Week 13 saw the Toronto Raptors post a perfect 3-0 record as they welcomed several players back to the lineup. Which performances stood out the most?
The Toronto Raptors have had arguably the worst luck in the NBA this season when it comes to injuries. Just when one player would return, another would get injured to balance the mood.
Mind you, the swarm of injury bugs appear to have moved on from Toronto...
For just the third time this season, Nick Nurse had a full roster at his disposal. Once again armed with maximum lineup flexibility, if we ignore minute restrictions, the Toronto Raptors showed great chemistry and exhibited solid scoring tactics throughout the lineup, from the starting lineup down to the very end of the bench. This team was ready to roll and show the world why they are the champions.
Their first matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder was supposed to be a tricky matchup. The Raptors knew that they could win, but at the same time, the Thunder were rolling and had a firm lock on the 7th seed in the Western Conference. They were not a team to be taken lightly. Though the Raptors got off to a hot start in the first half, they nearly blew a big lead for the second game in a row. Fortunately, they prevailed.
Their second matchup, against the Washington Wizards, was rather easy. Washington was welcoming back Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant from injury and they didn't have the talent or the defence to hold the Raptors at bay. Unlike the previous two matchups, the Raptors built up a huge lead but this time they kept it going for the entire game and took the win at home on the first night of a back-to-back. It was Toronto's seventh win in a row over the Wizards.
The final matchup of the week was against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Looking at their record it seemed to be another fairly simple win, but they were not a team to be taken lightly, as Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins were both enjoying career years heading into this match. Even with a strong early start from the Wolves, the Raptors showed great poise and composure, quickly turning a deficit into a huge lead and holding on for the win to finish the week a perfect 3-0.
Following such a joyous week, there are bound to be plenty of excellent performances to choose from, it truly becomes tough to pick only five. But that is always a great problem to have if you're a Raptors fan.
With that being said, which Raptor performances made the top five this week?
5. Marc Gasol
Opponent: Washington Wizards
Gasol had one of his best games of the season against the Wizards. He immediately was inserted back into the starting lineup and performed great, especially on the offensive side of the floor. With the Wizards lacking rim protection, this matchup proved to be an easy one for Gasol and Toronto. His six made threes tied a career-high.
The Raptors were looking to get off to a strong start in the first quarter and did just that, due in large part to Gasol's hot shooting. He contributed five points, two rebounds, and one assist as the Raptors built a 12-point lead. Gasol added very little in the second -- three points --, but the Raptors continued to roll and led by 14 at the half.
The third quarter saw Toronto's big man grab four rebounds and dish out one assist. Toronto's lead was 24 after 36 minutes. With the game out of reach, Gasol scored three more points before exiting and watching his team cruise to a 29-point victory.
Having Gasol back is a big boost to Toronto's lineup, as his ability not only to score and play defence but also facilitate for teammates sets him apart from Toronto's other big men. Neither Serge Ibaka or Chris Boucher possess Gasol's vision and playmaking ability.
4. OG Anunoby
Opponent: Oklahoma City Thunder
Stat line: 21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals
Now is the time for OG to show Nick Nurse he belongs in the starting lineup. He did just that in OKC. Anunoby was a force in this matchup, assertive at both ends of the floor, leading to 21 points.
Early on, the game was looking like a blowout. Anunoby had six points, two assists, two steals and a rebound at the end of the first quarter, the Raptors up 13. It was more of the same for in the second, as Anunoby tallied four points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal to help his team build an 18-point lead after 24 minutes.
Unfortunately, the second half was a different story. Anunoby failed to register a point in the third quarter, bottled up by a Thunder defence that clearly came out focused on limiting his opportunities on offence. Instead, he grabbed two rebounds, picked up an assist, and the Raptors' lead after three quarters was 13.
The hosts tried to scratch and claw their way back into the game, but it was Anunoby who ultimately proved too much for the Thunder, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter to seal a road victory for the Toronto Raptors.
