1. That is the Raptors at their best. The Raptors just overran the Celtics with their size and athleticism on Friday. It was glorious to behold even when the Raptors struggled at first to finish because the Raptors could just get another possession at will. Within the first 13 minutes of the game, the Raptors had already collected 13 offensive rebounds and taken 16 more shot attempts than the Celtics. And even though Boston was up two, the floodgates were already cracking as the Raptors brought wave after wave of identically-sized wings until TD Garden was flooded with boos from their own fans for the Celtics’ home debut. It was that level of beatdown by the Raptors, who took whatever they wanted, while giving up nothing in return, and this is the proof of concept on what Toronto is trying to build. Remember, Toronto won by 32 points shooting 10-for-35 from three, which shouldn’t even be mathematically possible in the modern game unless you are truly exceptional on defence, and that is what the Raptors were. Boston had 19 assists on 25 turnovers.
2. Scottie Barnes just scored 25 points without having a single play called for him. That’s the level of instinct and feel that he has just two games into his rookie season. Barnes did a bit of everything, starting with a pull-up three, throwing down a put-back dunk, nailing a few mid-range jumpers, taking it coast-to-coast, and it all came within the flow of the game. Barnes’ physique and skillset is already rare enough, but you can’t teach his feel for the game, and it’s hard to guard him even though he’s not even the focal point of the attack. One example from the first quarter: Fred VanVleet drives baseline into what looks to be a clear mismatch with both Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams laying in wait to swat his shot, except VanVleet is using it as a diversion because Barnes cuts through two defenders up top into the open gap before flipping the shovel pass into a layup. Sure, Barnes isn’t at the level where he’s tripping people up with his handle, or stepping back from 30, but the next hardest thing to guard is smarts.
3. Barnes is also a bully. It shows up everywhere but especially in the ease in which he operates. The last of Barnes’ 11 baskets was a hard drive into the lane where he didn’t even really make a move in the same way that a monster truck doesn’t yield in an impound lot. Barnes just parked Juancho Hernangomez under the baseline, before getting his own rebound for his third put-back dunk of the game. Barnes jumps with seven-foot centres like Williams and wins 50-50 rebounds, then jets up the floor like a guard while evading Jaylen Brown, before firing a left-handed fastball from halfcourt to feed OG Anunoby for a layup. He even overpowers when he goes to the finesse game, such as when he barely had to jump for his elbow jumper over Tatum, who happens to be six-foot-eight with a seven-foot wingspan, except Barnes’ length allowed him to simply stretch atop for a clean release. He’s even a menace in his Jekyll and Hyde personality, where his expression flashes between grinning manchild to snarling hulk. It’s impossible not to be transfixed by him.
4. Shooting poorly allows chances for offensive rebounds, and offensive rebounds allow you to shoot poorly. The Raptors dominated the offensive glass just like in their season-opening loss to the Washington Wizards, which gave them extra possessions to compensate for their inaccurate shooting. In Game 1, the Raptors had 17 more shot attempts as compared to 18 in this win, which will be a vital part of the Raptors’ offence. By having so many athletic six-foot-nine forwards on at once, the Raptors will be guaranteed two things — first to have enough size back in transition to stop the break thereby affording the security to attack the glass, and second to have size advantages against guards who will be overwhelmed. It’s a smart way to cover for the fact that the Raptors don’t have great one-on-one players.
5. Nick Nurse pulled a fast one with Gary Trent Jr. in the starting lineup. Before the match, Nurse was asked outright about what his starting five would be — to which he answered the same as against Washington where Goran Dragic started, and even went into great detail as to how he wanted Dragic to handle the ball more alongside VanVleet. And yet when the two teams tipped it off, it was Trent Jr. at shooting guard while Dragic hardly factored in off the bench. And it was a brilliant move too, because the fit with Trent Jr. was obvious from the jump. Trent Jr. gave the Raptors five athletes who pressured the Celtics on both ends, both with his defensive intensity and with his speed in the open floor. Trent Jr. even mixed in two drives which characterized his aggressiveness on the night. With the starters, Trent Jr. is completely different to how he performs with the reserves. He can have the luxury of passing it off to other scorers rather than always forcing his, while also getting fed on kickouts, in transition, or where he curls off screens away from the ball. It’s clearly a lineup that Nurse should stick with moving forward.
