Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 125-113 win over the Detroit Pistons.
One — Light work:
It’s scary how good Pascal Siakam has become. The Most Improved Player took yet another leap, and he is now making it look easy. His skillset and confidence have grown to a point where he can pull off any move from his imagination. Siakam drilled a baseline jumper over Andre Drummond on the spot where Kawhi Leonard bounced in the dagger over Joel Embiid. Siakam drilled two pull-up threes like it was nothing. Siakam put Thon Maker on a highlight reel and dumped Drummond’s ankles in an ice bucket. Siakam even threw an unintentional alley-oop to himself and still finished in traffic. He scored 30 points in three quarters and hardly broke a sweat.
Two — Counters on counters:
Last season, the game plan for guarding Siakam was to use a bigger centre, and that’s what the Pistons did with Drummond, Maker, and Christian Wood. But that strategy is no longer valid, as Siakam has completely reinvented his face-up game. Drummond backed up on Siakam in the third, and he confidently rose up for three. Wood tried to cut off the paint, but Siakam smoothly faded away for a 15-footer. Maker pressed up on the perimeter, and the 7-footer was made to look like Bambi on skates. The only way to stop Siakam nowadays is to double team, and that’s the mark of a true superstar.
Three — Master:
Everyone is always waiting for the other shoe to drop with Kyle Lowry’s career, but it’s just not happening. The 33-year-old continues to thrive, as he topped 20 points for the fourth time in five games. Lowry is slashing to the rim with ease, he’s cleverly baiting defenders for free-throws, he’s showing zero fear in pulling up for three, and he remains the smartest team defender on the Raptors. Lowry has been stellar to start, and it’s just a matter of keeping him healthy, because he’s playing at an All-Star level.
Four — Student:
Fred VanVleet played a perfect floor general game, and it’s clear that his playmaking instincts have matured. He’s no longer attacking with tunnel vision off the high screen, and he’s allowing his teammates to shine. Lowry had the hot hand, and so VanVleet served as the trigger man to find Lowry buzzing around screens. VanVleet also played a smooth two-man game with Serge Ibaka, while finding Siakam and OG Anunoby streaking in transition. VanVleet finished 11 assists against one turnover, and was a game-high plus-21 in 30 minutes.
Five — Spry:
It’s such a luxury to bring Ibaka off the bench. Within two minutes of checking in, Ibaka had already made two layups inside and drained a three. Ibaka’s finishing and poise have improved leaps and bounds under Nick Nurse, as compared to the lumbering klutz that started at power forward for Dwane Casey. Not all the credit belongs to Nurse, as it was really Ibaka’s own determination to improve after being swept in 2018 that fuelled his rise, but Nurse’s decision to move Ibaka to centre, and to sell him on a reserve role, has revitalized Ibaka’s career.
Six — Spunky:
Patrick McCaw is always going to supply energy on defence, and that’s why Nurse adores him. But the issue in his previous appearances is that he just offers nothing offensively. He struck the right balance tonight, as he was willing to take shots within the offence, and realistically, that’s all the Raptors need from him. Even if he just gives you a layup and a three off the bench, that’s enough to get his defence on the floor.
Seven — Dominating:
Apologies for the tired comparison, but there is something Kawhi-esque about the way Anunoby hounds defenders on the perimeter. Anunoby envelops you with his 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he actively attacks the dribble without giving up position. Only the best ball-handlers can cope with the pressure, while average wings like Luke Kennard are just forced to reset. If he keeps this up, Anunoby just might crack the All-Defence teams.
Eight — Explosion:
Norman Powell finally delivered a quality performance, as the inconsistent shooting guard supplied 19 points off the bench. Powell started slow and committed his share of silly fouls, but he settled down after Marc Gasol found him cutting to the basket. From thereon, Powell played within the offence, and he blew the game open in the second half to allow Siakam and VanVleet to rest. Powell isn’t the most intuitive player, but he’s a useful contributor when he locks into the flow of the offence.
Nine — Easy money:
It was nice to see the Raptors take care of business against an inferior opponent. Similar to the Bulls game, the Raptors treaded water for the first half before turning on the jets in the third quarter and cruising to the win. Detroit had been playing with confidence heading into the game, but its lack of talent was on full display. Without Blake Griffin, it was left to Derrick Rose to jumpstart the offence, and that’s just not a winning formula in 2019.
Ten — Growth:
Much has been made about Nurse and Casey’s frosty relationship, but neither one entertained it tonight. Nurse praised Casey as one of the most respected coaches in the league, and Casey credited Nurse for “bringing it home” over the championship run. Nurse and Casey even exchanged a wave at the final buzzer, which is a far cry from Casey’s first return as an opponent when he jumped for joy and stormed off in the opposite tunnel.