Rick Zamperin: Toronto Raptors show what they’re really made of

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard holds the ball as Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon defends during first half NBA basketball playoff action in Toronto on Tuesday

"That is [Lowry] at his finest", Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "He was doing it all". Their success on the offensive side of the ball fed the Raps' frenzied approach on their end of the court.

"I think 1-0 or 0-1 whatever it would be, we throw everything at 'em to try to win the game", Nurse said.

The Raptors were much improved defensively all around on Tuesday.

Clifford has spent his sessions with the media telling them all the bad signs that were raised in Game 1. He also finished with seven assists, four rebounds, two steals and a block for Toronto. If this performance is a sign of things to come, the Raptors have plenty to be optimistic about. Asked how he was able to exploit Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, Leonard replied that the effort wasn't a mastery of a specific defender so much as a result of good judgment.

Kawhi Leonard's playing time will be a storyline of Game 2. "Just reading angles, reading the backside of the defense".

It's a great observation from VanVleet, in that it gets to what makes Lowry such a key part of the evolution of the Raptors from a lost franchise to one that is reliably among the better teams in the East season after season. The Magic won't have the scoring to help carry them tonight. "We've just got to figure that out and bring that energy from the jump and impose our will a little bit at the beginning", Siakam said.

As a team the Raptors appeared to have adopted his terrorizing defensive presence, forcing early turnovers and never really allowing the Magic into the game.

Gasol is another case study in how the Raptors can dice up opponents this spring through smarts and precision. The Raptors' veteran center, acquired midseason from the Memphis Grizzlies, posted a 3-for-5 shooting line in 22 minutes - every make was from deep - but that belied his overall net effect. As an example, Gasol orchestrated two gorgeous possessions from the top of the floor: the first when he darted a bounce pass to Lowry on a baseline basket cut for an easy layup in the second quarter, the next a fluttering lob to Leonard for an alley-oop and-1 just after intermission. Both were emotional touchstones Tuesday night.

Pascal Siakam chipped in with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Serge Ibaka had 13 points. Presumably none of this would have taken place if Lowry had made just two of his six 3-point attempts, most of which were open, and the Raptors had eked out a win. "The main thing I said going into the thing is, 'We need you to be our leader and be tough". As good as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have been in years past, Leonard's facility in creating efficient offense for himself is on another tier, giving the team a dimension they haven't had before.

Toronto held Orlando to an anemic effective field goal percentage of 42.6, and surrendered only 21 attempts at the rim all game. Teams that drop the first two games at home in the National Basketball Association playoffs go on to lose the series about 85% of the time, and for the Raptors franchise they are 0-7 in series in which they dropped into an 0-2 hole. Augustin and the rest of the Orlando ball handlers.

"It was just more being locked in on every coverage, everything we wanted to do, just being on the same page and communication". This was an encouraging sign, not because his ensuing trip to the free throw line ensured Lowry wouldn't go scoreless, as he did in the series opener, but because it revealed his mentality.

Few teams in the 2019 National Basketball Association playoff field can activate that chain reaction like the Raptors can. His impact on the game was terrific for them.



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