Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 94-83 win over the Houston Rockets in the first of three scrimmage games ahead of the 2019-20 season restart.
One — Solid: It’s foolish to read too much into the details of a scrimmage. The Raptors played something close to their normal rotation, and there were no obvious conditioning issues. Execution was lacking for both teams, but that is to be expected. Birthday boy Nick Nurse did well to keep minutes down (only two Raptors played over 20 minutes) and to showcase his reserves by emptying the bench.
Two — Leadership: Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka look to be in mid-season form, as the two veterans combined for 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Lowry was up to his old tricks — he took a charge on James Harden like it was the All-Star Game — while Ibaka’s finishing was clinical. In this difficult and unfamiliar bubble environment, the teams that will rise to the top are the ones with solid structure and guidance. Lowry and Ibaka have obviously maintained their training despite the four-month layoff, and that sets the tone for the rest of the group.
Don't care if it's a scrimmage— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) July 25, 2020
KLow over everything pic.twitter.com/L5gTUtefkL
Three — Decent: Pascal Siakam’s jumper comes and goes, but he’s a monster around the basket. Houston’s small-ball tactics played right into his hands, as Siakam feasts off size mismatches. On his best play of the night, Siakam faked one way, then spun back to the middle for the layup while Robert Covington was busy chasing his shadow. Siakam’s life will get exponentially harder in the coming weeks, as teams will look to deny his touches in the paint in the playoffs. How he adjusts to that — whether it’s by scoring reliably from the perimeter or by playmaking for others — will determine how far the Raptors advance.
Four — Rust: Three-point shooting and offensive execution will come along the slowest. The two sides combined to shoot 29 percent (24-for-82) from deep, and some of the misses were nowhere near the mark, and much of that is a reflection of the lack of execution. Everything right now is a few beats slow, which favors the defense. The Raptors opened the game with a split cut where Siakam was open at the basket, and yet he moved the wrong way as Lowry found him with the high-low pass and the ball squirted out of bounds. Expect a lot more of that in the coming weeks.
Five — Absent: Despite much praise and anticipation for the trim and slim version of Marc Gasol, the Big Spaniard did not feature in this game. Nurse explained after the game that it was a planned rest day for Gasol, and that he would play in Sunday’s scrimmage versus Portland. It will be interesting to see if Nurse slots Gasol right back into the starting lineup given Ibaka’s productivity in the starting five. Nevertheless, it will just be refreshing to see Gasol healthy and rested following his “frustrating” season of inconsistency.
Six — Shine: Rookie guard Terence Davis was a standout with 15 points off the bench. He was opportunistic away from the ball, as he slipped behind the defense twice on cuts to the basket, and a third time crashing the offensive glass that resulted in two free throws. Davis also had a two-handed block at the rim, and hit a pull-up jumper over James Harden. Even though he’s a rookie, Davis has a strong case to be a consistent part of the rotation as the fourth guard off the bench.
Seven — Upgrade: Davis played in the minutes that would ordinarily go to Pat McCaw, who sat out tonight. McCaw brings certain intangibles, such as being unselfish and with his activity on defense, but Davis is the better player on the whole. The scoring punch that Davis brings to a team that is dominant on defense, but somewhat average on offense, is simply a better fit.
Eight — Isolated: Norman Powell picked it up later on, but it was a mostly underwhelming showing in his return to the bench. Powell was made to run the point for the second unit, and that has never quite been his strength. Powell thrives as a finisher, especially when he has other playmakers around him to get him open for threes or space to attack the rim. If Powell is to serve as a Sixth Man, Nurse should look to surround him with other playmakers who can set him up.
Nine — Hungry: It’s clear that the rest of the roster is also itching for a chance to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson delivered great energy and a handful of garbage buckets, while Matt Thomas scored two threes and flashed a bit of playmaking. Chris Boucher was also a factor especially on defense, where he recorded two blocks and a steal while shutting off the paint against Houston’s second unit. Nurse will have options at his disposal, and he can mix and match depending on the opponent. It’s a nice luxury to have.
Ten — Strange: The Rockets didn’t play a center for the entire game, that is unless you consider Raptors draft enigma Bruno Caboclo to be a five. It makes sense on offense because it opens the floor for Harden and Russell Westbrook to attack, but it also makes for an awful watch. Launching 48 threes in a 40-minute game is unoriginal and banal. And when Harden and Westbrook sat in the fourth, the Rockets were basically a G-League team.
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