1) The Raptors took a 3-1 Lead
This is literally unprecedented in Raptors history. This is the first time the Raptors have taken a 3-1 lead in the playoffs in franchise history, and it is a sign of good things to come (hopefully). In past first rounds we’ve looked shaky. Last year vs Washington comes to mind, as does the first round against the Bucks in 2017. The fact that the Raptors can take a first round opponent and dominate on a high level is a good sign. I would hope that they win next game at home as well. The completion of this objective would not only be good in general, but it would allow the players to get extra rest and preparation for the next series. The Raptors’ next round opponent is likely to be the 76ers, who aren’t going to just roll over and get swept. The Raptors will need every little thing to go right these playoffs, and completing the series is one of them.
2) Ibaka’s block
If there is one highlight that any given person should see from this game it is this absolutely game shattering block by Serge Ibaka. Mafuzzy chef can still hang on defense. He might not be the rim protector of his OKC days, but damn you love to see things like this. Stepping up on defense and going against one of the best dunkers and athletes in the league. If he had caught the ball it would have been that much better as an all-time highlight, but we can’t all have what we want. Serge Ibaka has his ups and downs, and his shooting is sure streaky: but these are the moments that define his game: passion and heart, especially on defense. Gordon is a leaper, and it was no easy feat meeting him at the rim. Maybe Serge Ibaka isn’t 45 like all the reactionary posts suggested? Just a thought.
Every time I write an article about a Raptors playoff game, something that stands out to me is the defense. DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas were great players. The way they are playing for their respective teams shows us that. But both of those players were turnstiles on defense. DeRozan would look uninterested at times, and Jonas Valanciunas simply got roasted by fast guards. Masai Ujiri traded them for two former DPOY in Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, and a former All-Defensive player in Danny Green. Those two players have turned the Raptors into a great defensive team. Let this sink in: we kept the Magic to a miniscule 85 points today. When was the last time we’ve seen a team score this low in this pace and space NBA? Everyone shoots threes, the game is faster, so a defensive performance like this is rare. It’s rare in the sense that we don’t really see low scoring games anymore. This was nice to see, especially since this showed me that good defense will still win you games, despite what people may say about the modern NBA.
4) Kawhi Bounce Back
Kawhi didn’t have a great Game 3. Nick Nurse mentioned that Kawhi had flu like symptoms. Kawhi played through sickness to give the team 37 minutes in Game 3 and yet didn’t shoot all too well (5-19, 0-3 from 3). However the opposite was true in Game 4 where Kawhi was his usual efficient self, going 12-20 from the floor, with 2-5 from 3. What else can I say that hasn’t been said about Kawhi? Kawhi is a bonafide two-way superstar, who is the most complete player that has played for the Raptors. He was a dominant force on both ends and led by example. Kendrick Perkins mentioned that Kawhi reminded him of Jordan. Let’s hope that the comparison pans out, and the franchise gets 6 rings.
5) Bench Boys
Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell played really well off the bench in Game 3. Norman Powell went 7-9. Serge Ibaka went 5-6. They were efficient in limited minutes and that’s what we need from them. Good minutes. Norman Powell in particular looked more in control and found his offence well. We need someone from the bench to step up, and it was about time that we found who belongs in the fire of the playoffs.