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10 things: Raptors’ Achiuwa gets job done defensively against Magic’s Banchero

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 123-113 win over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday.

1. The Raptors put together one of their most cohesive games of the season for a hard-fought win. The Magic are hardly pushovers, and sent the Raptors into a spiral with back-to-back defeats in Orlando in December.

Despite the Raptors shooting 70 per cent from the field in the first half on Tuesday, the Magic maintained a five-point lead at halftime. Toronto’s defence was too lax to start, as Orlando slipped free for at least four back cuts for layups, while also riding hot three-point shooting from unexpected places, which culminated in a 43-point explosion in the second frame.

Toronto rallied after the break, limiting the Magic to just 43 points in the second half while collecting a handful of empathic blocks. Offensively, the Raptors torched the Magic from inside the arc, scoring 123 points despite only eight made threes. 

2. It’s not an oversimplification to say that Jakob Poeltl was the difference between this win and the two harrowing losses earlier in December. Poeltl was dominant on both ends, especially on offence, where he hit 15-of-17 from the field for 30 points.

Orlando sold out to stop Toronto’s main playmakers, which is a sensible strategy on a night the Raptors were missing two of their three best shooters (O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr.) but this game demonstrated that the Raptors have counters at their disposal.

Poeltl repeatedly found himself open on rolls to the rim, and with the seven-footer making his first nine attempts, his teammates were more than happy to find him. Poeltl got only three types of looks — rolls to the rim after setting the screen to start the play, post-ups over Orlando’s wings, or tip-ins — and that’s the strict diet within the offence that will maintain his efficiency moving forward.

His soft touch around the basket means he doesn’t have to get all the way to the hoop, as he can just as easily make floaters and push shots to create angles against his defenders. Poeltl makes for an easy pressure release in the middle of the floor, and his efficiency in the lane offers a reliable counterbalance to the offence. 

3. Poeltl was equally as impressive on defence, where he collected six blocks and was an unselfish force on box-outs so that teammates could snag the board and start the break.

Poeltl managed to avoid foul trouble for the first time in three games, which allowed him to tally 37 minutes of play. His positioning and light feet on defence allow him to absorb drives with his body, similar to how Marc Gasol operated in the glory years. What makes him special, however, is the ability to also step out occasionally and to switch onto forwards.

Orlando’s young duo of Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero both struggled to get past Poeltl, who met Wagner for an emphatic block at the rim in the fourth. The Raptors will be asking him to play a variety of defensive coverages beyond the traditional drop coverage that he was used to in San Antonio. 

4. The Magic started the game blitzing Fred VanVleet, and finished it by trapping Pascal Siakam at halfcourt. The logic behind the move made sense, as VanVleet was coming off a 35-point effort and is Toronto’s only three-point shooting threat, but trapping him just created easier chances for others.

VanVleet had seven assists in the first quarter largely because every time he got a screen, the Magic would double and the point guard always had the pass over the top to the screener, which in most cases was Poeltl.

VanVleet went on to finish with 15 assists to match a career high, while Siakam also had six of his own. Poeltl’s playmaking on the move is another aspect the Raptors didn’t have outside of when Scottie Barnes filled in temporarily at centre for a few weeks.

The Raptors topped 30 assists for only the sixth time all season.

5. Siakam picked his spots wisely and shot an efficient 10-for-15 from the field on shots that were largely self-generated. The Magic relied heavily on switching, and seemed confident to have their pesky guards in Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs check Siakam and Poeltl, who both took turns feasting.

In Siakam’s case, he was very comfortable in backing down his man to his favorite spots in the midrange, before rising up for clean looks. Siakam also used his handle to great effect, as he broke Mo Wagner’s ankles in the first half and left Suggs sliding on the logo with a crossover in the second half. The malaise from the seven-game road trip seems to have subsided, and Siakam heads into the All-Star Game with the same edge that he showed to start the season.

6. Toronto’s interior defence was immense in the second half, where the Raptors tallied 10 blocks. Coach Nick Nurse highlighted two main issues in how they started, first that the Raptors were getting back-cut when the Magic seemingly got stuck with the ball, and second that their transition coverage just wasn’t there.

The message was well-received as Poeltl and Precious Achiuwa blocked back-to-back layup attempts just one minute into the second half. Of the 10 blocks, two were against threes, which is always a rare skill that the Raptors have in abundance with Barnes and Chris Boucher. But just as impressive were the swats by Poeltl against Orlando’s guards and wings, as his footwork to stay with drivers and then to close the gap at the basket is a true asset the Raptors did not have before his arrival outside of rookie Christian Koloko, who is still a ways away on the rest of his game.

7. Achiuwa’s man-to-man defence on Banchero was one of the keys to victory. Banchero has been steamrolling defenders despite being a rookie, due to his physicality and build already being on par with veterans.

The Duke product is averaging 20 points per game largely by playing bullyball to get to the line, along with a steady midrange game, but Achiuwa was up to the challenge. Achiuwa was just as strong as Banchero, so he could withstand the bumps and remain in the play, and while Banchero got free for the occasional jumper, Achiuwa took away his bread and butter around the rim.

Assistant coach Adrian Griffin applauded Achiuwa’s eagerness to take on the toughest defensive assignments, and he showed it once again on Orlando’s best scorer.

8. One of the Raptors’ bad habits is turning down open threes. Achiuwa is most guilty of this, as he isn’t as confident in his jumper as compared to where he finished last season. But the same issue afflicts even their guards, as Dalano Banton and Jeff Dowtin also turned down open looks.

It’s one thing to use discretion, but the Raptors are having to reset their offence and squandering all the advantage when the open look isn’t being taken in rhythm. Everyone on the roster – save for Poeltl – should have the green light to shoot open looks in the corner, and that needs to be emphasized.

9. Thad Young left the second quarter with injury. He looked to have hyperextended his knee, and left the game after giving up two baskets to the Magic while he was clearly struggling.

Young had been a consistent part of the rotation of late, serving as a backup centre with playmaking chops, which he showed to great effect on a surprising behind-the-back crossover for a layup shortly before his injury.

Nurse patched up Young’s minutes in the second half by having Achiuwa and Poeltl cover the minutes at centre, while giving Dowtin a look at backup point guard ahead of Banton.

10. The Magic and Raptors make for a unique stylistic matchup. Both teams subscribe to the “Vision 6-9” strategy of team building, with the Magic actually having more size across the board, but the plan is similar.

Both teams play through their playmaking wings, both squads have scrappy guards who create problems getting downhill, and there’s always at least two bigs on the floor to protect the paint and to hit the glass. The Raptors happened to outplay their counterparts this time, but it will be a tight battle going forward.


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