This was just the performance Anunoby needed, as there were doubts about whether he would get the shots he needed to produce at this level. If the oft-stoic guard/forward can sustain a similar pace to his current level of production, and the same goes for each one of Anunoby's teammates, the Raptors will find a lot of success in the months to come.
3. Kyle Lowry
Opponent: Minnesota Timberwolves
Stat line: 28 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
This game must have been a real relief for Lowry. After shouldering the majority of playmaking duties over the past few weeks, Lowry was joined in Toronto's starting backcourt by Fred VanVleet, the Chicago native making his return from a hamstring injury that cost him five games. Together, they proved too much for the Timberwolves on this occasion.
This was Karl-Anthony Towns' second game back from injury. Andrew Wiggins, facing his hometown club, was not about to take this game lightly. Both took the fight to Toronto early in this one with Minnesota jumping out to a quick seven-point lead over the opening 12 minutes. Lowry contributed six points, an assist and a rebound.
The second quarter saw more of the same for Lowry. The Raptors galvanized after getting punched early, trimming Minnesota's lead to four by halftime. Lowry tallied five points, three rebounds, one assist in the game's second chapter.
Lowry came out aggressive to start the third, and it carried all the through the second half. He had a huge third quarter, absolutely annihilating Shabazz Napier to the tune of 17 points. Toronto fought its way back into the game and found itself leading by five with 12 minutes remaining. The team stayed hot early in the fourth quarter, while Lowry was resting, and the lead ballooned to double digits.
Overall, Lowry gave them the momentum they needed in the third and was therefore not needed as much down the stretch, on his way to a one rebound fourth quarter.
When your team is down and in need of a push, it is up to the leader to provide that spark, and Lowry did just that in this one. He was a man on a mission and appeared to benefit from having more help around him. While Lowry's playmaking is always key, it is also important that Lowry continues to look for his shot.
2. Norman Powell
Opponent: Washington Wizards
This was Norman Powell's third game back from his shoulder injury and after what he had shown in the first two games, he hasn't lost his scoring touch. The Raptors desperately needed his boost in offence and it proved to be too much for the Washington Wizards in this matchup.
Powell got it going right away in the first quarter as he was able to come off the bench and provide a big scoring punch. He scored nine points in the quarter as the Raptors led early by 12 points. The second quarter was more of the same for Powell as the Raptors were running away with this game. He scored seven points in the quarter to go along with four points as the Raptors were up 14 heading into halftime.
Subbing in at the halfway point of the third quarter, the Raptors were clearly on cruise control and Powell's offence was not needed as badly as it was when the game was closer. He ended the quarter with three points and two assists to go along with one rebound. With the Raptors blowing out the Wizards by 24 points, Powell put in the finishing touches to a solid performance by scoring another nine points in the quarter to help hand the Wizards a hard-to-swallow, 29-point loss.
Coming off the bench has not been an issue for Powell, as he seems to have embraced the sixth-man role. Expect both the role and, hopefully, this type of performance to continue for Powell going forward, as he seems to be really locked in at the moment.
1. Fred VanVleet
Opponent: Minnesota Timberwolves
Stat line: 29 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals
Fred VanVleet was the last of the injured Toronto players to return as he only played one time this week, Saturday against the Timberwolves. Nick Nurse did not hesitate to start VanVleet for this one but with Powell performing so well off the bench, he needed to prove that he deserved that starting role.
VanVleet scored five points in the opening quarter but knew that he needed to do more if the Raptors were going to get the win. He took the fight right to Minnesota and scored 11 points in the second quarter and grabbed three rebounds, an assist and two steals to cap off an impressive 12-minute segment. Toronto trailed by four at the half.
In the second half, VanVleet poured in 12 points and finished with 29 total. He, along with Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, carried the load for Toronto in this game, as the trio combined for 77 points in the victory.
VanVleet looked like he hadn't missed a beat in his return to the court. This team continues to show great chemistry and VanVleet continues to show the coaches that he was indeed the right choice as the starting shooting guard of this roster.