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10 things: Shorthanded Raptors set season-high for rebounds in gritty win over Spurs

William Lou
·7 min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 117-112 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

One — Together: The Raptors collected an unlikely win simply by playing together. It was yet another difficult game with only one healthy guard available and with an imbalance of bigs, but the Raptors found a way to cope and carried their effort through the full 48 minutes. That's been difficult to come by this season; the Raptors haven't coped at all with injuries and have rarely played hard without a dip for four quarters. Winning in the regular season isn't all that complicated if those two stipulations are met, and those were characteristic traits of previous Raptors teams that were taken for granted. 

Two — Beef: Although it's an outdated strategy, it was refreshing to see the Raptors dominate with their two-center lineups and hold a distinct size advantage over the Spurs. Outside of a few stray rebounds to start, the Raptors were able to keep the Spurs to only one shot thanks to their season-high in rebounds with 54. Nick Nurse started with Khem Birch and Chris Boucher in the frontcourt, which bumped Pascal Siakam to three and OG Anunoby to two, which is the exact inverse of the small-ball groups that featured Siakam and Anunoby trading off at center. As you would expect, the Raptors were able to keep the Spurs out of the paint which forced the Spurs to rely heavily on the three-point shot. And when they went cold for extended stretches, the Raptors were able to run off their misses and establish their lead. 

Despite all their misfortunes this season, the Raptors still sit only one game back of the 10th and final
Despite all their misfortunes this season, the Raptors still sit only one game back of the 10th and final "playoff" spot. Tanking in the East is not easy.

Three — Creative: Anunoby had the biggest adjustment out of the starters with the new alignment, as he was forced to be a creator for both himself and his teammates in the shooting guard role. Anunoby was up to the task, scoring a team-high 22 points with three assists. Anunoby used a nifty Eurostep move to navigate tight corners in traffic, used his size well to finish around former teammate Jakob Poeltl, and was nifty with his passing, too, especially on one play where Anunoby left a soft bounce pass in traffic for Birch to roll to the basket. Anunoby's shot creation is the one area where he is lagging the most, but as with every other part of his game, he's showing steady improvement

Four — Lockdown: On the other end, Anunoby also had the primary assignment against one of the league's craftiest scorers in DeMar DeRozan. Anunoby's length and footspeed made it difficult for DeRozan to get his shot off, especially with the Raptors sending aggressive help towards him, but DeRozan adapted by making plays for his teammates. But when it came down to crunch time and DeRozan needed to get buckets, Anunoby was still up to the task including a vital steal on DeRozan to launch a fast break that put the Raptors ahead for good. Two-way players like Anunoby are worth their weight in gold. 

Five — Consistency: It was a mixed bag for Siakam, who did finish with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. There were some mistakes where Siakam didn't read the defense and was bottled up at the basket, and it eventually boiled over after he got blocked, then while absentmindedly complaining to the official, Siakam fell over Patty Mills while the Spurs were in the bonus. But there were also great stretches of play, including at the start of the fourth quarter where Siakam led the bench unit by assisting on two threes, getting inside for a layup, and going to the line for two free throws. There's no doubt that Siakam has the ability to impact games at a high level, but making the jump from good to great takes consistency. 

Six — Competent: Birch got his first start as a Raptor, and he instantly rewarded Nurse with another productive outing. Birch showed good hands and soft touch with a handful of finishes in the pick-and-roll, and was energetic and reliable on defense despite landing in early foul trouble courtesy of DeRozan's irresistible pump fake. There's nothing in Birch's game that necessarily jumps off the page, but it stands in stark contrast to what the Raptors were getting at the center position previously. In a season where it was sorely was lacking, Birch is showing us how much competency was missed at the five position. 

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Seven — Hustle: Freddie Gillespie is going to be a fan favorite if he sticks around after his 10-day deal, which should absolutely be the case. Gillespie exudes positivity and approaches the game with unselfish priorities that contribute to winning. He's a big body that carves out space with his screens and it's hard to box him out, while on defense, Gillespie has shown to be both a capable shot blocker and also a willing one. Gillespie will unfortunately be on highlight reels for getting crowned on, but the play prior to that, Gillespie got up and met DeRozan at the rim which is no easy feat. And when asked about the play after the game, Gillespie just laughed it off and said rim protection is what he does. He's a hard worker who deserves a longer look.

Eight — Instinctive: Yuta Watanabe was one of the unsung heroes of this game. Watanabe led all bench players with 11 points, and it was clear that his mind was set on attacking. Watanabe was nailing threes on the move, and he was actively hunting for his shot rather than shying away whenever possible. On the other end, Watanabe had the play of the night where he pressured Patty Mills with the insistence of a mosquito at a cottage, making Mills lose his handle and reset, showing discipline to not bite on Mills' fake, giving a second effort to block Mills when he finally was forced to shoot, and then firing the pass to the opposite three-point line to find Anunoby streaking ahead for the dunk. Watanabe was playing so well that he deserved a chance to close the game. 

Nine — Brave: It wasn't a particularly efficient night for Malachi Flynn, shooting just 4-of-15 from the field, but he made the shots that counted. Flynn buried a three late in the fourth, then hit a contested turnaround jumper to extend the lead, and closed it out with three free throws at the end. Flynn's best stretch came in the first half, where he read that Mills was going under on him and pulled up for a three. The next play down, the Spurs pressured up on him to deny him the shot, and Flynn was able to use his quickness to draw a foul driving past his defender. His shotmaking is still iffy at times, but he's making the tough ones when it counts and he's growing by the minute. 

Ten — Surprise: Reinforcements are on the way for the Raptors, with Fred VanVleet appearing to be on the cusp of returning despite Nurse's pessimistic comments about his injured hip. VanVleet served his one-game suspension for making peace after Anunoby's WWE debut, and Nurse said he'll be ready to play in Orlando. Kyle Lowry was rested but he's probably good to play as well, while it's believed that Gary Trent Jr.'s ankle injury isn't serious. Despite all their misfortunes this season, the Raptors are still only one game back of the 10th and final playoff spot. Tanking in the East is not easy. 

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