Next Man Up

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Undermanned Toronto Raptors Continue to Find Ways to Win

This team is just so fun to watch.

In some ways, they are different from last year’s Raptors squad, but in far too many ways they resemble the team that brought the organization its first championship back in June.

“It’s the defence,” Fred VanVleet said following the 114-106 victory over the Portland Blazers. “Offence comes and goes but defence has been pretty consistent for us. The good thing about our game is that most superstars are pretty unselfish so if you throw 2 or 3 guys at them they’re passing. We want to make them pass and make somebody else make shots.”

VanVleet would finish the night with 30 points, thoroughly outplaying his counterpart, Damian Lillard. Pascal Siakam led all scores with another incredible performance of 36 points in 41 minutes of playing time.

In what has been a very impressive 3-1 road trip to this point, the Raptors stifling defense has put the entire league on notice. In their past three games, they have held LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Lillard to a combined 34 points on 9-for-38 shooting from the field.

It’s been a “next man up” mentality, as the Raptors hung tough on the road yet again in the absence of Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, and Patrick McCaw.

Once again, the second unit provided the Raptors a much-needed boost to overcome all the injuries. Terence Davis continued his impressive play, pouring in 15 points and grabbing down six boards, showing the ability to step outside and pull up for three when given space or beat his defender off the dribble. Meanwhile, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is just awesome. The guy was all over the floor last night – grabbing big rebounds, crashing the rim, diving for loose balls. The new Raptor would finish the night with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Yet again, the Raptors set the tone on defense after a sloppy start and proved yet again that they cannot be dismissed in a top-heavy Eastern Conference.

“They’re really trying to guard from the start of the game to the end,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of his team. “I always talk about, can we execute our schemes, where we’re supposed go, and they’re doing pretty good job of that.”

The Raptors defense was so good last night, that even Lillard was caught off-guard, especially when Nurse turned back to his bag of tricks and pulled out the now legendary Box-and-one.

“Box-and-one, I don’t remember seeing that many box-and-ones in the NBA,” Said Lillard, who made two of his 12 field goal attempts on the night. “But I mean, they make me play against a crowd. Even when I try to get downhill and be aggressive, there’s four guys right there. The right play is to kick it ahead, get it out, that was the only option they gave me a lot of times. It’s just what it was.”

Through 11 games, the Raptors have allowed the lowest opponent field goal percentage in the league (40.5%) and are ranked fifth in the league in defensive rating. The offense is continuing the come together and will get back on track once their injured rotation pieces are back in the fold. The lone concerns to this point have been turnovers and especially the defensive glass, where the raptors give up the most offensive boards in the entire league (13.5).

Nevertheless, 11 games is a minuscule sample size and the Raptors are by no means a finished product. As the season goes on and the Raptors get back to full health, it will be up to Nick Nurse to find a way to clean up the negatives.

Next stop, Dallas!

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