5 things: Raptors’ sharp defence an issue for Magic as Anunoby, Siakam dominate

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Here are five takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 121-108 win over the Orlando Magic.

1. The Raptors needed an easy opponent to wash away the frustrations from their recent road trip. Despite landing late on the second night of a back-to-back, the Raptors delivered an energetic and professional showing in a wire-to-wire win over a vastly inferior opponent. Toronto’s defence was sharp, pressuring the inexperienced Magic players into hurried turnovers and rushed shots, and parlayed stops into easy chances on the break. In truth, it was extremely easy to create open layups against a Magic side that seemed utterly foreign to the concept of help defence, but it was still good to see the Raptors respond. A much more difficult test awaits on Monday with the red-hot Boston Celtics coming to town, which should provide a much more telling look as to where the Raptors truly stand.

2. O.G. Anunoby was able to dominate his matchup and was the main driver behind the win. Anunoby used his size advantage to great effect in another shutdown effort against an opposing star, limiting Rookie of the Year favourite Paolo Banchero to just nine points on 2-for-8 shooting with three turnovers. Banchero has quickly established a reputation for bullying defenders early on in his career, but he was no match for Anunoby who had him turning his back on most possessions just to avoid being swiped. Offensively, Anunoby mostly played within the flow of the game with corner threes, cuts behind the defence, and transition layups, but the Raptors also recognized where the hot hand was and turned to him to generate offence. Anunoby continues to drive the ball with force, and was consistently either getting inside for dunks or drawing a second defender and shovelling it along to cutters for point blank chances. Anunoby was in such a groove that he tried a spectacular 360 dunk that was regrettably blocked from behind.

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3. This was a much more energetic effort from Scottie Barnes who delivered a performance very reminiscent of what made him successful as a rookie. Barnes was a perfect 8-for-8 from within the arc and ripped down 14 rebounds, but what really stood out wasn’t the stats. Barnes just played within himself, whether that was posting up a smaller defender in Caleb Houstan, snatching the rebound and pushing the break, or making the right cuts and extra passes to connect the play. There weren’t stretches where he was overdribbling or settling for jumpers, and his intensity on defence was consistently high. There wasn’t any outward displays of exasperation at himself, to the officials, or towards teammates that had grown more noticeable of late, but then again the game was a cakewalk from start to finish. But despite the ease of play, there’s no reason why Barnes couldn’t replicate this same energy and enthusiasm against stronger opposition. It was also encouraging to see no ill effects whatsoever from the knee and ankle ailments that have flared up as of late. 

4. Pascal Siakam continues to climb the record books, moving himself above Andrea Bargnani into fifth in franchise scoring. It’s quite remarkable to see the growth in Siakam’s game over the years, from being a hustle big who exclusively scored on leakout layups or short baseline jumpers, to this do-it-all hub of the offence that flirts with triple-doubles on a nightly basis. Siakam toyed with Orlando’s inexperienced defenders, using his signature spin move to elude the endless arms of Bol Bol, or sinking heavily contested fallaway jumpers over an exasperated Paulo Banchero. Siakam has fully traversed the spectrum from being a relatively unknown prospect taken late in the draft, to secondary scorer in a championship team, to now being the undisputed number one on a playoff team. There are no secrets behind his success other than the obvious, which is that Siakam has put in the work and dedication that very few players have done to get to this point where making it to top-five in scoring is but a footnote in all that he will do here with this franchise. 

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5. The only negative note from this game is the continued struggles of the Raptors backcourt in terms of generating offense. Fred VanVleet didn’t look for his own shot, but it’s concerning that he wasn’t able to generate much against a small and ineffective defender in Cole Anthony. VanVleet knocked down a few catch-and-shoot threes and parlayed that into the occasional score, but he’s clearly moving at a level noticeably lower than before he missed time due to illness. Gary Trent Jr. put in an even more empty performance off the bench, where out of the ten shots he attempted, nine were jumpers. There’s always going to be inconsistency when so much of his game is based on the perimeter, but he does little else to impact. For example, his counterpart in Terrence Ross was able to spring free again and again for a perfect 7-of-7 from the field. Nurse has already realigned his team towards scoring through their three wings in Barnes, Anunoby and Siakam, but not every matchup will allow them to have the advantage in the paint. 

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