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Three questions for the Toronto Raptors: Game 4

We check in with Raptors HQ to discuss Pascal Siakam, the refs, and the advantages of the Raptors’ starting five

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Before each game of the Magic/Raptors series, we are going to get the perspective of someone from the North.

Dylan Litman of Raptors HQ, who joined us prior to Game 1 and Game 2 and Game 3, was once again nice enough to answer some questions as we head into Game 4.

Pascal Siakam during the regular season struggled against the Magic more than any other team. Siakam has had his way against Isaac and the Magic in this series, particularly in Game 3. What is he doing differently this series compared to when he struggled against Orlando in the regular season?

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

In the regular season, Siakam would often try to force himself over Isaac in post-up scenarios. In that type of possession, Pascal granted Isaac enough time to position himself correctly, giving way for Isaac to utilize his impeccable defensive instincts and length in a one-on-one scenario.

Over the course of the series however, Siakam has done a great job at diverging from his typical offense. He has taken more midrange shots, effectively rendering Isaac’s length useless. As well, he loves to catch Isaac off-guard on the perimeter, driving past him for an easy lay in. If Isaac stops him in his tracks, he’ll generally dish the ball out to an outside shooter, resulting in an open shot or pass to a cutter.

But, Siakam doesn’t just avoid Isaac entirely. Over the past few games, he’s used his advanced footwork to cleverly slide past Isaac in the post. Siakam has utilized his length, quickness and craftiness wonderfully this series, finishing over top Isaac in a myriad of ways.

After Game 2 you asked me if, from an Orlando perspective, I felt the refs favored the Magic. After Game 3 I’d like to ask you if, from a Toronto perspective, you felt the refs favored the Raptors.

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I’m genuinely curious, and please feel free to sound off in the comments below. Did Magic fans actually think the reffing in this game benefited the Raptors?

Let’s look at the big picture. Orlando’s squad was called for fewer fouls than the Raptors, earning 17 to the Raptors’ 23. In the first half, there were so many fouls called on the Raptors that it became difficult to establish an offensive rhythm from the get go. Overall, the Magic attempted 23 free throws compared to just 10 for the Raptors. That’s right, Orlando doubled the Raptors’ free throw count in Game 3.

Kawhi’s shot was off tonight, yet he asserted himself on the inside, taking 9 of his 19 shots within five feet of the basket. In fact, he only attempted three shots from the three-point line. I’ve never seen this type of game from Kawhi; usually, he attempts more midrange jumpers than shots near the rim. Over the course of the season, he took 457 midrange jumpers (5-19 feet from the basket) compared to just 333 inside shots. Despite Leonard drawing inside contact at an unusually high rate last game, he only shot seven free throws, just below his season average.

The net rating of the Magic’s starting five in this series has been absolutely abysmal. What advantages do you think the Raptors’ starting five has over Orlando’s that is producing such lopsided results?

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Lowry’s tenacity is unmatched, as evidenced by his clutch offensive rebound in Game 3. As well, he’s a top-tier facilitator – the Raptors’ offensive flow tends to halt when he goes to the bench.

Or, at least, it used to – now, Marc Gasol has stepped in as a secondary facilitator to either pair with Lowry or supplement his time off the floor. Having a passing big man-point guard combo means the Raptors’ other starters are being utilized to their full potential. Danny Green can run off screens and get open from beyond the arc, while Siakam can cut to the rim and receive passes from either Lowry on the perimeter or Gasol at the elbow.

Kawhi Leonard can step outside the natural flow of the Raptors offense when needed, providing an efficient scoring option in isolation situations. Conversely, the Magic’s starting five does not have a decisive scorer with a tight handle who can power his way to the inside, sink midrange jumpers and shoot lights out from the three-point line. As someone who had to watch DeMar DeRozan chuck up shots from long range for years, I can tell you that having an all-around superstar on your team really helps (who’d a thunk it?).

Nikola Vucevic is a talented inside scorer, but struggles against Gasol’s quick hands and excellent floor position. Jonathan Isaac is going to be special, but has been caught off guard by sudden lateral movement far too often this series. Aaron Gordon is the closest Orlando has to an all-in-one guy, but his handle and jumper could still use some work.

Thanks again to Dylan for chatting with us. Be sure to visit Raptors HQ for some great content about the Magic’s opponent, including a story on Pascal Siakam carrying the weight for Toronto.