The Toronto Raptors are BACK in action in the NBA. We’ll review just how well the Raptors were doing against the Houston Rockets.
The Toronto Raptors took on the Houston Rockets in their first scrimmage game of the 2019-20 NBA Restart and while all the players showed an inevitable amount of rust, there were plenty of positive takeaways. With all the key players sans Marc Gasol suiting up for the action, here’s what we saw from the Raptors in their 94-83 win on Friday:
The Toronto Raptors were one of the teams best suited for the NBA bubble in terms of losing a homecourt advantage. The Toronto fans are some of the best in all of sports, but the Raptors sported an identical 23-9 home/road win-loss record through 64 games. This is because they possess the key ingredients to be a dominant road team. The first ingredient being a disciplined defense, which picked up right where it left off on Friday.
James Harden still managed to do a serviceable job of generating offense, finishing with 24 points, 10 assists, and only four turnovers. But rather than cutting the head off the snake, Toronto eliminated any help Harden could have received. The Raptors trapped Harden early and often, forcing players like Jeff Green and Danuel House to make (albeit simple) passes to generate open 3-point looks. And while Harden’s free throw proficiency (9-for-10 from FT line) led to a solid night, his 40% shooting from the field showed Nick Nurse and Co.’s continued attention to detail.
Russell Westbrook was ineffective with 10 points, which included no 3-point makes and no free throw attempts in just over 15 minutes of action. Toronto mostly used Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry to hound Westbrook and force him in to help defense. The Raptors refused to let Westbrook (or any other Rocket) get deep penetration without seeing a second and sometimes third, white jersey. This swarm and contain mentality show that Nick Nurse’s Raptors appear to still be connected on a string on the defensive end of the floor and that puts them in a great spot as they gear up for the sending games.
Raptors show determination in the paint
The Raptors-Rockets scrimmage felt like a game between two teams that haven’t played organized basketball in a long time. There were 39 combined turnovers and the game was a bit sluggish, not like what you would expect between two teams that are in the top half of the league in terms of pace. But regardless of if the pace of play picks (or sharpens) up over time, one certain thing is that the Raptors will generate a good chunk of offense inside.
Toronto dominated Houston by 16 points in points in the paint, with Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam showing what makes them such a great duo. Both have great motors and it makes it unlikely that an opponent will have two players that can contend with both of them at any given time. Ibaka scored with ease over the top of Eric Gordon, Jeff Green, and anyone else who Mike D’Antoni played in Houston’s pseudo- frontcourt. Ibaka and Siakam combined for 31 points on 68.4% from the field, and Ibaka added two 3-point makes for good measure. If Ibaka and Siakam are 100% ready to go as they showed on Friday, Toronto should be prepared for a deep postseason run.
The Toronto Raptors bench looks ready to break out
Getting big contributions from the bench unit is not a new concept for the Raptors and it will play a huge role in their NBA title defense. The Rockets defense was fairly stingy in their own right on Friday, holding Toronto to 94 points. But in a game with such a slow pace, 94 points was more than enough. Toronto took over with several runs that were punctuated with great hustle and big baskets from the likes of Terence Davis (15 points, 6-for-6 FT), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ( 4 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds) and Matt Thomas (2-for-3 3PT).
The Raptor’s new cast of characters on the bench unit has provided a big spark all season long for Nick Nurse and the NBA Restart scrimmage action on Friday showed that they could be the key to Toronto Raptors doing the unthinkable, bringing back-to-back NBA Championships to Toronto.