1) Strong Start
The Raptors started the game on a tear, with the score sitting at 22-3 at 5:09 left in the fourth quarter. Let that sink in. The Magic’s three points came from an Evan Fournier free throw and an Aaron Gordon bucket. Imagine a defense so good, that it can shut down an opponent for over half of the quarter. Proceed to realize that the Raptors actually have that defense. I’ve reiterated this many times, but it has to be noted the defense of this team is what will win it games. After the hot start, the quarter was finished with a score of 19-35. The Raptors then proceeded to outscore the Magic in the 2nd and 3rd quarter: the score at the end of the 3rd quarter was 70-99. The Raptors got a good start quickly, and never let their foot off the gas pedal. As a result of that strong start the Raptors got a win.
VanVleet on 1st-round Kawhi: “You could see him just taking those guys’ spirits away and breaking their spirits. No matter what they did it didn’t really faze him or affect him and he was able to break their will a little bit. That’s what superstars do.”
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 26, 2019
How good does it feel to have clinched the series in 5, after winning 4 in a row? Really satisfying and absolutely exciting. We’ve never finished a series 5 and perennially under-performed in the playoffs. But this team has a different mentality from teams past and it shows. To rattle off 4 in a row after losing Game 1 at home is fairly impressive. This wouldn’t have been possible without absolutely all of the trades that happened and I’m glad that Masai Ujiri’s hard work is paying off. Sometimes there’s teams with the mentality of champions. This all starts with Kawhi Leonard and goes down all the way to Norman Powell. There is a confidence within this team’s play, a certain swagger. Fred VanVleet mentions Kawhi breaking the Magic’s wills. That’s what it’s all about: imposing your way on the opponent and the Raptors have the personnel to do so.
3) Siakam and Kawhi
24 points and 27 points respectively. Siakam and Kawhi can carry the scoring load and it’s important to know. It shows that they can step up to the plate and score when things are going against them, and others are unable to score. While this game wasn’t a terrible shooting for the Raps, it is good to see the two top scoring options on the Raptors be able to close out their 1st round opponent. It is good to have two players who are very consistent, rather than up and down as well. Prior iterations of the Raptors had players who could score but were really streaky. Toronto really hasn’t had someone perform consistently in the playoffs in terms of scoring since Chris Bosh. But now they have not one but two elite offensive weapons who have only scratched the surface of their potential as a duo.
4) Bench Mob
The bench had a good performance, with Fred Van Vleet, Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka all finished with a positive +/- rating, and those are the three that matter, since most of the bench minutes go to those three. Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka had good nights with Norman Powell having 11 point on 5 for 9 shooting, with 0 turnovers. Serge Ibaka was 3 points away from a double double, putting up 7 points on 5 for 8 shooting, mostly operating in the post. The bench has been plagued with inconsistency and I hope that going into the 76ers series the bench mobs steps it up a notch. If your leader can have a playoff gear then you should try to follow his example. Elevate one’s game. This was a good start to taking those extra steps.
5) Another Blowout
There isn’t really much to say. A contender blew out their 1st round opponent. Onto the next. The East has 4 contenders to the throne, and they all have a valid case. The top 4 teams in the East each have a player that can be qualified as a superstar (loose definition). The 76ers have Embiid: a supernova center, capable of going off for 30 on any given night. The Bucks have made Giannis into a demigod: a lengthy SF who scores at the rim with prime Shaq efficiency. The Celtics look to Kyrie for these exact moments: an enigmatic point guard who’s known to be an amazing clutch player. They all have an X-factor: a player who they believe will take them over the top. The Raptors themselves have Kawhi Leonard: the best two way player in the game, able to score from absolutely anywhere and defend at a high level. The 2nd Round this year is for true contenders only, and the Raptors have proved that they belong in the conversation.