Thursday night’s 123-102 loss against the OKC Thunder is one that a lot of fans want to forget but despite such, it was a good wake-up call for the Raptors. We will never know what was said during the player’s only meeting but whatever it was, it worked. The Raptors were able to string back-to-back wins this past weekend against the Detroit Pistons (87-75) and Indiana Pacers (116-91).
PJ Tucker’s post-game interview on Friday night said it all. He described the accountability he placed on his team mates, specifically DeMar DeRozan. He acknowledged that yes, DeMar is the driving force for the Raptors’ offence but it’s time he stepped up defensively. Because when he does, the rest of the team will follow, and that’s exactly what happened.
In both games, the Raptors were able to keep their opponents below 100 points and to a shooting percentage of below 50% (Detroit 38.5% and Indiana 41.3%). The issue of rebounds did not seem to arise as the Raptors were able to average 53 rebounds between the two games.
Ball movement was another contributing factor towards the pair of wins. The Raptors had 19 assists against the Pistons and 25 against the Pacers. This was even more evident in the game against the Pacers, when all five of their starting players were in double figures for points scored. Jonas Valanciunas even came out with a double-double - 11 points, 13 rebounds and was 3/4 from the line.
In the midst of all the things that Raptors did well, fans couldn’t help but notice one particular player – PJ Tucker. There’s a specific sequence from the Pacers game that defines the type of effort you will get from him. Paul George was handling the ball from beyond the 3 point-line and attempted to shake off Tucker but Tucker was stuck to him like glue. PJ was effective in running the shot clock down and forcing Paul George to throw up the ball aimlessly.
With the wins against Detroit and Indiana, the Raptors improved their record to 8-5 since the All-Star break and the Lowry injury. They now sit 1.5 games back from the Wizards and 3 games back from their rival, Boston Celtics. The new Raptors squad have been able to play together for a couple games and so it’s time to start fine tuning the system that will enter April basketball. All we can hope for now is that the Raptors keep up this “defense-first” mentality. It wouldn’t hurt either if the Wizards were to miraculously fall behind so we can avoid a rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals in the second round.
Sources: ESPN, The Score