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    Bounce Back

    It has been a season of day and night performances by the Toronto Raptors. Friday was no exception. After crumbling to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, Toronto had a chance to split the series on Friday night. Despite a 17 point first quarter lead, the Raptors kept it interesting, allowing the Heat back into the game. In the 4th, it was a strong defensive effort that turned the tide, and enabled the team to get the 101-81 win.

    Norman Powell had his 3rd start of the season, replacing Kyle Lowry who was out with an injured toe. In 31 minutes, he led the team with 23 points and 3 rebounds. 14 of those points came in the first 12 minutes. He set the tempo and gave the Raptors the edge right from the beginning. Powell continues to shine when put in the starting rotation, averaging 20.6 points on 61% shooting.

    ‘Next man up’ has been one of the teams mottos. It’s in the blueprint: if you stay ready and prove yourself, there is an opportunity to earn your spot in the rotation. OG Anunoby is new to the starting rotation and has slowly started to settle in. He scored an efficient 21 points on 66.7% shooting and went 5/6 from deep. He is averaging a career best 13.9 points this season and looks to continue improving. Post-game he attributed the teams more consistent play with finally “getting used to Tampa Bay” and the new routine.

    Pascal Siakam had another solid outing, posting his 5th double-double of the season (15 points and 14 rebounds). In January his shooting percentage has improved to 45.8%, up more that 6% from December. External factors aside, Friday’s win provided flashbacks of how Toronto can close games.

    For the second straight night, Kendrick Nunn led all Heat players with 22 points and 5 assists. Bam Adebayo had 14 points and 8 rebounds, while Duncan Robinson had a quiet 11 points on 3 of 6 from deep. Despite being down 22 points, Miami fought back and tied the game at 61. But that was as close as the Raptors would let them get.

    One of the biggest factors in Friday’s win was defence. Toronto held Miami to a season low 81 points. The Heat were out-rebounded 45-32 and were limited to 6 second chance points. After the game, Nick Nurse emphasized the importance of defending every possession. “When you’re moving hard on defence, you’re moving hard on offence”, he told reporters. There is no doubt Toronto is a better team when their defence is clicking. That defensive mindset may have been one of the biggest takeaways from their 2018-2019 Championship run. Defence leads to offence, and it has always been true for the Raptors. Their success stems from it.

    Game Notes: Chris Boucher struggled against Miami’s zone defence. He combined for 13 points on 5 of 12 shooting in 2 games. On the other side of the coin, Aron Baynes has had some of his better performances. He was a presence on defence, grabbing 6 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and 2 steals.

    Next Up… Toronto travels to Indiana for a back-to-back against the 9-6 Pacers. Tip off is 1pm EASTERN at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

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