After a slow start, the Raptors regained their focus defensively and closed the game in dominating fashion, blowing out Orlando and moving one step closer to advancing in their pursuit of a title.
Things looked promising for the Magic early on in Sunday’s Game 4 in Orlando. Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon were hitting shots, Jonathan Issac was playing well defensively, and they jumped to an early 9-1 lead . But it didn’t last long, as Issac got into early foul trouble and with Terrence Ross inserted in his place, Orlando’s defensive rotations were soon exposed. Toronto went into halftime with a 16-point lead.
The Magic tried to keep things close in the second half, with Gordon (25 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) and Evan Fournier (19 points leading the way), eventually cutting the deficit to 11 with 9:47 left in the fourth quarter and the score at 86-75. But the Raptors defense reached another level soon afterward, holding the Magic scoreless for nearly four minutes, by when Toronto’s lead had ballooned to 21 points. Kawhi Leonard, after being limited in Game 3 to just 16 points, led all scorers with 34 points (12-of-20 from the field, 8-of-9 from the line). The Magic stole a Game 1 win in Toronto but have since lost three straight, and with the Raptors heading back home for Game 5, Orlando is teetering on the brink of elimination.
Toronto’s offensive depth is frightening. Pascal Siakam was the hero of Game 3 (30 points) in a closely-contested game. In Game 4, it was Leonard’s turn. But the Raptors continue to get contributions from other role players and on Sunday, Norman Powell (16 points), Serge Ibaka (13 points, 8 rebounds) and Fred VanVleet (9 points, 4 assists) made a significant impact while Orlando’s reserves were in the game. And while Toronto’s outside shooting was solid (11-of-28 on 3s), the Raptors were also aggressive in getting to the rim, especially with Isaac’s length and rim protection out of the game. The Raptors scored 50 points in the paint and took 18 free throws (converting 16 of them). They also assisted on 23 of their 40 made field goals. The team’s defense often overshadows their offense, but Toronto’s versatility and skill has been on full display this postseason.
Vucevic continues to struggle. The Raptors’ acquisition of Marc Gasol made headlines back in February, signaling a commitment to a deep playoff run. And while Gasol’s scoring is inconsistent, it’s largely unnecessary, especially when he can hold opposing centers in check as well has he has Vucevic. Orlando’s All-Star big has been mostly a non-factor in the series, with the exception of a 22-point showing in Game 3. Magic head coach Steve Clifford has done his best to deflect any criticism of “Vooch,” telling reporters before Game 3 that the center position is often dependent on other playmakers to generate offense. While that’s mostly true, Vucevic was an excellent passer during the regular season and, while far from lightning quick, had enough in his offensive repertoire to keep opponents guessing. But Gasol has been able to cut off Vucevic at almost every turn, and the Raptors have sent a double-team at Vucevic with great success,
Toronto’s perimeter defense is wreaking havoc. The Magic shot 35.6 percent from 3-point range during the regular season. While not exactly incendiary, it was good enough to tie for 10th-best in the league, along with the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz. But after allowing Orlando to shoot a blistering 48.3 percent from the perimeter in Game 1, Toronto has clamped the Magic to just 26 percent from 3 (29-of-111 attempts). Leonard and Siakam get a lot of the credit here, but you can include Danny Green and Kyle Lowry into the conversation, as well as Gasol, whose ability to contain Vucevic has made everyone else’s job much easier.