Nothing magical for Raptors in loss at home to Orlando
And on the seventh day, Kawhi Leonard rested. And for the early going and other parts of Sunday’s snoozer against Orlando, many of Leonard’s teammates took it easy too, allowing the visitors to end Toronto’s bid for a perfect February with a 113-98 win.
With seven victories in a row, including four at home, the Raptors came in rolling, but managed only 15 points in the first quarter, on dismal 27% shooting and never really got into gear.
All-star centre Nikola Vucevic went to work on the Raptors from the inside and out (23 points, 12 rebounds, three three-pointers), old friend Terrence Ross returned with a bang (28 points on a game-high 21 shot attempts) and the fact that Magic forward Aaron Gordon struggled (2-for-11 from the field) and Kyle Lowry was great (19 points, 10 assists, four steals) didn’t matter all that much in the end as the Raptors didn’t come close to giving a maximum effort in falling to 44-17.
Mix a minimal effort with a motivated response from the other side and the result was what it was.
“That’s really as good a game as we’ve played both offensively and defensively,” Orlando head coach Steve Clifford said. “We played hard with a ton of intensity.”
The Raptors sat Leonard for load management, continuing a season-long trend. With the game sandwiched between Friday’s emotional DeMar DeRozan return and a key one against Boston on Tuesday, the organization and Leonard felt sitting was the best option.
“I think the intensity of the last one, the intensity of possibly the next one, and we just feel like we’re in a really good place right now with him and we just want to make sure we stay there,” head coach Nick Nurse explained before the game.
Ross didn’t seem to care that Leonard was absent.
“We have a job to do,” he said.
“It didn’t matter if they had Vince Carter, Kawhi, DeMar (DeRozan). We had to go and do what we had to do.”
MANNING THE MIDDLE
Nurse had spoken earlier in the weekend about how he planned to utilize Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka moving forward, saying he’d rotate on occasion, instead of just sticking with Ibaka. Ibaka has played very well, but Gasol is theoretically a better matchup for the league’s true behemoths, like Orlando’s all-star, Vucevic.
Gasol had also started every NBA appearance other than seven games as a reserve during his rookie season with Memphis.
Gasol’s presence didn’t pay dividends early on, with Vucevic and the Magic carving the Raptors up inside in the first quarter.
Ibaka still extended his streak of games with at least 10 points to a career-high 22 straight games, while Gasol got going and did a little bit of everything, including combining nicely with Lowry on a pretty give-and-go in the third quarter.
RAPTORS MOVES APPLAUDED
Toronto’s recent acquisitions of Gasol and Jeremy Lin have been widely lauded and Clifford thought well of the moves too.
“I had Jeremy in Charlotte, he played great for us. He’s ready every night,” Clifford said when asked by the Toronto Sun.
“He’s as dependable as a competitor as I’ve ever been around. And what he doesn’t get credit for, he’s a two-way player. People view him very much as a pick-and-roll, offensive player. He’s a very, very good defender.”
Clifford hasn’t coached Gasol, but he has coached teams that Gasol has tormented and had high praise for the big man.
“I mean Marc Gasol’s been, you could argue, in the last four or five years, as good a centre as there is in the league. Not like one of five, or one of six, you can make an argument that he’s been the best centre,” Clifford said.
“It puts them in a different place. As good as those other guys were (who were traded to Memphis), it’s significant trades.”
ROSS RISES IN ORLANDO
When Ross looks at the franchise he was drafted by and the city he was drafted to, he doesn’t really recognize either.
Only four Raptors that Ross played with remain with the team, while he said pre-game that the constant construction and buildings going up in Toronto cause him to marvel at all of the change.
Ross said it feels like “a lifetime ago,” not just two years, since he was dealt to the Magic for Ibaka.
Ross came back from a devastating injury that held him to 24 games last season to play the best basketball of his career. He has been a key contributor off of the bench for an Orlando team that is making a run at returning to the playoffs for the first time in years. The Magic moved within a game of Charlotte for the East’s final playoff spot.
Ross said he sees some similarities between this Magic team on the cusp and the Raptors squad of 2013-14 that ended a long playoff drought.
Clifford said Ross worked extremely hard to get back and was raring to go.
“He was in great shape when we started. He was very good from the beginning,” Clifford said.
Ross was excellent in the first half on Sunday, with 13 points and six rebounds as Orlando built up a lead and he finished with nine boards (two off of his career-high) and made seven trips to the free-throw line, which was not a big part of his game while he was a Raptor.
CANADA TOPS AFTER CUP QUALIFYING
It took contributions from 36 players, along with numerous coaches and staffers, but Canada’s senior men’s basketball team topped its group for FIBA World Cup qualifiers at 10-2 after a 95-55 blowout of rival Venezuela on Sunday. Canada will compete in China this Fall. It has not competed in a World Cup (formerly known as World Championship) since 2010.
Montreal native Khem Birch has been playing some quality minutes for Orlando, including on Sunday. He intends to play in China if he gets the call.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Chemistry’s coming
The new-look Raptors remain a work in progress, but Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol at least seem to be getting on the same page. Their two-man game was intriguing and effective at various points of the contest.
2. Revenge for one Ex-Raptor
DeMar DeRozan might not have been able to exact some revenge the other night on the franchise that traded him, but Terrence Ross did, with a solid performance. Ross was aggressive and effective and afterward playfully talked some smack in the direction of his former teammates.
It was one of those classic early start ugly outings that used to be so commonplace for the Raptors. Only Lowry looked to be in sync and ready to go in the early afternoon and that was problematic.
4. Rare off-game
Pascal Siakam has been Toronto’s breakout star this season, but this was not one of his best outings. Siakam couldn’t get his shots to fall and was erratic at times. That said, his defence was pretty solid.
5. Bench switch no problem for Ibaka
Even a rare move back to the bench didn’t slow down Serge Ibaka. He got up a team-high 14 shots, making seven of them and was decent on offence. However, he struggled defensively and was a team-worst -17.
News Credit – The Sun