Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 113-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
One — Mentality: The shorthanded Raptors beat all the odds to stun the Lakers on their home floor. It was clear from the jump that Toronto would compete, but it wasn’t clear if the result would match their resolve. Without Lowry and Ibaka to stabilize the team, Nick Nurse had to make things up on the fly. And while that led to some unnerving moments, the Raptors did have the element of surprise, and that, coupled with some resilient defense in the second half was enough to get them over the top.
Two — Perseverance: Nothing was easy for Pascal Siakam as he ran into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Anthony Davis, but he never gave up. Siakam’s outside shot wasn’t falling (his footwork was uncharacteristically shaky), he couldn’t shoot over the top of Davis, and every defensive possession was a nightmare as he would either have to check Davis in the post or meet LeBron James at the rim. But Siakam stuck with it. He wasn’t efficient (just 9-of-25 from the field, 1-of-8 from deep) but he feasted on mismatches, played his best defense of the season, and was the only player with anything left in the tank in the final moments as he sealed the game with two trademark transition leakouts. Siakam showed no fear in the face of adversity, and he willed the Raptors to this result.
Three — Impressive: Lowry’s injury doubles as an extended showcase for Fred VanVleet, and he looked every bit like a starting calibre point guard against the Lakers. VanVleet was precise in getting the Raptors into their sets, he was aggressive with his offense both off drives and on the pull-up three, and his heady defense created easy points for the Raptors in transition. VanVleet has been inconsistent this season, but it’s clear that he is deserving and capable of an expanded role.
Four — Heroic: The biggest concern with Lowry and Ibaka’s injuries was that it would expose Toronto’s lack of depth, but those worries were overblown. If anything, it was the bench that stepped up and bailed out the starters on a night where Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Marc Gasol were struggling with their shots. Matt Thomas delivered a five-point possession in the first quarter, while Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dominated the fourth quarter. It’s clear that Nurse’s stinginess with minutes has created a burning hunger within the reserves, and they played with a passion that overwhelmed the Lakers.
Five — Hustle: Boucher was nothing short of sensational. In the fourth quarter, he stopped LeBron running full speed in transition, then blocked him at the rim, while also pressuring Anthony Davis into dribbling the ball out of bounds. Boucher was also a threat on offense, as he converted a pair of difficult layups in traffic, converted a put-back, and drilled a triple. It was an eye-opening performance from the reigning G League MVP, as this was the most meaningful contribution of his NBA career. Similar to VanVleet, there’s an opportunity for Boucher to showcase his skills with Ibaka out of the lineup. And while the results won’t always be this positive, his hustle and athleticism covers for most of his mistakes.
Six — Brave: It’s almost as if undrafted guard Terence Davis is too naive to be afraid. Most rookies would shrink under the bright lights of Staples Center, but Davis was one of the Raptors’ best players in the fourth quarter. Davis’ ability to penetrate in the pick-and-roll repeatedly broke down the Lakers at the point of attack, as he connected with Hollis-Jefferson on a pair of layups. Davis also went end-to-end for a transition layup, while also knocking down a corner three to force a timeout.
Seven — Intriguing: Hollis-Jefferson made a compelling case for why he should be in the rotation, as he supplied 10 crucial points off the bench in just 15 minutes. Hollis-Jefferson bodied up on James and pestered him up-and-down the floor, while also chipping in just enough on offense to not be a liability. Hollis-Jefferson is unorthodox, but he’s a heady player who knows how to position himself off the ball to create scoring chances. His two finishes in traffic in the fourth quarter were impressive, as both times he outmuscled the bigger Dwight Howard to escape from being pinned underneath the rim.
Eight — Creative: Nurse coached in the G League (back then known as the NBA D-League), where his rotation was scrambled from night to night, so it’s no surprise that he made it work in difficult circumstances. Nurse pulled trick after trick to throw the Lakers off their game, and it created just enough of an advantage for the Raptors to prevail. Nurse went to a 3-2 zone that kept James and Davis out of the paint, he dug deep into his bench and trusted them down the stretch, he smartly massaged the minutes so that one of Siakam or VanVleet were always on the floor to run the offense, and he tried everything from Siakam playing center, to having three bigs together at once.
Nine — Jubilant: Nurse also won his first coach’s challenge after losing his first six, and his team had some fun with it. Nurse shared hugs with Lowry, his assistants, and a Lakers fan sitting courtside, and he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face even when he plopped into his signature deep squat.
Ten — Reunion: Toronto faces another stiff challenge on short rest against Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, but after this result, it would be unwise to count out the Raptors. VanVleet was asked about seeing Green and Leonard on consecutive nights after the win, to which he said, “we got one of 'em, now we gotta try to get the other one tomorrow." It echoed the iconic proclamation by Leonard, who famously vowed, “F*** that let’s get both” after the Raptors threw away their home court advantage with a split in the opening two games of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Leonard might be gone, but that mentality lives on in the defending champions.
More Raptors coverage from Yahoo Sports