Here’s 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 115-96 win over the Orlando Magic to advance 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs.
One - Emphatic: The Raptors demoralized the Magic from the jump by racing out to a 31-7 start. Orlando put together a half-hearted comeback attempt in the third, but the Raptors mostly played the second half on cruise control. This was the type of ruthless execution that previous Raptors teams were simply incapable of.
Two - Foolish: Steve Clifford made things worse by playing zone to start. Admittedly, their original approach wasn’t working in Games 3-4, but this was not the answer. Not only did Orlando’s starters look wholly unfamiliar and unprepared, but it was just destined to fail. Toronto’s starting unit has five playmakers and five shooters, so all it took was a few passes to step into an open shot, and there were mismatches all over the floor whenever Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, or Marc Gasol posted up. Playing zone even allowed a transition-conscious defense in the Raptors to feast on the offensive glass. It was a total disaster.
Three - Desperate: Clifford’s trick was reminiscent of the gimmicks that the Raptors used to pull in previous seasons. Wild gambles such as starting Tyler Hansborough or asking C.J. Miles to guard Kevin Love smacked of desperation from an inferior team that knew they were about to lose. For once, the Raptors were on the other side of that with a team trying to adjust to them rather than the other way around.
Four - Terminator: Kawhi Leonard wasn’t messing around whatsoever as he finished the night with 27 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Leonard was perfect from deep, perfect from the free-throw line, and capped his night with a one-handed dunk that put the Raptors up 30. As he said during a timeout in Game 2, this series was “too easy” for Leonard, and he checked out in the fourth quarter to a massive ovation and chants of “MVP” from the home faithful.
Five - Hungry: Kyle Lowry set the tone by scoring the Raptors’ first nine points. Orlando was so out of sorts that Lowry was allowed to just waltz down the lane for layups, and he also jammed the Magic on defense by drawing three charges. The only scare came towards the end of the first half when Lowry went to the locker room early after jamming his right thumb, but he was fine to finish out the game.
Six - Growth: Pascal Siakam dominated the Magic to the tune of 24 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 50 percent shooting. It speaks to his improvement that he was so effective without even needing to impose himself on the game. Siakam gets at least a dozen points a night by running the floor and working mismatches, and he gets the rest from corner threes.
Seven - Elite: In retrospect, it’s ridiculous that there was even a discussion about whether Marc Gasol should start or come off the bench. Toronto’s starting unit was plus-88 in five games as they absolutely dominated their counterparts on both ends of the floor. The formula just works — Leonard gets you 30 points with ease, Siakam is an efficient second option, Danny Green is an elite floor spacer, while Gasol and Lowry are the brains behind the entire operation.
Eight - Disappointment: Draymond Green famously said there were “82 game players and 16 game players” and Nikola Vucevic firmly belongs in the former. Vucevic was tremendous in the regular season as he averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds, but he was mostly a liability in this series. Credit Gasol for playing lockdown defense, but it’s unacceptable for an All-Star to completely shrink. Vucevic was a complete no-show in tonight’s elimination game as he finished with a measly six points and he was rightfully benched for most of the night. Orlando should think long and hard about committing to Vucevic going forward.
Nine - Lookahead: Toronto will face Philadelphia in the second round, and that promises to be a bloodbath. On paper, the match-ups favor the Raptors, as Gasol can body up against Joel Embiid in the post, while Leonard will lock down Ben Simmons on the perimeter. The variables in that series will be whether Green can keep Jimmy Butler in check, and if Siakam can match or outplay Tobias Harris.
Ten - Depth: Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell will be the swing factors against Philadelphia. Ibaka started three times and averaged 18 points while playing respectable defense on Embiid, and Ibaka should have his way with Boban Marjanovic in the pick-and-pop. Powell will be counted upon for his energy and defense, as he will see plenty of time on either Harris or Butler.
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