they were more than Antetokounmpo. They pulled ahead off slick shooting and took a 9-point lead into the break. Toronto tightened the screws and snatched the lead back late in the 3rd. They slowly grew it through grit and hustle. Even without Giannis this was a hard-earned win.
Utah Jazz v Toronto Raptors W 122 – 108
The Jazz may be one of the faces of the West, but they were unrecognizable on Friday. The Raptors, riding a wave of momentum looked to extend their win streak. They were perhaps too overconfident because they let the Jazz run out to a big lead. Nick Nurse pulled his hair out in frustration as he watched his team fail to contain Utah’s back ups for the backups. It needed Fred going nuclear in the 3rd for Toronto to show life. They swung the pendulum of momentum entirely and picked up another dub.
New Orleans Pelicans v Toronto Raptors W 105 – 101
Toronto supersized their lineup when they took on Jonas Valanciunas and the Pelicans on Sunday. The Raptors were assertive but simple mistakes left the door open for the Pelicans to counterpunch. This was a game of runs with each team trading control. Toronto took a sliver of a lead into the break. They made adjustments at halftime and refocused their attack to target mismatches. However, the Pelicans hung tough, they refused to acquiesce. The game went down to the wire when, who else, VanVleet hit back-to-back triples to put the nail in the coffin.
The Index – The Leader – Player of the Week
Fred has been a man on fire over these last few weeks. Toronto’s win streak should be largely credited to his shot making and ability to come up big in clutch situations. He has been playing with so much confidence that every shot he took looked like it had a chance to go in, no matter if he was feet from the basket or launching bombs from the logo. It’s one thing if all he was doing was scoring, but Fred consistently added a helping of dimes, steals, and rebounds on each of his games. He comfortably wore the shoes of a superstar. This is the best version of VanVleet. Shades of another player that wore 23.
Honourable Mention: P. Siakam, OG Anunoby
The Middle – The Enemy – Best Opposing Player
Eric Paschall and Elijah Hughes – Utah Jazz
Don’t be alarmed if you don’t know who these players are. They are not the first names you think of when mentioning the Utah Jazz but both had career nights against the Raps. Paschall did his damage early, he paced the scoring for the visitors and did an excellent job getting to the line. Hughes added a career night of his own while also leading his team in rebounds. These two were the only reason why this was a contest at all, the Jazz had little outside of them. Despite the loss, they should be proud of their effort.
Honourable Mention: J. Poeltl (SAS), K. Middleton (MIL), J. Valanciunas (NOP)
The Ring – The X Factor – Standout Performance
Fred VanVleet v Utah Jazz
It’s rare that a player is credited as both the Player of the Week and the Standout Performer but Fred’s 3rd quarter against the Jazz was unlike anything we’ve seen before. In those 12 minutes, he went scorched Earth against Utah. He scored 24 of his game high 37 points, including a stretch where he hit 17 straight. Fred earned his first career triple double and, most importantly, he lifted his teammates out of a lethargic funk to a comfortable win. Those that question VanVleet’s All-Star credentials should study this game tape.
Honourable Mention: Siakam v NOP
The Pinky – The Unsung Hero – Key Contributor
Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby
The unconventional High 5 continues as this week we pay respects to two unsung heroes. Pascal Siakam is on an incredible stretch of games; he would have been the Player of the Week if not for the omnipotence of VanVleet. The scoring has always been there, but Siakam has made a concentrated effort to up his rebounding and assist numbers and the results have been positive.
OG Anunoby has quietly played the role of primary defender and tertiary scorer. He may not have the flash or pizzaz of his teammates, but he always ends up with a handful of triples and tough physical buckets. Not enough has been said about his offensive development, Anunoby has taken great strides this year in that department.
Honourable Mention: C. Boucher, S. Barnes, P. Achiuwa
News and Notes
- Stick Around – The Raptors signed DJ Wilson to a second 10-day contract after he had a successful first stint with the team. Wilson is still very young and has a lot of upside. Hopefully, he can find a long-term home in the NBA.
Around the League
- Are you saying Boo? – New York forward Julius Randle was fined $25000 for telling off reporters after being booed on his home court. To be fair, Randle booed the fans right back, he let his frustration get the better of him.
- Unruly Behaviour – The Sacramento Kings were given a $50000 fine when their team executives started to mettle with the scorers table during their game against the Heat. Further to this, Wes Wilcox, the team assistant general manager was personally given an additional $15000 fine.
- Fisticuffs – Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic and Miami’s Tyler Herro were both hit with $25000 fines after a scuffle when their teams met on Thursday night.
- Commemorating Greatness – Dallas retired Dirk Nowitzki’s number 41 in a ceremony before the Mavericks took on the Golden State Warriors. They also revealed the statue that will be erected outside American Airlines Center. The internet had a field day over the statues design but you can make your own conclusions.
Toronto will end their stretch of home games with a difficult Tuesday night matchup against the Suns. The Suns are title contenders, a win against them would do wonders for their confidence. They will then start a 5-game road trip with a Friday night stop in Detroit. The following night they will be in Milwaukee for a game against the Bucks, another title contender. Toronto will be tested.