These Raptors continue to differentiate themselves from editions past. That certainty those who cover the team on a daily basis or those who have watched for years that Toronto would somehow find a way to blow almost any game late is gone. The tendency to look past middling (or worse, as is the case with the Bucks) opponents, also is mostly a relic of the past.
- DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry continue to make convincing all-star cases. Both shut the door on Milwaukee in the third quarter (Toronto continues to dominate in third quarters of games, puzzling Dwane Casey who was lamenting the team’s struggles coming out of halftime only about a month ago). Lowry shot 4-for-5 in the third. Everybody knows Lowry’s a great passer, but DeRozan’s become an effective quarterback with the ball as well. His improvement in terms of seeing the floor is as noticeable as his step forward as a scorer.
- Toronto’s now third in the East and since Atlanta’s not getting top player Al Horford back this season, could well stay there. Why? The team has jumped to sixth in the NBA in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) and is 2nd in that category since the Rudy Gay trade and is 15th in offensive rating (12th since the deal).
- That defensive success starts with the standout job Lowry is doing at the initial point of attack and filters to Amir Johnson, one of the league’s 10 best help defenders. Jonas Valanciunas has taken major strides forward as a helper and Patrick Patterson has been solid all-around. Add in the jobs Terrence Ross and John Salmons are doing guarding the perimeter and slight improvement defensively from DeRozan and it all adds up to strong defending. The Raptors play hard and tough and are positionally sound, executing what the coaching staff asks of them on that end every night.
- What’s up with teams biting on the Valanciunas up-fake? Does nobody watch video? He can hit short jumpers, but would rather do something else. Yet, half the league seems to bite hard when he pump fakes, leading to dunk after dunk. The Bucks are long and athletic with the potential to have a bunch of all-league defenders, but John Henson and his teammates need to up their basketball IQ. That will come with experience. Again, they’re not the only culprits. Casey won’t like me writing this, but it’s baffling how the league has struggled to counter the Valanciunas pump fake or the Terrence Ross corner three. Both of those things have been huge for the offence.
- Top Raptor reserve units of all time … go – This one’s up there. Patterson’s been fantastic at both ends of the floor and added 18 more points while maintaining his 50% accuracy mark from three-point range as a Raptor. The bench combined for 43 points. John Salmons followed up his best game as a Raptor with an outing that might even have been better. Rudy Gay’s doing great in Sacramento, but this deal was a massive win for Toronto. I’m sure Masai is happy his friend Pete D’Allesandro benefited as well, but what he really cares about is what it did for the Raptors and the answer is – a lot.
(Great (OK, good) Raptor bench units of the past: Of course T-Mac, Dell, Muggsy, Willis; Dee Brown, T-Mac, John Wallace before that; JYD, Childs, Murray; Marshall, Bonner, MoPete; Bargnani, Calderon, MoPete, Graham, Humphries).
- A minor complaint, maybe, is the average play lately from Johnson. He’s set the bar pretty high over the years and is still doing it all defensively, but his offensive game has been far less noticeable than usual the past few weeks.
- Said this the other day, Giannis Antetokounpo does things every night that make you think he’s going to be special down the line similar to a young Tracy McGrady. You don’t see that very often. Anthony Davis had it at Kentucky but was more of a finished product (even though he still has a massive ceiling). Butch Carter tweeted the McGrady comparison yesterday and he’d know as well as anybody having been there for McGrady’s start. The Greek Freak looks like a multi-dimensional game-changer down the line. It just might take a few years before he gets there.
- Count Bucks coach Larry Drew as sold on the Raptors:
“Right now they’re certainly a different team than they’ve been in the last two or three years,” Drew said. “They’ve added some real solid pieces that give them a lot of stability. They’re very, very deep.”
“They played a much more physical game than we did and we just didn’t respond to it,” Drew said.