LeBron James was in the building and Kawhi Leonard was matched up against him. And yet the major emphasis for the Raptors against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night was getting a 34-year-old Toronto centre known for more for his smarts than his athleticism as heavily involved as they could.
And mission accomplished where Marc Gasol was concerned in Toronto’s 111-98 victory over the James and the Lakers at the Scotiabank Arena.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse had said for two days that he was going to use three Gasol starts — all courtesy of a suspension to Serge Ibaka — to give the seven-footer more chances to contribute.
“We’re going to look to go through him a little bit, throw him the ball,” Nurse said before the game. “I want him to bomb some more threes, maybe five or six a night, try to get that little part of his game back on track. Cut him loose a little bit.”
Gasol didn’t exactly go crazy on offence but he did play 26 minutes and take four three-pointers (making two) among his 10 field-goal attempts. He finished with 15 points while gathering seven rebounds and dishing out four assists.
“I thought there was a lot more opportunities for him than the 10 shots and the four threes,” Nurse said afterward. “Not that he turned them down, you can see those guys kind of winding up into their moves and if they ever need him back there, if they ever need him at the last second he’s going to back there on some kick-backs and be able to step into (three-point shots).
“(But) he was good, moving the ball, rebounded well, I thought. The group played good when he was in there.”
Playing without Kyle Lowry due to an ankle injury, the Raptors got 25 points from Leonard and unleashed an unorthodox backup group that turned the game early in the fourth quarter. A point guard-free lineup of Pascal Siakam, Patrick McCaw, Norm Powell, Malcolm Miller, OG Anunoby extended a six-point lead after three quarters to a 13-point gap in the first six minutes of the fourth before the lineup was more starter-centred.
Powell finished with 20 points for the Raptors. James had 29 for the Lakers.
Leonard tied his season high with five three-pointers in the game and he also had eight rebounds; Pascal Siakam had 16 points.
Getting close: Fred VanVleet, who has missed 12 games after suffering a thumb injury Feb. 9 in New York, went through a rigorous pre-game shooting workout with just a lightweight wrap on his hand. Nick Nurse said Wednesday that it’s possible VanVleet could return for one of Toronto’s next two games, Sunday in Detroit or Monday at home against New York.Up next: St. Patrick’s Day in Detroit. The Raptors visit the Pistons (Sunday, 4 p.m.) in front of what’s sure to be a crowd packed with Toronto fans.
Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps