10 things: Raptors lose Powell, but retain championship toughness in gritty win over Utah

William LouNBA reporter
Yahoo Sports Canada

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 101-92 win over the Utah Jazz.

One — Grit: This would be one of the Raptors’ most impressive wins of the season if they haven’t already had a dozen results like it. With Fred VanVleet and Marc Gasol sidelined due to injury management, and with Norman Powell going down less than two minutes in, the Raptors found themselves with their backs against the wall in the second night of a back-to-back against the fourth seed in the West. Yet, as they have done all season, the Raptors found a way to beat the odds. This team isn’t just good, they’re inspirational. They play with the intensity and toughness of a champion, and that’s their advantage on most nights.

Two — Unfortunate: Powell has been snakebitten in his breakout season. Fresh off being named the Eastern conference player of the week by averaging 28 points per game, Powell collided with OG Anunoby guarding a Mike Conley drive to the basket, and had to be helped to the locker room. He was diagnosed with an ankle sprain and ruled out for the game. This is the third time this season that Powell has gone down, and each time it was on innocuous plays. Credit to him as Powell has bounced back strong after each knock. Hopefully, this one isn’t too serious.

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Three — Superstar: This game was a peak into the not-so-distant future for Pascal Siakam. The expectation all year has been for Siakam to develop into a superstar point forward, and tonight he delivered. Forget the 27 points against one of the toughest defenses in the league, the focus should be on his playmaking. Siakam recorded a career-high eight assists, without the red-hot Powell as a target. Siakam’s best dime on the night was where he got low on a crossover, slashed into the lane, drew the second defender while instantly zipping a kickout pass to Serge Ibaka for an open three. It’s been an ongoing process as Siakam learns how to adapt and attack double teams, and tonight was a breakthrough. He was unstoppable.

Four — Butter: The icing on the cake was the three turnaround jumpers from Siakam. Because the Jazz were sending help at the rim in the form of supposed Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, Siakam had to find an alternative way to get his shot off over the second defender. His answer was the turnaround jumper, which he hit 3-of-3 over the course of the night. That’s yet another promising sign for Siakam’s development. If he ever masters that shot at 6-foot-9, there isn’t a defender in the league who can reach it. It’s the perfect counterbalance when defenders crowd his spinning drives.

Five — Fiesty: Anunoby made the play of the night by rotating over from the corner to swat Gobert’s dunk that would have created a one-possession game in the final two minutes. Prior to that play, Anunoby also collected two vital offensive rebounds over Gobert that extended possession for the Raptors. Unable to produce more than six points and four rebounds, Gobert’s response was to grab Anunoby as he ran up the floor. Anunoby met the challenge with a sly elbow, and Gobert followed with a weak shove to the back. Neither player backed down and both were ejected. Anunoby got the last laugh with the win.

Six — Mismatch: That wasn’t the first dirty stunt by Gobert, as he also delivered a cheap elbow into Serge Ibaka’s ribs after he was beaten on a pump fake. That’s how it went all night, as Ibaka dominated the center matchup against a supposed All-Star. Not only was Ibaka a more effective rim protector, but he had Gobert on his heels all night trying to keep up with Ibaka’s outside-inside game. With Gobert spending so much of his effort trying to double Siakam, Ibaka was left open time and time again for his five threes. When Gobert did give his clunky closeouts, Ibaka drove past and made a play on the move.

Seven — Steady: Kyle Lowry hit the biggest shot of the night with a pull-up three from 30 feet over Mike Conley that gave the Raptors a five-point bump. Lowry was forced to play heavy minutes, logging 43 in the win, but this was another example of a leader doing whatever it took to get the win. Lowry always had an answer each time the Jazz made a push, and he was masterful in getting the Raptors into their offense.

Eight — Enough: McCaw made a terrible pass at the end of the game that let the Jazz back into it, but that shouldn’t spoil the effort that he put into this win. McCaw logged 43 minutes with Powell out, and his defensive intensity never wavered. His swarming ball pressure was the main reason why Conley and Jordan Clarkson combined for 22 points on 7-of-21 shooting from the field, and McCaw was careful on the defensive glass to deny the Jazz any second chances.

Nine — Solid: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Matt Thomas did just enough to keep the Raptors competitive despite having limited options on the bench. Hollis-Jefferson’s defensive activity was excellent and Thomas was opportunistic with his offense. The same cannot be said for Chris Boucher and Terence Davis, who were both benched despite the Raptors being shorthanded. Boucher was invisible with his effort, whereas Davis was utterly lost yet again. For Davis, this is the third time in his last four games where he saw less than seven minutes in the first half before being cut from the rotation.

Ten — Recovery: Now that their second road trip to the West is completed, the Raptors will have four much-needed days to rest before Saturday’s meeting against the lowly Detroit Pistons. This should give ample time for Gasol and VanVleet to find their rhythm in practice, and for Powell to hopefully recoup. The Raptors have recovered brilliantly after losing three straight, but the remainder of their March schedule is grueling. They will need all hands on deck to retain the second seed.

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