The Raptors 2018-19 Quarter-Season Report Card

The Raptors 2018-19 Quarter-Season Report Card
Raptors comfortably beat Heat despite Dwyane Wades heroics
Leading essentially from start to finish, the Raptors put together a well-rounded performance, defeating the sputtering Miami Heat on the back of seven different Toronto players hitting double figures.

Based on their down-to-the-wire finishes last season, many expected the Heat’s toughness infused style of play to give Toronto all they could handle. However, down Tyler Johnson, Goran Dragic, and Dion Waiters, Miami simply didn’t have the individual creators to keep pace all night. The by-committee approach to running point guard that injuries have forced them into was a stark contrast to the surgical game management we saw from Kyle Lowry tonight. The amount of effort that seemed to go into each basket was night and day in favor of the Raptors.

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Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 125, Miami Heat 115

The game began with each team exchanging midrange jumpers in the opening minutes to open up the scoring. Lowry followed that up by getting straight to the rim in the early in a halfcourt possession for what feels like the 1000th time this season. Jonas Valanciunas then followed up a miss for a powerful slam, Pascal Siakam threw down a lefty poster, and Kawhi Leonard swished a three off an extra pass. The Raptors were off.

The teams exchanged a few threes (including an absurdly smooth no hesitation one from Pascal Siakam) and Leonard used his strength to power in some tough baskets, before Dwyane Wade entered the game and injected some life into the Heat. The future hall-of-famer hit a step-back over Leonard that was reminiscent of the 2012 finals, got Whiteside an easy dunk, and got to the line off a savvy ball-fake.

The Toronto Raptors notched their fifth straight victory with a home win over the Miami Heat. In what was longtime Miami Heat guard, Dwyane Wade‘s final appearance in the Scotiabank Arena, Toronto defeated Miami 125-115. The Raptors led by as much as 26 points and never looked back.

However, any momentum that Wade had created disappeared when the Heat forgot what transition defense was for the rest of the quarter, giving up uncontested fast-break layups or dunks on three beautiful passes from Lowry. Mix in some Serge Ibaka short roll jumpers, more slick Lowry feeds, and CJ Miles seeming to find some semblance of rhythm, and the Raptors shot 75% winning the quarter 36-27 despite Wade’s individual heroics.

The quarter opened with Kelly Olynk scoring twice only to have Delon Wright answer each basket with a three. Wade then continued his excellent night, cutting for a nifty reverse finish before baiting OG Anunoby into falling for his signature pump fake to draw a foul. Miles kept up his strong half by driving for a difficult off-hand finish before Ibaka emphatically denied Justice Winslow a few trips later for the play of the game.

Kyle Lowry, the Raptors emotive leader, didnt score much tonight, but once again dictated tempo and made sure everyone got a chance to do their thing. Lowry would finish with 12 points and ten assists, and was certainly not about to let things get out of hand. Look no further than Jonas Valanciunas production, at a solid 17 points and ten boards in just 24 minutes, with a few Lowry-led alley-oops, to see just one example of what Kyle does to settle the Raptors. For their parts, Wright and VanVleet did indeed have their moments too — the former got to bomb a couple 3s on his idol Wade, and the latter got to express his whole game — a three, a tough finish at the rim, stout defense — to help secure the victory.

Raptors-Heat Reaction Podcast – Kawhi dominates again

Despite things not going their way, the Heat, in character, didn’t fold. Ellington responded with a couple curling threes and the Heat scrapped their way to a few bunnies, cutting the Raptors lead to two. Unfortunately for Miami, Lowry then re-entered the game. The teams exchanged baskets before Lowry threw Valanciunas open on an alley-oop, long-balled a hustling Leonard for an easy two, and got to the rim himself, generating every piece of the 6-0 run. The teams then proceeded to trade baskets again until the half ended with the Raptors leading 63-54.

Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat: Preview, start time, and more

In a rare occurrence, the Raptors generated 11 points in transition during the first half despite the Heat not turning the ball over once. It was the first half in Heat history with zero turnovers. It was also the first half in Heat history they’d given up four uncontested transition layups immediately following makes (well… probably).

The Heat came out flat defensively, surrendering multiple easy baskets in the paint (including Valanciunas impersonating Siakam with a spin move). Lowry then threw another full-court pass to a layup before point-Pascal led a fast break resulting in an open Lowry three to stretch the lead to 17. Not to be outdone, Leonard then scored three straight times including two clean threes. Lowry then hit a rim-running Valanciunas to earn his 10th assist and increase the lead to 26.

Wade then re-entered the game and proceeded to claw the Heat back into it. He hit a cool mid-range pull-up, stepped back for a three, hit a Curry-esque scoop shot, and got Anunoby to bite on another pump fake. Bam Adebayo then earned a few sets of free-throws by sheer force of will and some Heats shooters not named Ellington finally got a few long shots to fall. The Raptors were outscored 27-13 over the final 6:45 of the quarter and somehow still won the quarter by three, entering the final frame up 101-89.

Wait, what? How did we get here? What pre-season prediction is actually happening true to form? Well, a good number of writers on this fine site, including myself, were incredibly excited when the Kawhi Leonard/Danny Green-for-DeMar DeRozan/Jakob Poeltl trade occurred. (Please stop calling it the Kawhi-for-DeMar trade, as it has become blatantly obvious that Danny was much, much more than a throw-in.) The move was — on paper — the type that could vault Toronto into unknown territory: Championship Contender. Validating that status would require continued improvement from the young players (hello Pascal Siakam), smooth integration of the new players (hello again, Danny), and, most importantly, the resurgence of pre-injury Kawhi Leonard.

The teams traded hoops until Wade got a shooters roll from the deep corner and hit a pull up three the following possession, cutting the lead to 8. However, Fred VanVleet responded with three huge baskets including a deceptive pull-back midranger to keep the Heat at bay. Wade did all he could to cut the lead below 10 again but his team was simply outmatched on this night. Lowry’s three from the logo (!) that stretched the lead to 15 with 4:45 left was the nail in the coffin. Wade missed some ill-advised shots late in his pursuit of 40 and the Raptors defended well enough to prevent the Heat from getting any ideas about a comeback as they only cut it to 10 on a meaningless Richardson three with under a minute remaining.

So, the Cavaliers are already 10 games under .500 and have lost the services of Kevin Love (at least until January) and JR Smith. Smith wants no part in Clevelands tanking efforts and has decided to leave the team and await a trade (This is still light years away from Washingtons level of dysfunction, but noteworthy nonetheless). Is anybody interested in acquiring JR Smith? How about Kyle Korver? These veterans should not be wasting the twilight of their respective careers by languishing on the Cleveland bench. Somebody save them, please (except you, Masai, please dont mess with our perfectly perfect team thats finally showing signs of cohesion).

Kawhi Leonard, Gregg Popovich escalate their war of words

Ultimately, the Raptors won 125-115 to stretch their winning streak to five. The loss is the Heat’s seventh in their last nine games; strange territory for such a competitive franchise. For those concerned about the Raptors recent struggles from deep, this game likely didn’t help as they shot a mere 31%. Still, they beat a team with solid rim protection 60-38 in points in the paint, so it’s hard to be worried about much following this win.

Share Share Five thoughts on last night: Raptors 125, Heat 115 tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports The Toronto Raptors are 17-4. Seventeen wins! In 21 games! Thats pretty damn good. Last night, the Miami Heat put up a decent fight, clawing back a good chunk of a 26-point Raptors lead, but in the end, the Raptors just had too many weapons. Here a few things we saw (and one thing we almost didnt see):

One of the things I really enjoy about watching Kawhi Leonard drive is when he just gets a slight edge on the front shoulder — and then uses his superior strength to just move guys out of his way and protect the ball with his upper body.

I think you could easily argue Leonard deserved the and-1 on last nights as well; perhaps that strength is what fools officials into thinking there isnt any contact going on?

Their luck appears to be turning a bit as Torontos old foe Dwayne Wade and our old friend James Johnson play in their respective third and fourth games back from injury tonight. But the Heat arent in the clear yet, as the point guard situation remains a mess. Goran Dragic is out with a knee injury and the artillery behind him isnt great. There isnt a single backup point guard on the roster unless you count pseudo-point guard Tyler Johnson, who is out tonight as well. For now, having Josh Richardson operate as the primary ball handler seems less than ideal.

Lots of talk during and after Fridays game, including yours truly right here, about Kawhi being a black hole on offense. And while I dont think anyone was seriously suggesting Leonard is not a team player or that he cant play within the offense, allow me to present a few examples of Leonard sharing the rock.

The versatile role Nurse envisioned for Leonard hasnt come to fruition yet. Leonard has been efficient on offense, but the entire package isnt there. His shot spectrum involves a steady diet of post-ups and pick-and-rolls, and conversely very few catch-and-shoot looks or pindowns. Just 18.8% of his shots have come off zero dribbles. Even LeBron James, a noted basketball puppet master, takes more catch-and-shoot looks, with 24.4% of his shots coming off zero dribbles.

The fact is, Leonard is good enough that he can play doing pretty much whatever he wants on offense, and still be successful. As I said the other night, Id still like to see Leonard get his teammates a little more involved, like we see in those plays above, but who can argue with the results so far?

Heat Game Day: James Johnson starts again in Toronto

A huge part of the Raptors building their big lead last night came in transition, and a big part of that was Miamis incredibly poor effort in getting back. The Heat didnt have a single turnover in the first half, and yet somehow still gave up 11 fast break points!

A pick-and-roll between Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside gets Whiteside open for the dunk, but Whitesides man — Jonas Valanciunas — beats everyone back down court for the layup.

Apr. 11, 2018 to be exact. The Toronto Raptors traveled to Miami to take on the Heat in the final game of the regular season, motivated by the possibility of winning 60 games — a goal they had set for themselves before the season began. In a tie game with under two minutes remaining, Fred VanVleet is absolutely pummeled by a screen from Bam Adebayo and throws his shoulder out of whack. He misses the majority of the first-round series against the Washington Wizards, doesn’t look quite the same against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Masai Ujiri goes to work in the off-season.

Its not like JV sprinted out of the defensive end, either — he actually hangs his head for a minute, before composing himself! Id love to pick on Whiteside here, because, well, low-hanging fruit and all, but this ones Wades responsibility; Valanciunas was hung up and essentially matched up with Wade in transition. Wade simply lost him getting back.

For the Raptors, they will be hoping their hot shooting against the Washington Wizards carries for a stretch. Toronto hit 43.6 percent of their 39 three-pointers Friday, all the more impressive considering they missed their first four attempts from deep. The lid has been due to come off for some time now with the improved three-point threats on the roster, and this Heat defense that allows the eighth fewest points per 100 possessions (107.1) per Cleaning the Glass will provide a stern test of that.

Early in the broadcast, Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins mentioned that Wade was tied for the third-most 30+ point games against the Raptors. It was hard to imagine 36-year-old DWade getting another 30-spot, right?

As of now, he can probe and make basic reads in pick-and-roll. He’s confident pulling up for free throw line middies, and he’s added the pull-up three to his bag. Being able to get to the rim without a pick will open things up for himself and others. Right now, he can’t consistently force rotations without a little help. That’s fine for now — he’s still really freaking good — but to become a true star, he has to reach a certain level of shot creation.

Nah. Wade came off the bench spitting fire against Toronto, and almost single-handedly kept his team in the game in the first half. He had 16 at the break, on nine shots, along with three boards and two assists. In the third quarter, the Raptors starters blew the game open, and then Wade and the Heat bench almost swung it all the way back the other way.

Most notably, as hes done in the past (remember the 2016 playoffs, when he shot 50% from deep?), Wade immediately transformed into a three-point threat against the Raptors; he had 15 total three-point makes on the season coming in to the game, and somehow went 4-for-7 on the night. Hed finish with a cool 35 points (on 22 shots) and six assists.

Family affair: Thanks to older brother Dorell Wrights time in Miami with the Heat, Delon Wright has a special connection with 16-year vet Dwyane Wade. Right before my brother got drafted, he became one of my favourite players, Wright said. Wade has remained close with Wright, watching him grow up and blossom into an NBA player who has a euro step that looks pretty familiar. That was the first thing I took from him, Wright said. The steals, playing the passing lanes [too]. He would always check up on me. [He would] give me some advice. Its been good over the years.

Can I just say how much I haaaaate hate hate when the broadcast cuts away from game action in the middle of a play?

Return of the OG: Fridays game saw the return of OG Anunoby to Torontos lineup after missing the previous three games with a right wrist sprain. Anunoby sprained his wrist in Boston on Nov. 22, but showed little evidence of his time off scoring 15 points in his return. He shot 6-for-11 from the floor and 3-for-5 from beyond the arc in 19 minutes. He looked bouncy, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. He got up in the air a little bit, he was active and quick. 

When a player scores, its not uncommon to get him on camera going back the other way to see a reaction. That closeness and familiarity with players is part of what makes the NBA so great.

But broadcasts have to understand when and where to do it. If the team now on offense is walking the ball up, cool. If the team is getting out on the break, do not cut away! To wit:

From deep: After struggling to connect from deep on their recent road trip, things fell into place for the Raptors in a big way on Friday. Toronto made a season-high 17 three-pointers against the Wizards, shooting 44 percent (17-for-39) from beyond the arc. Nine different players had at least one three in the game while OG Anunoby, Danny Green and Fred VanVleet each hit three.

Wayne Ellington scores, we see Kyle Lowry clearly pushing the ball and passing it ahead… and then we see James Johnsons head. And then we catch the end of a Kawhi Leonard dunk.

Theres no good reason for this, especially in this case, because Johnson wasnt even the one who scored, and this is the home broadcast. Why are you cutting away from the home team on a fast break?

Well, at 17-4, thats about as successful a first-quarter to the season as we could possibly have hoped for. But its gonna get tougher:

The Raptors have now played 11 games against teams currently under .500. Theyve won all 11. Their average margin of victory in those games: +15.0. Impressive stuff, but theyll only see 2 sub-.500 teams over the next 12 games. Tough stretch coming.

These next 12 games will be a great test for the team now that its (almost) fully healthy, and I for one cant wait to see it.