Defence wins games

The Toronto Raptors hit the road to face the Indiana Pacers in their first meeting of the season. Despite going 1-2 in their last 3 games, the Pacers entered the game 2nd in the Eastern Conference standings. Undermanned, the Raptors defensive tenacity was the difference maker in their 107-102 win.

With less than a minute to play, and the game tied at 102, OG Anunoby split two free throws to give Toronto a 1 point lead. Anunoby led all players with a season best 30 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals. He has eased into his new role and is having his best stretch of basketball this season. He led the teams defensive attack from the tip, and it carried through the entire match.

Fred VanVleet had Malcolm Brogdan locked all game: with under 30 seconds to play VanVleet’s quick hands forced the ball out of Brogdan’s possession and into a shot clock violation. In 38 minutes, he held the PG to 12 points on 5 of 22 shooting with 1 made three. This season, he has averaged 22.5 points and shot 42% from the field. On Sunday he was 1 for 10 from deep against Toronto.

With 18 seconds left, and with Toronto struggling to make free throws, the Pacers sent Anunoby to the stripe. With the game in his hands, Anunoby made both attempts. Down 3, Indiana looked to close the gap but Toronto’s defence closed out the game. Chris Boucher blocked a Domantas Sabonis layup and Stanley Johnson finished the job by blocking Sabonis’ putback attempt. VanVleet iced the game with 2 clutch free throws.

With Kyle Lowry (toe) and Pascal Siakam (knee) out, it was next man up and Anunoby stepped up. VanVleet added 21 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 block. Norman Powell scored 20 and Aron Baynes had his best outing of the season. He had 12 points, 7 rebounds and 1 block in 17 minutes. Toronto is starting to find their identity, and it’s in the defence.

It wins games. Toronto forced 18 turnovers, had 12 steals and 8 blocks against Indiana. The Pacers are averaging 113 points per game but were limited to 102 in Sunday’s loss. After the game VanVleet commented on his style of defence, “I play [defence] the way I would not like to be guarded”. He talked about the importance of being at the right place at the right time, and just staying ready.

It was a complete team effort in limiting both of the Pacers biggest offensive threats. In 15 games, Domantas Sabonis is averaging 21.7 points. Toronto held him to 10 points on 1 of 10 shooting; he made 8 of his points at the line. While Myles Turner led the Pacers with 25 points he also uncharacteristically shot 57% from deep to connect on 4 three’s. He scored 13 of his points in the final 12 minutes.

Former Raptors assistant coach (to Nick Nurse), and new Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren tipped his hat to Toronto. “Give credit to [them].. They really swarmed those two guys (Sabonis and Brogdon)”. Bjorkgren and Nurse have a storied history: from growing up miles apart in Iowa, to coaching in the G League and winning a championship there, to coaching together in the NBA and winning it all with the Raptors, both men have a lot of respect for one another. “We shared some really cool moments” Nurse said post-game. Adding, he hopes this is “one of many” more games against one another, with some in a lot higher stakes.

Next up.. Toronto gets set for their second back-to-back of the season. They face off against Indiana on Monday. Tip off is 7pm EASTERN at Bankers Field House.

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