Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 126-113 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
A – It was a satisfactory result. The Raptors dug a hole in them by not being diligent on defense, but overcame a 14-point deficit for a comeback victory where just about everyone contributed to the result. The effort was much stronger in the second half, as was their execution, and the Raptors are now prepared to end their longest road trip of the year with a respectable 3-3 record. If they bring the same intensity to the Pacers game, they should take that too.
Two – The Raptors won because they tightened their defense. It was way too soft in the first half, where the Raptors allowed players to cut them back for lay-ups, not being focused enough to secure defensive rebounds, and generally providing no resistance in the paint. .
Toronto is averaging 42 points in allowed paint per game, yet the Grizzlies had 42 points in paint in just the first half. The second half was a much different story, as Memphis generally struggled to perform. Partly thanks to Nick Nurse, who had the Raptors pinched off the wing every practice against Ja Morant, which gave the Raptors a 3-2 advantage to protect the pick-and-roll action. But it is even more to the credit of the players themselves for having performed without error.
The Raptors have helped good shooters, been quick in their rotations, and forced the Grizzlies to make tough jumpers – which isn’t their strength as a team.
Three – Fred VanVleet continues to be the Raptors’ response in the fourth quarter. VanVleet was sharp all night, finishing with 23 points on an effective 9 of 14 shot with six rebounds and seven assists, and he was nearly perfect in the fourth.
The Raptors played essentially the same game every run, with Precious Achiuwa giving VanVleet a screen on the left side of the floor where VanVleet can go in the middle, and he separated the Grizzlies.
On the first possession he went deep into the paint for a tough finish on the shot blocker, then he stopped for three after Achiuwa cut Morant on the screen, and on the third trip to the low, VanVleet anticipated that the Grizzlies were coming to trap him, so he went left instead and dismissed Achiuwa’s screen, causing the Grizzlies to panic and three defenders converged on him, which allowed to VanVleet to return it to a Pascal Siakam cutting for the lay-up. Then, in the next play, VanVleet pushed him into transition and came to the line for two free throws, which took the lead to nine points with three minutes remaining.
Much like he did against Washington, Indiana and Orlando earlier in the year, VanVleet has a keen sense of when he should take over, and he’s been reliable in the clutch, which is without doubt the most important form of leadership in basketball.
Four – Gary Trent Jr. posted his own score in the fourth quarter where he scored 17 points. Trent Jr. was put in charge of leading the second unit early in the last frame, and it was a pivotal moment when the Raptors were finally trying to move forward after using the third quarter to even things out.
Trent Jr. was just stunning in the way he chased his shots, whether it was out of the dribble for three side steps, or attacking the fence and finishing in paint or drawing faults, and also fair in interrupted sequences where Trent Jr. has emerged from an offensive rebound or a transition opportunity. He improves as a plan maker, there is a trick and a method in how he creates space for himself, and this is a particularly valuable asset for the second unit which usually needs to be. wrong to generate anything offensively. Trent Jr. had a similar push with the reserves during the Raptors’ victory in Sacramento.
Five – Precious Achiuwa started the comeback with his best stretch as a Raptor. He didn’t score any goals in all of the other quarters, but scored 17 in the third, which helped the Raptors close the deficit. He started out simple with two cup dunks on nice commands from VanVleet and Scottie Barnes, which gave him the pace to try out his jumper. After getting the first glance at an out pass from Pascal Siakam, Achiuwa simply kept looking for his attack at the top of the floor, where he was often open since the Grizzlies sent traps to the Raptors guards. .
Achiuwa had two three-assists from Trent Jr., and he closed the quarterback with a smooth Euro finish in transition and a pullback after winning the offensive rebound against taller Steven Adams in the paint. Earlier this week, Nurse spoke about Achiuwa having so many tools at his disposal that he sometimes loses track of the basics, and it was truly a performance where Achiuwa started out simple before expanding to the more points. ends of his game.
And not to be lost in all the excitement of his offense, but Achiuwa’s defensive presence has been strong in all three games since his return.
Six – Scottie Barnes held up for the Raptors in the first half. Similar to Achiuwa, it was good to see Barnes play to himself and turn to what he does well. He got the job for two solid finishes on defense, which feels like a shot the Raptors should prioritize more often. Then he went out at break on a pair of VanVleet flights for two flagship dunks. He also knocked down a catch-and-shoot three despite having one foot on the line, and swept a runner from half court at the end of the first quarter.
These are the types of parts that will be available to Barnes every night, and if he has that role like he did tonight, he’ll end up with almost 20 points out of over 50% efficiency. What was also promising in Barnes’ performance was that Nurse trusted him to keep Morant at the end of the game after VanVleet won his fifth. The nurse told Barnes he can give Morant a step of space to protect himself from driving, but use his length and speed to keep Morant in front as much as possible, which is exactly what Barnes did.
Seven – We missed Yuta Watanabe very much. Even though he pulled off a layup and missed an open turn three, it was a very good performance from Watanabe who was exactly as advertised with his energy and defense. Watanabe’s first streak of the game was a block a minute into his first shift, where he rotated in time to crush Tyus Jones’ float, which triggered a quick break for the Raptors. Then he got on the board by hitting the offensive glass, which he did three times in 14 minutes.
Watanabe continued to make smart plays throughout, including snatching Morant and hitting him in front of Achiuwa for a layup, and for his best streak, Watanabe turned around to meet Dillon Brooks at the basket after Brooks broke free on the along the baseline. It was initially ruled as a foul, but Nurse contested the play and Watanabe was rightly rewarded with a block on the play. After the match, Watanabe proudly reflected on the play, claiming he will always have the game. courage to challenge the players at the edge, no matter what, because that’s what the team needs from him. His two interceptions and his two blocks in the night were huge.
Eight – It was a difficult night for Chris Boucher. Not only was he posted by Morant, but Nurse benched him for the entire second half. It was still the expected result with Watanabe back in the lineup, but it was a surprise that it happened so soon. Boucher has had an extremely difficult season, but we cannot say that he did not have his chances to redeem himself. What the Raptors need for the second unit is a defensively responsible attacker who can bring down three, and Boucher delivered no results on either side. That’s not to say he can’t run, but Nurse has options to turn to and he has done it tonight.
New – The second unit as a whole continues to show promise. Trent Jr. performed well with this group, but also the individual reserves who are slowly finding their roles.
Dalano Banton made two smart cuts behind defense and was solid in defense. Malachi Flynn played smart and continued to find shooters between his swings towards the basket. Svi Mykhailiuk takes a page from Trent Jr.’s book and chases his punches as much as possible.
On nights when Khem Birch’s knee swelling is more manageable, it provides a dose of stability in defense. And the more the second unit is able to run, the less Nurse feels the need to mount its starters, which have so far carried an exorbitant load.
Ten – Siakam can make such a big difference in defense when locked up. In the first half, Siakam was as guilty as anyone of being late, making mistakes and generally lacking in physique with the way he was guarding.
But in the second half, Siakam was so much livelier, so much more active, always in the right places, and brought the kind of leadership he’s vowed to bring after his breakout game against the Kings. Siakam has played games where he faced two three-pointers at once, key saves at the edge to break lob passes, timely defensive rebounds and was a primary reason for Toronto’s success in the second half. .
Offensively, Siakam picked his points but didn’t force his shots or dominate the attack, which has kept the team balanced since his return.