After a hard-fought loss on Friday night that saw the team go without a field goal in the final 3:40 of the game and surrender 21 offensive rebounds, the Toronto Raptors were back in action one night later against the lowly Chicago Bulls.
On paper, a road back-to-back is a pretty tough way to kick off the season, but as it turns out, a matchup with the Bulls – who were also on the second night of a back-to-back – was exactly what the Raptors needed after a frustrating night in Boston.
On the strength of suffocating defence, highlighted by 11 blocked shots, Toronto cruised to a 108-84 victory Saturday night. Here are a few observations from the Raptors’ rout.
OG, oh my!
Coming into the season, there was a lot of chatter about OG Anunoby taking a huge leap after a snake-bit sophomore campaign.
In the first two games of the season, Anunoby hasn’t looked bad; but he’s been more nondescript than many would’ve liked.
Saturday against the Bulls, however, Anunoby was straight hoopin’.
Finishing with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go along with six rebounds, Anunoby looked aggressive cutting and slashing to the basket for a number of dunks and confident in his three-point stroke, shooting 3-for-6 from deep.
But it wasn’t just the offence — Anunoby’s defence was superb as well, as he locked up Bulls star Zach LaVine to the tune of 11 points on dismal 4-of-13 shooting. One night prior, LaVine light up the scoreboard with 37 points.
Most impressively, however, is that four of Toronto’s 11 blocks belonged to Anunoby, and they were all spectacular in their own right.
If this is the Anunoby the Raptors will see on a consistent basis, they’ll be in very good shape all season long.
Coming into this contest, Siakam had scored a combined 67 points, proving in the very early going that his scoring production can certainly increase with higher usage and more shot attempts.
What has been a concern for Siakam, however, is that with the increased opportunity to score means there’s been more chances for him to cough the ball up, especially when help from the defence comes and he finds himself double-teamed and looking for an outlet.
Siakam turned the ball over nine times in the first two games and picked up four more on Saturday night – indicating it’s still an issue. But while Siakam still needs to work on taking care of the ball – especially avoiding offensive fouls – he showed flashes on Saturday of what ultimately could make him impossible to guard: legitimate play-making.
Those doubles that Siakam looked confused against in the first two games he looked a lot more assertive against. Showing patience and recognition of how to draw the Bulls’ defence in and find the open man.
This was best exemplified by consecutive offensive possessions in which Siakam — from nearly identical spots on the floor — found Matt Thomas open for a three and then found a cutting Anunoby for a dunk.
Finishing with four assists in addition to a game-high 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting, it looks like Siakam is on the cusp of adding yet another weapon to his arsenal.
Nurse goes 12-men deep
Kyle Lowry played 40-plus minutes in the first two games, an eyebrow-raising decision by Raptors coach Nick Nurse considering Lowry is 33 years old and just began his 14th NBA season.
This happened because Nurse only played eight men in the season opener and then just nine in Boston (but the eighth and ninth men, Terence Davis and Stanley Johnson, played under nine minutes each).
Saturday was a much different affair, with Nurse opting to play 12 players. Part of that was a product of the second night of a back-to-back and he kind of had to.
Some guys – namely Malcolm Miller, Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – got in for garbage time. Once again, Davis got short but consistent burn. Thomas, on the other hand, made his NBA debut and played 20 minutes.
Thomas, finishing with six points on 2-for-3 shooting (all attempts from deep, obviously), looked dangerous as a legitimate floor-spacing deadeye shooter that the Bulls had to respect.
Given how good he looked and how much Nurse played him, expect Thomas to be a fixture in the Raptors’ rotation soon.
Turnovers still an issue
The Raptors amazingly conceded 31 more field-goal attempts to the Celtics on Friday, mainly because of how many offensive rebounds they gave up and how often they turned the ball over.
On Saturday, Toronto cleaned up its act on the defensive glass, but it looks like turnovers are still a problem for the team.
It wasn’t really evident because of the lopsided score and the fact the Raptors’ defence was dominant in holding Chicago to just 30.2 per cent shooting, but the Bulls still managed to take 13 more field-goal attempts than the Raptors — a number indicative of the 22 turnovers Toronto committed.
The Raptors can get away with this sloppy play against teams like the Bulls. But against quality opponents, such as the Celtics, they’ll be hard-pressed to pull out a win giving up the ball as much as they have so far.