Today was quite something. Coming into Sunday night, the Toronto Raptors were on a five game losing streak gearing up to go against the Los Angeles Lakers. It was also announced a few days earlier that Kobe Bryant would be making his highly anticipated season debut AND the game would be nationally televised. Then Masai Ujiri threw a major curveball at everyone by making a huge trade— sending Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy, and Aaron Gray all packing (and leaving the Raptors undermanned for tonight’s game) in the process. Fortunately, Toronto was able to fight through the adversity and close out their west coast swing with a win, defeating the Lakers 106-94, and moving to 7-12 on the season in the process.
With Rudy no longer on the team, the look on offense was totally different for the Raptors in this one. The ball didn’t stick nearly as much as fans have become accustomed to this season, and the team actually attacked the basket on a consistent basis. The three-point looks weren’t really falling for Toronto tonight (4 for 26), but the team succeeded in absolutely dominating the painted area. The Raptors outscored the Lakers in the paint by a margin of 30 tonight. 62 of the 106 total points came in the key. The most impressive part of this effort was the fact that Toronto actually stuck with what was working for them early in the game. Los Angeles did ramp up the defensive intensity in some moments, but considering the circumstances, the Raptors were quite impressive overall.
Dwane Casey didn’t have much to work with in this one, but Toronto still shot a respectable 49% in the win. DeMar DeRozan didn’t have the best individual shooting night (8 for 19), but he did keep the defense honest in scoring 26 points to go along with his 5 assists. On this night Kyle Lowry had an exceptional performance in spite of Rudy Gay being let go. The lead guard was aggressive throughout this one, putting up a stat line of 23 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds on 8 of 13 shooting. Lowry’s compete level was contagious, and his teammates followed suit by making the hustle plays needed for the W.
This wouldn’t be a completed report without mentioning Amir Johnson‘s amazing night against the Lakers. The forward returned to his starting spot for the short-handed Raptors, posting a career high of 32 points while shooting an outstanding 82% from the field. While Toronto’s bench (which was only three players tonight) was only able to contribute 20 points, the effort of the three aforementioned players was enough to push the team over the top.
Oh yeah, and Terrence Ross did something you don’t see everyday:
Let’s be honest. Majority of the hype surrounding this game stemmed from Kobe Bryant playing in his first game of the season. Given his history against the Toronto Raptors, many spectators tuned in to see a potential beatdown of Canada’s beloved team courtesy of the Black Mamba. However, this was not the case tonight. Kobe was in playmaker mode, focusing more on facilitating for his teammates than getting up his own shots. When the time came for him to attempt to singlehandedly get his team back in the game, Bryant was slowed down by the Raptors defense. DeMar DeRozan and Landry Fields made nothing easy for the 5-time NBA champion, limiting him to just 9 points and also forcing him to cough up 8 turnovers. Pau Gasol didn’t do very much for the Lakers offense either. The Spaniard only dropped a quiet 7 points for Los Angeles in a game where looks from downtown weren’t hitting their target nearly often enough (9 for 28) for his team to move two games above the .500 mark.
The Raptors did lose the battle on the boards 40-38 in this game, but the important thing is that the Lakers were not given too many second chances to score. With the Black Mamba playing for the opposition, finishing defensive possessions was of the utmost importance in this matchup. The Raptors did an excellent job on that front. Amir Johnson led the way with 10 boards in the winning effort.
What bad can be said about the fan favorite? The Raptors only came away with one win out of three games on the west coast trip, but Amir Johnson’s play throughout has been superb. Prior to switching time zones for about a week, Johnson was having his fair share of quiet outings where his presence seemed non-existent at times. He’s been coming to play lately though. Hopefully his energy level can be this high for an extended period of time, especially with new players coming into the fold.