10 things: Raptors coast after going up 40 at halftime against Jazz

·NBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 130-110 win over the Utah Jazz.

One — Contrast: It’s hard to feel entirely confident about this result. On one hand, the Raptors set a franchise record by going up 40 at halftime. But they also played their worst quarter of the season by allowing 49 points to the Jazz. Granted, it’s difficult to play with intensity after going up by a laughable margin, but it’s still startling that the lead was trimmed to 15 at one point even with the Jazz’s starters not playing for the entire fourth quarter. A win is a win, but the Raptors really only played two quarters to get the result.

Two — Dominant: Utah had no answers for Pascal Siakam, who finished with 35 points on 14-of-22 shooting from the field. At first, the Jazz doubled Siakam in the post with Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, but Siakam made smart and timely reads to find Marc Gasol for open 3s and a rolling dunk in the lane. Utah abandoned that plan midway through the first quarter, only for Siakam to score at will against the likes of Royce O’Neale and Bojan Bogdanovic.

Three — Confidence: Nick Nurse joked that Siakam would respond to his uncharacteristic 4-of-22 effort against the Orlando Magic on Friday with 36 points in his next outing. Siakam tallied 35, and he was so confident that to end the first half, he waved off his teammates and peeked that the Raptors were up 37 before drilling a pull-up 3 right in Bogdanovic’s eye for the 40-point advantage. Siakam already has four games with five made 3s in 19 outings this season after failing to hit that mark once last year. There is no ceiling, no limit to what Siakam can do in the coming future.

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Four — Steady: Utah opened the third quarter by scoring on 19 of their first 20 possessions and, naturally, some of the Raptors froze up. The lone exceptions were Siakam — who remained unstoppable in the post — and Fred VanVleet, who was calm under pressure. With the lead down to 15, VanVleet immediately responded with a 3 and an inch-perfect lob to OG Anunoby for an alley-oop to shake the crowd out of its doldrums. VanVleet is now averaging 21 points, four rebounds, and seven assists to go along with his stellar defence in Kyle Lowry’s absence and has guided the team to a 9-2 record during that stretch.

Five — Uneven: Serge Ibaka returned from a severe ankle sprain that cost him the last 10 games and received a hero’s welcome at Scotiabank Arena when his name was announced. As you could expect, Ibaka was rusty in his first shift, as he missed shots that he would normally make and was out of rhythm with his timing and movement. Ibaka recovered in the second half, as he delivered a corner 3 and an and-one over Gobert to keep the Jazz at bay. On the whole, Ibaka was a bit slower than usual, but he’s a welcome source of offence for the second unit.

Six — Crowded: Ibaka’s return, however, put a strain on both Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher, who both shined in his absence. Nurse said Boucher had earned more minutes, but Nurse was unable to find him minutes at the four with Ibaka and Gasol sharing the five. For Hollis-Jefferson, there will be an adjustment period as the spacing on the floor with Ibaka and him isn’t ideal. Both players like to linger in the dunker spot, making it difficult for Toronto’s wings to drive to the basket. That’s something the coaching staff will have to figure out in time.

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Seven — Thorn: Donovan Mitchell gave the Raptors the most trouble in that third quarter, as he repeatedly blew past Anunoby and Hollis-Jefferson to create opportunities at the basket for himself and Gobert. Oddly enough, Nurse didn’t give Mitchell special treatment on defence, as they have for other stars around the league. The Raptors played Mitchell straight-up and resisted double teams even when Mitchell was willing the Jazz back to life.

Eight — Power: Anunoby doesn’t have a go-to move to get a basket, but he does have strength and athleticism. His drives are straight-forward, but he’s strong enough to get to his spot against anyone. Anunoby buried Bogdanovic and Jeff Green under the basket, and those two aren’t exactly lacking for size nor strength.

Nine — Baseline: The second half was obviously an aberration, but the Raptors’ defence was excellent yet again. Even with that absurd 49-point quarter, the Jazz only shot 42 percent from the field and committed 18 turnovers. Toronto’s defence is championship-caliber and that will always keep them in the game. The Raptors have now played 19 contests and not one was a blowout.

Ten — Adversity: Lowry’s return is imminent and that will allow the front office to truly evaluate what they have in this team. The Raptors have one of the most difficult schedules in the league in December, as they play 10 of their 15 games against above .500 teams. If they survive this stretch without dropping in the standings, then there’s a case to be made for a win-now trade to boost their chances in the playoffs.

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