Riding Kawhi Leonard and stifling defense, the Raptors shook off the weight of a Game 1 loss and evened their series with the Magic.
Dropping Game 1, at home, was an unfortunately unfamiliar experience for the Raptors, bringing a host of old psychological baggage back to the fore. Hot shooting from D.J. Augustin and the Magic’s supporting cast, along with a scoreless night from Kyle Lowry, were enough to cost them the game.
Toronto clearly came out tonight determined the bury those narratives of time as a flat circle. From the opening tip, they suffocated the Magic, not allowing Orlando to get on the board for nearly five minutes of game time. A flurry of scoring from Aaron Gordon kept the Magic from fading out in the first quarter but they still managed just 18 points in the first quarter and 39 in the first half. The Raptors took a 12-point lead into halftime and tacked another 12 onto the margin in the third quarter, turning the fourth into garbage time.
Between that swarming defense, Leonard’s 37 points and Lowry scoring assertively, this game literally couldn’t have gone any better for the Raptors.
The Raptors defense was exquisite. After spending three days hearing how good Orlando’s defense was, Leonard and company put on a clinic. Pascal Siakam switched onto D.J. Augustin repeatedly in the first quarter, swallowing up the diminutive shooter who did so much damage in Game 1. Nikola Vucevic was repeatedly neutralized by precise double-teams and Marc Gasol, Leonard and Lowry combined for 8 steals. Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross were able to break through a bit with athleticism and shot-making but the rest of the Magic roster combined to shoot 17-of-59 (28.9 percent). This was the Raptors at their best and the reason they can absolutely make a run at a title.
The Magic need to come up with another plan for Vucevic. Through the first two games of this series, Vucevic has totaled 17 points on 7-of-21 shooting with 5 turnovers. This is the Magic’s leading scorer and All-Star center, a highly skilled big whose inside-out game buoyed the team’s offense for much of the season. Marc Gasol has played him extremely well but the Raptors have also been excellent at throwing double-teams at him as soon as he puts the ball on the floor and making sure there are always multiple defenders in his favorite areas. Orlando hasn’t had any strategic counters but they need to get him going and the solution is going to be more complicated than Vucevic just “playing better.”
Kawhi Leonard changes everything for the Raptors. While the defense was shutting Orlando down in the first quarter, Kawhi was asserting himself offensively and making sure the tone was set at both ends. He finished with 37 points on 15-of-22 from the field and dominated both the first and third quarters. 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.