The Toronto Raptors’ organization bet on themselves this offseason in trading away the city’s (and Kyle Lowry’s) beloved DeMar DeRozan to replace him with Kawhi Leonard, a superstar whose future currently exists on uncertain terms. It was a bold move to say the least, but one that is clearly paying dividends early on this season as the Raptors have now tied their best start to a season in franchise history (5-0) with tonight’s 112-105 win over the Wolves.
In watching tonight’s game, it’s clear why Toronto made the offseason moves that they did. Kawhi is potentially a once-in-a-generation talent, and not only do they think he can lift them to be a championship-caliber team, they are also convinced they can convince him to stay with the breadth of young and promising talent they have to surround him with. This was never about placing him next to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka; the Raptors have a legitimate bench with some serious depth that will outlast most any team this season.
And that it did tonight against the Wolves. Despite Minnesota’s incredibly slow start (they shot 32 percent from the field in the first half compared to Toronto’s 55 percent), they managed to stick around just long enough to make the Raptors sweat, but they ultimately couldn’t make a run that mattered. Every time Minnesota caught a spark and went on a run, the Raptors gave the ball back to Leonard where nobody was able to stop him in his isolation game.
The Wolves simply could not get anything to fall within the arc tonight, but oddly enough they finished 15/30 from behind it. Karl-Anthony Towns had a terrible game, and you could see it on his face all night. After getting bullied around in the paint by Ibaka early on, he seemed disengaged for much of the game. He finished 5/17 from the field, which is actually better than it seemed.
He didn’t have much help, though. Josh Okogie has not been shy about pulling the trigger, but he finished 4/14 from the field (although he did hit back-to-back threes midway through the third quarter along with a monstrous putback dunk that helped boost the Wolves within striking distance). And even though Jimmy Butler ended up with a fine stat line (23/4/5 with 6 steals), he also shot 5-10 from the free-throw line.
THAT MAY HAVE BEEN ILLEGAL IN CANADA, ROOK. pic.twitter.com/oCVZzLwksk— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 25, 2018
At the end of the day, this game could have gone in Minnesota’s favor if they got a few more shots to fall, but they had plenty of opportunities, and the Raptors took advantage of theirs. The Wolves managed 16 offensive rebounds as a team, but they failed to capitalize on many of those second chances. As Jim Petersen said during the broadcast, “Offensive rebounds are only valuable if you score.”
One bright spot from the Wolves, both tonight and in recent games, has been Derrick Rose. I’m as quick to criticize Rose as just about anyone, but he was a large part of what kept Minnesota involved throughout this game. He looks healthy and confident, cutting with purpose and making effort plays that few other people on the Wolves’ roster seem to be making (especially tonight). He finished with 16/3/5 in just under 30 minutes, and while his play has provided a spark from which this team has clearly benefited, it remains to be seen how he fits on this roster long term.
Coming off such a promising win against Indiana on Monday, tonight’s outcome wasn’t ideal, but we have absolutely seen far worse. The chemistry and defensive cohesion on Monday was a surprise few saw coming, but so was the February-esque energy level we saw tonight. That sort of ebb-and-flow propensity has plagued this team in the past – let’s see what they bring at home on Friday against the surging Milwaukee Bucks.