6. Trent Jr.’s case is almost identical to Norman Powell save for one aspect. Powell was the same way as he shined as a finisher capitalizing off the attention to the Raptors’ main players while being frustratingly ineffective when asked to create for himself off the bench. But the one thing Powell didn’t quite have is Trent Jr.’s potential on defence. When he is locked in, Trent Jr. shrinks the space and presses right into the ball, swiping and clawing even when he is behind the play, and it creates the type of chaos that fuels the Raptors’ transition game. Through the first two games, Trent Jr. has already collected seven steals, and playing with the starters only encourages his approach since he has more help behind him if he over-reaches. Powell could also be good in his own right (who can forget the steal and dunk against Indiana when Powell was a rookie) but there just wasn’t the same doggedness that Trent Jr. has shown in the last two games. The challenge now is for Trent Jr. to maintain this approach every single game.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 22, 2021
7. VanVleet is sub six-foot but his hands are at six-foot-nine like everyone else on the roster. It’s incredible to watch him routinely strip players who have a foot and 50 pounds on him. For one of his three steals, VanVleet was the only one back against three streaking Celtics on the fast break, but when Brown tried to flip it ahead, VanVleet read it perfectly and jumped to close out, which created a steal going the other way. On another supp,osed mismatch, VanVleet found himself sealed behind a mismatch with Horford, yet when the former All-Star turned to launch his hook shot, VanVleet slapped down at the ball to create another turnover. VanVleet even caught Tatum on an assignment that wasn’t even his, where he put two hands on the ball as Tatum looked to drive into the lane, and tied him up for the jump ball which was collected by the Raptors. He might be the best defender in the league if you’re talking pound-for-pound. It’s the one trait of VanVleet’s that is most like his mentor Kyle Lowry. To function as a small defender, you have to be tough. But to be actually good at their size, you have to be a genius like VanVleet.
8. The Montreal connection off the bench deserves a nickname. Chris Boucher and Khem Birch have paired beautifully in the second unit, and it was their synchronicity in the second half that stretched Toronto’s lead to double digits. Having both players on at once ensures that the Raptors have enough rim protection, with both bigs being comfortable on the perimeter knowing that the other has their back. This might be one factor working against Birch’s case for the starting lineup since it’s easier to overlap his time with Boucher when they’re both among the reserves. In the few minutes where Barnes also joined them on the floor, it was almost comical to watch how helpless the Celtics were as they shut down every drive while gobbling up every rebound. For a team that was so porous at the rim last season, it’s refreshing to see the Raptors playing big.
9. The only downer from this win was Anunoby in his newfound role. It’s been uncomfortable to watch Anunoby struggle so much playing outside of himself in an apparent attempt to meet his new expectations as a go-to scorer. You don’t even need to look at the 3-for-17 shooting line from Washington, or his 4-for-18 line tonight, so much as it’s palpable how flummoxed he is. Anunoby is losing his dribble, getting his feet tied, being swatted at the rim, and not coming anywhere close on his threes, and it really boils down to one thing: He needs to calm down. Being the No. 1 option doesn’t mean he needs to force his shot, it just means he needs to make the right play. Anunoby is so focused on scoring that he’s not seeing the floor, and it’s only adding to his own pressure. One easy fix for the next game: Seal your defender in the post and demand the ball. Work from there instead of trying to attack off a screen because it limits how much dribbling in traffic is needed to get to the rim, and Anunoby can see the double teams coming instead of being caught at the rim.
10. Dragic and Svi Myhailiuk stand out as the two weak spots defensively. The Wizards drove straight through Myhailiuk and the Celtics also targeted him, while Dragic is simply too old to fly around like the rest of his teammates even though he is mostly in the right spots. In Myhailiuk’s case, his minutes can be assumed eventually by a healthy Yuta Watanabe, who can also space the floor and create occasionally with his handle. As for Dragic, his offensive skillset is unique enough to the point where it balances out the defence, although it would really help if he had a big man to play two-man game with. For the second game in a row, Dragic pitched it to Boucher thinking that it would be a give-and-go, only to learn that give-and-go’s with Boucher means to go crash the offensive glass because he’s always shooting it.