By Frank McLean
After watching the way the Toronto Raptors handled the Orlando Magic Tuesday night in game two of their first round Eastern Conference playoff you would never have thought that the Magic were one of the best teams the last two months of the NBA regular season.
The Magic, 20-31 on January-31st, went on a 22-9 tear to finish the regular season and grab the seventh spot overall in the conference standings.
They also won their last four games and 11 last 13 overall and made the Amway Arena a tough place for visitors, winning their last nine home games.
But after stealing game one on Saturday in Toronto with a three point win, the Raptors led wire to wire to walk away with a 111-82 win in game two. It was a beat down where the Raptors made the Magic look like the New York Knicks. Leading by as much as 34-points, it was a pure blowout.
Magic head coach Steve Clifford was at a bit of a loss about the way their offense struggled. He credited it to bad decision making and that his team wasn`t moving the ball, and that it was sticking due to the Raptors good defense, but what upset him the most was his ball club looked like it did back in October and November.
The Raptors defense has taken Magic center Nikola Vucevic right out of this series with their constant double teaming of him, but Clifford called him a smart guy and that he knows he will figure it out.
A big difference for the Raptors was All-Star Kyle Lowry finally scored a point. In fact Lowry had 22 points with four rebounds and seven assists compared to the zero points he put up in game one.
“I made some shots,” Lowry said after game two. “I was being more aggressive when I was going downhill. I watched film and it showed, I needed to be more aggressive.”
“That’s him at his finest,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said about Lowry.
“Tonight he was charging up the floor and pushing the ball past, shooting, driving, kicking, making steals, hands on everything, rebounding, he was doing it all. That’s a big performance for him, I’m really happy for him.”
Another big difference was Nurse taking the limits off superstar Kawhi Leonard.
People were questioning why he was given so few minutes in game one after taking 22 games off in the regular season mostly for “load management”.
Nurse said after the game that there are no more limits as to how many minutes Leonard gets in a game.
“I took him out after a 12-minute stretch at the end of the third, and I told him he had a two minute rest and he is going back in, and he said he was ready now. So I think he is ready to play as many minutes as he can handle, and he can handle as many minutes as the game calls for.”
Nurse had to make one of those decisions on Leonard early in game two which is why coaches are paid the big bucks in the NBA. Just 2:30 into the first quarter Leonard picked up his second of two of the quickest personal fouls I have seen him get all season.
If this was a typical regular season game he would be sitting till at least midway through the second quarter, but Nurse kept him in there.
“I guess I had a decision to make there,” Nurse said. “I think at that point we were off to a good start and we were imposing our will in he game, and I figured I would roll the dice so our will could continue to be imposed.”
Nurse was rewarded with a dominating 37 point effort from Leonard.
So after two games of this best-of-seven series we have seen the good and bad of the Magic and the good and bad of the Raptors.
Game three Friday night in Orlando should be quite the show.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96.
photo credit Larry Millson