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10 things: Raptors beat Magic behind career nights from Paul Watson and Yuta Watanabe

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·6-min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 113-102 win over the Orlando Magic.

One — Professional: This was a very solid effort by a very shorthanded Raptors team, who were without four starters in Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby, who were all resting to nurse nagging injuries. The Raptors shut down the paint, played unselfishly on offense, and got several standout performances from their would-be third stringers to collect the win.

Two — Wow: Paul Watson Jr. broke the game wide open with 20 points in the third quarter as the Raptors doubled the Magic 38-19 to assert control. Watson was off to a good start early on, getting inside on drives and knocking down the occasional jumper, but it was more of the same muted performances. But coming out of halftime, Watson Jr. was a totally different player in his aggressiveness. Watson got the first basket off a quick line drive, then drained a few corner threes off good ball movement, and his teammates kept feeding him the rest of the way. Watson was so confident at the end of the quarter that he started crossing over and stepping back into the three. He remained scorching when he subbed in at the end of the game, swishing another triple to finish with a career-high 30 points on the night. 

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Three — Confident: Yuta Watanabe finally delivered on what Nick Nurse has been asking him all season. Watanabe was aggressive with his offense and he set his career high in scoring for the second time this week. What was impressive about Watanabe's 20 points is that he got it in a variety of ways. There was the trailing three on the move, a driving bank shot off the glass in transition, a midrange jumper off a pick-and-roll, a cutting dunk, an and-one in the post, and most of it was self-generated. His handle and skillset is very high for a 6-foot-9 forward, and so long as he's willing to take his chances, Watanabe will continue to be a useful bench contributor.

Four — Deterrence: The addition of Khem Birch brings a level of defensive toughness that has been missing all season. Birch collected two blocks right away in the first quarter, which set the tone for the Raptors defensively, who limited the Magic to 19-of-37 shooting in the paint. It may sound simple, but Birch's ability to jump and challenge at the rim without giving up position is something that had been painfully missing all year. If the Raptors ever reach full health, it will be interesting to see which way Nurse will go with his starting lineup because starting small might not be their best strategy anymore.

Five — Improving: The addition of Birch and Gillespie is also allowing Chris Boucher to play in his natural position as a power forward. This limits Boucher's weaknesses and amplifies his strength, which is skying for rebounds and helping at the rim. Nurse complimented Boucher's defense in the new alignment with Birch, even though there were still a few mistakes on the perimeter, and said that Boucher is more productive as a forward even if his scoring takes a hit with the switch in role.

Six — Rusty: Fred VanVleet did not cover himself in glory in his return from a hip injury. VanVleet actively hunted for his shot early on but his misses were erratic, and he was uncharacteristically slow to react on defense. VanVleet adjusted after the first quarter, shifting more into a playmaking role, and that led to better results for both himself and his teammates. The Magic were also aggressively trapping the ball on the perimeter, so passing was the more prudent option on that alone. In any case, it was good to see VanVleet back to just bringing organization on both ends of the floor. 

Seven — Responsible: Malachi Flynn continues to be erratic with his shot, as he will often connect on heavily contested jumpers while also bricking wide-open looks, which is an area of improvement heading into the offseason. But what remains impressive is his playmaking. Flynn's only turnover on the night was an ambitious attempt at throwing a highlight lob to Watson which landed three feet short of the rim. Otherwise, Flynn continues to be responsible with the ball. Flynn's assist-to-turnover ratio is up to 3.5 on the season, and even with his usage skyrocketing of late with other guards out, Flynn remains steady. 

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Eight — Mixed: Stanley Johnson was one point shy of his season-high with 13 points, yet it was an unsatisfactory game overall. Johnson knocking down three triples is a positive, but he keeps making mistakes in forcing his shot. At least once per game, Johnson will have the ball in transition and get tunnel vision in rushing his way to the basket. It's not a selfish move, as most times Johnson is trying to draw help to free up a shooter in the corner, but it rarely comes off for him and more often than not Johnson just ends up missing wildly at the rim, or being called for a charge. He takes a similar approach on defense, as there is always one unnecessary foul where Johnson is overaggressive on pressuring the ball. Johnson is putting things on the table this season, but he needs to cut down on the mistakes to stay beyond this year.

Nine — Empty: There's not much there with Rodney Hood, who most resembles the role that C.J. Miles played for the Raptors' famed "Bench Mob" in 2018. Hood is in the game for offense, and he does seem to have a decent ability to get his shot off between his 6-foot-8 frame and his left-handed approach, but he's not scoring at a particularly high level, nor does he contribute in other areas. In any case, Hood probably wasn't long for the team as he was in the Norman Powell trade to match salary, and his contract for next season is non-guaranteed. 

Ten — Awkward: So it seems like the Raptors want to tank, especially with so many key players missing due to rest on a nightly basis, and yet the team is 5-4 over the last two weeks and is now tied in the standings with Chicago for the 10th seed. The good news for the pro-tanking crowd is that the Raptors have a very difficult West Coast trip coming up, and they're slated to face Brooklyn, but the Raptors are also slowly getting healthy and have made tangible improvements at center, which was their biggest issue all season. So what can the front office really do? Nurse is winning games down four starters, or just having one guard available. Tanking isn't as easy as it seems. 

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