The final score is deceiving.
The Orlando Magic entered the game ranked 14th in the East, riding a six-game losing streak in which they allowed their opponents to score more than 111 points per game. The first-place Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, had gone 10-2 over the past month averaging over 117 points.
So the final score – a 117-104 Raptors win – makes sense, right? Well, no. It’s actually quite deceiving. Wednesday night’s game nearly came down to the wire as the Magic gave Toronto a needless scare before buckling down the stretch.
It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that Toronto pulled away, thanks in part to timely defence (after giving up 63 first-half points), big nights from Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl, and a solid outing from their all-star backcourt.
But hey, a win is a win, right?
“A win is not a win,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey told reporters after the game.
“We’re in this thing to get better. … We can’t be satisfied with this. We need to understand what we’re playing for. When you’re playing for a championship there are no nights off. Everyone’s going to give you their best shot.”
Orlando certainly did their best and got big shooting performances from wing scorers Evan Fournier, Jonathon Simmons, and Mario Hezonja, along with double-digit rebounding nights from both Aaron Gordon and Bismack Biyombo.
Here are some takeaways from a surprisingly close, highlight-packed game that featured another strong night from the Raptors’ bench, and a brush with NBA history.
Poeltl and Siakam are game-changers
Traditionally, a strong bench is able to reliably come into a game and maintain a lead. The Raptors’ bench, however, consistently extends it. The performance of the second-unit continues to be a distinguisher over other teams.
Much like Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet give Casey options in his backcourt rotation, both Siakam and Poeltl have proven to be valuable chess pieces. When Jonas Valanciunas got into early foul trouble in the first quarter, Poeltl entered the lineup alongside starter Serge Ibaka and made an immediate impact.
When Siakam, VanVleet, and C.J. Miles joined Poeltl and DeRozan on the floor the group briefly – and quickly – altered the tone. With 1:45 remaining in the first quarter and Toronto up by four the following sequence took place:
• VanVleet runs a pick-and-roll with Poeltl, who throws down a dunk so quickly that Biyombo is still on his way up off the ground by the time it falls through.
• Siakam intercepts a pass and pokes the ball from Biyombo in the paint, Poeltl pounces on it and deflects it to Miles, who fires it up-court to Siakam (who is somehow already at the opposite three-point line) and slams it down with two hands.
• After a Magic layup, the Raptors move the ball with purpose. It touches every player’s hand and ends up in Miles’s for a wide open in the corner.
In 50 seconds the Raptors scored seven points and extended a lead to eight points.
That lead would evaporate but it was again the controlled energy and overwhelming attack from their reserve big men that gave Toronto the edge they needed to win.
Siakam and Poeltl combined for 27 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists, four steals, and four blocks, while shooting 12-for-16 from the field. Poeltl’s five assists are a career-high.
The pair have been blindsiding opponents all season and are emerging as the Raptors’ most intriguing x-factors headed down the stretch.
(Also: they’re both super-aggressive dunkers, and really fun to watch. #Analysis)
Flirting with the record books
It was one of those meaningful meaningless moments that Raptors fans used to live for back in the days before the team was associated with winning. (Think: Jose Calderon nailing a three-pointer on Feb. 24, 2009 to give the Raps an NBA-best 837 games with at least one three; or the Jan. 24, 2011 nail-biter when the streak came to a close at 986 games after the team failed to score from beyond the arc.)
The Raptors entered Wednesday night’s game having beat opponents by an average of 15.5 points. Per ESPN Stats, the highest differential in the month of February is 15.3, meaning a 14-point victory over Orlando would give the Raptors the record. Nothing less.
So there they were, up 13 points with the ball in their hands during the final possession. It was the type of faux-tense moment that would define lesser seasons (it seems like a would-be highlight of the Mike James era).
Do you go for glory? Or stay classy?
With 17 seconds left and a shot at history, Norman Powell brought the ball up the floor … and dribbled out the clock.
Ah, well. There’s always next February.
Anunoby leaves game, now what?
Rookie starting forward OG Anunoby was quietly off to a fine start and looked poised for a big night.
Anunoby scored the game’s opening basket, and followed it up with a defensive rebound on the next possession. Soon after he nailed a catch-and-shoot three off a DeRozan drive and dish, and then had a nice interior pass to Poeltl for an and-one – all in the first quarter.
But in the second he sprained his ankle and was forced to leave the game. There had already been questions during Anunoby’s recent slump about how much the team could rely on a first-year player come playoff time, with the wing depth standing out as one of this team’s few weaknesses.
A potential longer-term injury to Anunoby would open the door for Powell, who has mostly fallen out of Casey’s rotation, to re-establish himself. But in ten minutes of action – including in place of Anunoby alongside the Raptors starters to open the second half – Powell failed to stand out on either end of the floor.
Thursday is the deadline to acquire free agents who are eligible to play in the post-season, and it remains to be seen if Anunoby’s ankle injury is serious enough to lead to Masai Ujiri & Co. to increasingly consider taking a deeper step into the buyout market.