The Raptors led by as many as 18 points and seemed to have the Magic under their thumb before halftime, but a cold spell in the third quarter — including going 1-of-10 from deep — helped the Magic make a game of it. Here are takeaways from the Raptors’ 93-91 road win:
The Raptors avoided overtime courtesy of a Danny Green buzzer-beater. After Green allowed Orlando’s Evan Fournier, who led all scorers with 27 points, to get by him and to the rim for an uncontested dunk that tied the game on the previous possession, the Raptors came out of the ensuing timeout and called Green’s number. With 2.5 seconds on the clock, he curled around a screen and collected a pin-point bounce pass from an inbounding Kyle Lowry and lifted for a 15-foot pull-up jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining to give the Raptors the victory.
Along with the double-block with Kawhi Leonard against Boston earlier this season, add Green’s game-winner to his list of signature moments early this season.
Despite arriving in Toronto in the relative shadows of the Leonard deal, Green has certainly come to the foreground in his early months as a Raptor. A 10-year veteran with an NBA title under his belt, the 31-year old guard assumed a natural leadership role out of training camp and remains a prominent voice and tone-setter both on and off the court.
A staple of the starting lineup, he’s a defensive game-changer and on offence has been the team’s biggest shooting threat. On a deep team like the Raptors, one of his greatest attributes is that he doesn’t require the ball to be effective, a trait he honed during his years in San Antonio. Green is averaging double-digits in scoring and leads the Raptors in three-pointers made despite ranking just eighth on the team in shot attempts per game with 7.5.
You don’t need advanced metrics to know that Green has made a major impact. But they’re there if you want them: Green’s offensive rating of 119.2 ranks him second among all NBA players who average 20 or more minutes per game, trailing only Steph Curry (119.6). When you factor in defence, his personal net rating of 16.9 is the best in the league.
He finished Tuesday’s game with 13 points along with three rebounds, one steal, and one block.
For all the many ways he’s contributed to the Raptors’ NBA-best 14-4 start, Green didn’t need a game-winner on his resume to win over the Raptors or their fan base. But it doesn’t hurt.
Ibaka keeps rolling
Serge Ibaka continues his eye-opening season. Amid the Raptors’ offensive struggles throughout Tuesday, Ibaka finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, including clutch boards and baskets down the stretch. This jumper off the pick-and-pop with Lowry should have been the Raptors’ game-winner:
After another low-scoring night from Lowry (nine points in 32 minutes), Ibaka is now second on the Raps behind Leonard in scoring (17.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.8) and is first in blocks (1.4). His turnaround this season has been stunning.
When the Raptors traded Terrence Ross for Ibaka two seasons ago, it offered a potential boost to the frontcourt and an infusion of playoff experience to the roster. By the end of last season, following a troubling playoff performance, you would have deemed the trade a failure for both sides. Before this season Ibaka was a borderline afterthought, closer to a problem than a solution for the Raptors’ short- and long-term plans. Now? He’s seen his offensive potential unlocked in Nick Nurse’s offence — playing particularly well in tandem with Lowry — and is a bigger presence than ever defensively during his Raptors’ tenure. He’s proven to be an integral piece of the puzzle.
He’s also formed a two-headed monster for Toronto at centre along with Jonas Valanciunas. The two even made a rare appearance on the court together. With the Magic having made their comeback and their tall, lanky, and bouncy duo of Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac in the frontcourt, Nurse put Ibaka and Valanciunas on the floor in a lineup with Green, Fred VanVleet, and Lorenzo Brown (who was solid in extended playing time). Bamba and Isaac were no match for the physicality of the Raptors’ big men, and Toronto quickly regained its lead until Orlando subbed Nik Vucevic, who scored 14 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the loss.
Raptors vs. winning teams
Perhaps we should have anticipated a tough night for Toronto given its performance against winning teams this season.
The Raptors entered this game with the league’s best record but also one of the easiest schedules. Against teams with a winning record, the Raps were just 3-4 heading into Tuesday’s contest. Now 4-4, seeing that ratio improve will be one of the most crucial measuring sticks to evaluate the Raptors against the rest of the NBA’s potential contenders.
The Magic aren’t in that category, but thanks to an intriguing blend of developing talent (and a soft schedule of their own), entered Tuesday’s game at 9-8 and showed why the East is less of a cake walk this season than in previous ones. An exception? The Raptors’ next opponent, the 3-14 Atlanta Hawks, who are riding an eight-game losing streak into their home game versus Toronto on Wednesday.