Toronto Raptors Take Pivotal Game 5 in Dominant Fashion
After a Game 3 blow out defeat, many were ready to hit the panic button in Toronto.
Like in year’s prior, the Raptors just couldn’t take care of business in the playoffs. In Game 4, Head Coach Dwane Casey made a switch, taking big man Jonas Valanciunas out of the starting line-up, plugging in Norman Powell. Despite a season-saving performance against the Indiana Pacers just a year ago in his rookie campaign, Powell entered Game 4 as a relative unknown.
Would this move come back to bite the Raptors? Can this be the tipping point of the series?
Being a virtual non-factor through the first three games of the series, the 23-year old immediately made an impact on both ends of the floor in Game 4. Since being inserted into the starting line-up, Powell hasn’t missed a three-pointer, dropped a team-high 25-points in dominant Raptors Game 5 win, and has seemingly dunked on every member of the Milwaukee Bucks roster while playing 34-minutes in each of the past two games.
What has made the Raptors so successful with Powell taking the spot of Valanciunas?
With Powell in, the Raptors have been able to stretch the floor, finally forcing the Bucks to adjust defensively. With Valanciunas starting, he clogged the paint and in turn prevented enough spacing for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to penetrate and kick. With Powell taking his place, now the Raptors have a line up full of shooters and provide their two stars enough room to operate and excel.
This is the style of offence that breaks down even the best defenses in basketball. The Raptors look more athletic and are far more potent. Even DeMarre Carroll has shown he can drive a little bit because of the added spacing that Powell creates.
“It’s great,” DeRozan said of having Powell in the starting line up. “It takes the pressure off [and allows us] to do other things to space out the floor. Norm did a great job of bringing the ball up being aggressive, getting to the basket, making the right plays. Just taking the pressure off us offensively.”
As aggressive as Powell is, he has an extremely mature and polished game, something that should be attributed to his four year tenure at UCLA. He understands that he is not the main scoring option in the starting line up, but when he gets the ball out of penetration, he is not afraid to take the open shot, to keep swinging the ball, or to just drive and kick as well, further pressuring the opposing defense.
Why was DeRozan more of a facilitator the past two games even while providing enough of a scoring punch? He simply drew in the defence with the absence of Valanciunas in the paint, kicked the ball out, and the Raptors were able to swing the rock until they found an open shot.
Defensively, the addition of a more athletic and mobile Powell has prevented fast break opportunities for a Bucks team that loves to run. Powell has also taken sharp-shooting swingman Khris Middleton out of the series. The main secondary scoring option to Giannis Antetokounmpo has only scored a combined 18-points in the past two games on 7-for-21 shooting, good for just 33.3%.
Monday may very well be nothing more than a tease. The Raptors were able to assist on 28 of their 41 made field goals. They were +17 on the glass as well. All this contributed to a blowout 118-93 Game 5 victory.
“It’s gotta be a confidence builder in the fact that now guys know, when they give the ball up, that player has an opportunity to score or has a good rhythm going,” Said Casey following his team’s dominant performance. “And that made those 28 assists a lot easier, when that ball’s zinging around and you’re not afraid to give it up — Is he gonna catch it? What’s he gonna do with it? — I thought the guys made excellent decisions out of the double team, out of the trap, and everybody that caught it was ready to play, ready to either drive it, pass it or shoot it.
“And that’s been our Achilles heel the first few games, our shot preparation, our readiness to play.”
Fact is, this is the type of Raptors team that can challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers in round two. The Raptors have the personnel and the talent to replicate their Game 5 performance. Depending on match-ups, there is a time and place where it’s best to play Valanciunas, primarily when Greg Monroe is inserted into the game and the Raptors need to give Serge Ibaka some much-needed rest and need some more size to match Monroe’s physicality.
Of course, if the Raptors do get into Round 2, we will take a deeper look at the pros and cons of J.V. against a very stretchy Cavaliers line up, but for now, the Raptors are at their best when they too spread the floor, are more athletic, and play a drive-and-kick style of offence.
When the Raptors are aggressive, really, why can’t Game 5 be a start for great things to come?
This is a very talented team. Game 5’s performance wasn’t an effort the Raptor’s pulled out of their backsides. That’s not how the playoffs work. You don’t get lucky.
This is what the Raptors are capable of and this is the type of performance an elite team in the NBA like the Raptors should strive for each and every time they step on the floor.