Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 98-90 win over the Miami Heat on Monday.
One: The Raptors evened the score after losing to the Heat over the weekend. This time around, the Raptors were far more energized and engaged defensively, which is hardly a surprise given that they got to their hotels between 3 and 4 a.m. as part of a back-to-back in the first game. Without the rest disadvantage, the Raptors were the more physically imposing and more youthful side and outlasted the Heat with a 25-9 run in the fourth quarter to secure the win Monday.
Two: As expected, both the Raptors and Heat were excellent on defence. The Raptors were excellent on the whole outside of the third quarter, when Miami went to the line 15 times, while the Heat had Toronto bottled up in the halfcourt for three quarters. Toronto’s interior defence was much stronger with a healthy set of frontcourt options, while Miami was crafty as always in setting up zone coverages and having pesky guards rotating over for surprise double teams and charges. The edge went to the Raptors because they had more energy to run on the break, which is largely how they fuelled their otherwise uninventive offence.
Three: Pascal Siakam struggled in the first half, shooting just 2-for-11 from the field. Similar to the first game, the Heat had successfully confused Siakam by layering their help defence to cut off his path to the basket, and they never allowed Siakam to get to his spots calmly without at least two defenders swiping at him or cutting off his path. It was the first time all season that Siakam struggled to generate open looks, and had the trend continued, it would have certainly left the Raptors with too little scoring to win the game.
Four: Fortunately, Siakam finished strong with 18 points and six assists in the second half to once again flirt with a triple-double. The main adjustment in the halfcourt was just better spacing overall. Simple things like clearing out the corner and stationing shooters on Siakam’s side of the floor helped generate open looks, and Siakam himself also got in on the act with two threes off kick-out passes.
But the bigger impact came from Siakam playing more in transition. The Raptors’ fourth-quarter comeback was entirely a product of Siakam getting into the open court and either setting up his teammates or getting all the way to the hoop. It’s a credit to his motor that Siakam was still lively and unrelenting on the break despite playing a game-high 42 minutes, and he still had enough legs to sink a fadeaway dagger in the final minute. Even his bad games have been pretty great this season.
Five: Siakam’s passing has been excellent, but nothing tops this play where he drew a double team, then threw a wraparound pass around his defender to Gary Trent Jr. for an open triple. He didn’t have this level of creativity or improvisation in previous seasons.
Six: Fred VanVleet was noticeably more assertive throughout this game. One of the early themes of the season has been VanVleet relinquishing control of the offence and playing a distinctly secondary part, but with Scottie Barnes on the sidelines and poor starts from the other starters, VanVleet resumed the responsibility that he shouldered last season. He took a season-high 16 shots along with nine free throws, and evenly split the load with Siakam. The Raptors offence has looked the smoothest this season when it’s been Siakam and VanVleet dictating play, but there will be a need for a third creator to step up, otherwise they will be scratching 40 minutes per game.
Seven: Precious Achiuwa showed up his former team with a career-high 22 rebounds while outplaying Bam Adebayo. This was a prime example of Achiuwa excelling in his role, focusing on the defensive end, taking the right chances on offence and just being totally committed to making winning plays. His effort on the glass is especially commendable given that he’s only six-foot-eight and that he’s smaller than both of the Heat’s centres. But it’s also encouraging to see Achiuwa finish a game in which he didn’t take a single shot that was out of turn or ill-advised.
Eight: Chris Boucher brought pop off the bench despite regrettable fouls in his season debut. Boucher checked in along with Achiuwa midway through the first quarter, and the pair immediately launched the Raptors on a 10-0 run that forced the Heat to call timeout. The activity and athleticism of Boucher and Achiuwa as a duo is game-changing, and it allows the Raptors to totally lock down the glass and to always have a shot-blocking presence on every play. Boucher also swished two corner threes and got involved on the offensive glass. The only issue is that he bit on a few fakes and took a pair of light fouls. But for the most part, his return to the lineup stabilized the bench.
Nine: This was a very strange game from OG Anunoby. He went from being noticeably eager on offence to completely invisible, finishing with only four shots attempted in 34 minutes. To find the last time he took so few shots, you would need to go back to the Tampa year, where Anunoby was ejected for flipping Dennis Schroder. Second, there were still hiccups on the rare occasions where he initiated, as he was whistled for two charges on the two times he tried to put it on the deck.
Defensively, he was excellent as always, including forcing two turnovers in the fourth, but the team does need more from him offensively as well. Anunoby has yet to strike the right balance in his role outside of the fourth quarter against Cleveland.
Ten: It was odd that coach Nick Nurse didn’t turn to Thad Young at all in this game. The Heat found great success deploying zone coverages, and Young would have been an obvious antidote given his skillset of playmaking out of the post and the ability to hit open corner threes. To be fair, Young has yet to impress this season but he is a very useful connector for an offence that wasn’t exactly humming tonight.