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10 things: Raptors bounce back with suffocating defensive effort vs. Heat

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·7-min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 101-81 win over the Miami Heat.

One — Response: The Raptors exacted their revenge against the Heat in the second game of their double-header. As Nick Nurse described it, the difference in defensive effort was “night and day” as the Raptors held the Heat to 81 points in total, as compared to conceding 88 points through the first three quarters in the first game. Nurse was uncharacteristically edgy before the game, and that fire carried over to the post-game, with his team embodying his fight and spirit for the four quarters. The result was a wire-to-wire win where the Raptors responded to every punch the Heat threw back at them.

Two — Swing: The most pivotal moment came when the Heat erased a 21-point lead by the Raptors to even it at 61-61 midway though the third quarter. Miami had all the momentum, they were more physical and the referees almost seemed to encourage that effort, while the Raptors were mired in one of their signature cold snaps. It looked to be yet another deflating moment in a season full of them for the Raptors, but instead they rallied for a 32-12 run to essentially kill off the game. Norman Powell beat Bam Adebayo at the basket for a layup to keep the Raptors on top, Pascal Siakam found Chris Boucher for a three, OG Anunoby nailed a side-step three to beat the buzzer, and they launched an immediate 12-0 run which was enough to keep the Heat at bay.

Three — Blossoming: Anunoby was outstanding in every facet tonight, save for a couple of overeager drives. Anunoby set the tone defensively, getting into the jersey of Duncan Robinson while also switching to cover any other position as needed, and he topped it off with a steal for a breakaway dunk in the fourth quarter. But it was also one of the better games that Anunoby has played in terms of half-court offense, both in terms of his spacing and his timely cuts to beat the zone. He nailed five threes, including a subtle fake to beat the closeout before side-stepping into his shot, and the aforementioned buzzer-beater. Anunoby’s shot looks quicker and smoother than before, and he’s shooting 22-for-37 (59.5 percent) over his last six games. He finished with 21 points in 35 minutes and is quietly taking another step, not in terms of redefining his role in the NBA with a new skillset, but rather maximizing his current role as an elite 3-and-D forward.

Four — Different: Powell is an entirely different player when he plays with the starters. Powell got the spot start with Kyle Lowry briefly sidelined, and as usual, he ran with the opportunity. Powell delivered 12 points in the first quarter — nailing two threes, stopping on a dime for two, and getting to the rim for a pair of layups. His aggression and mindset just seems noticeably sharper with the first group, and Powell is always at his best playing on the catch after the main creators have already gotten into the defense. He cooled off as the game went on, but that first hit from Powell put the Raptors into the driver’s seat and it kept them there. Nurse agrees that Powell is best served as a starter, but the only question is who he can pull from the group.

Five — Glue: Siakam was listed as questionable to play after he aggravated his groin in the first game against the Heat but you wouldn’t know it based on his game. His best play came in the first quarter where he sprinted and leaped to force a miss from the corner, then sprinted from the Raptors baseline ahead of everyone else to be first in transition where he drew the foul. That type of all-out energy used to be a staple of Siakam’s game, and there’s no reason that it should be noteworthy, except Siakam hasn’t done it for large stretches of the year. He was excellent in his role tonight, giving extra efforts on the glass, distributing it when the Heat brought the double teams to him, while also getting his buckets through the gaps in the defense. The only minor complaint with Siakam was how he ran the break, as the Heat sat on his preferred Eurostep move and predictability forced him into empty trips.

Six — Decent: Fred VanVleet had some ups and downs in his turn as the lead ball handler without Lowry. He started strong with a pull-up three and a few setups to his teammates, but there were also stagnant moments where he forced his shot and got blocked. Some of that comes down to a stingy whistle which definitely did not favor VanVleet, but he could also look for better options and to put more trust in his teammates, especially in a night where many players were performing. Still, the baseline of VanVleet’s production is always high because he’s so instinctual and solid, and his defensive effort can never be questioned. VanVleet sealed the win by picking Kendrick Nunn in the backcourt before taking it all the way for a layup.

Seven — Wall: This was Aron Baynes’ best game as a Raptor. The boxscore doesn’t look great (three points, 1-of-5 shooting) but his job is to get stops and pick up the scraps on offense. Baynes was stellar in his individual matchup against Adebayo, limiting the All-Star center’s touches and neutralizing his physicality and never conceding a single inch in the paint. Baynes also collected two impressive blocks, including a nice swat on Kelly Olynyk who seemed to have an open layup. Baynes was still clunky on offense, but he did hit a three up top and collect five offensive rebounds to make himself a neutral contributor. The Raptors are also starting to do a better job of using Baynes’ screens to get open, particularly when he’s setting up teammates off the ball rather than being directly involved in the pick-and-roll.

Eight — Rehearsed: The Raptors spent much of practice working on how to beat the Heat’s zone and it showed. There were still many moments of stagnancy, but the Raptors had set plays to beat it. One slick play featured VanVleet as the inbounder on the baseline, where he immediately flashed behind a screen before getting the ball back for a corner three. Stanley Johnson also made two key plays against the zone, including a heavily-contested corner three, and a smart feed to Chris Boucher who snuck behind the defense for a dunk. The major difference was on defense, as the Raptors had a mostly average game offensively, but there wasn’t the same palpable panic and discombobulation in the face of the zone.

Nine — Decisions: Terence Davis led all scorers off the bench with 12 points, but he continues to make mistakes that compromises his overall productivity. Davis struggled mightily against the zone, especially as the main decision maker at the top of the floor, which resulted in five turnovers in just 17 minutes. Nurse seems to be willing to ride with Davis despite his mistakes because the scoring ability is just that tantalizing, and most of it is self-inflicted so it’s really on Davis to capitalize on the chance. The same grace isn’t afforded to other players on the team.

Ten — Nasty: Lowry missed the game due to an infection in his toe. It was bothering him in the first loss to Miami where he shot 2-of-12 from the floor, and got some treatment for it tonight that forced him to sit. Nurse said pregame that he expects Lowry to be back for Sunday’s matinee against Indiana, so no reason to worry.

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