Bench, Small Ball Lead Toronto Raptors to Three Game Win Streak

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The 7-19 Toronto Raptors are having their best stretch of the season with a three game winning streak being led by small ball and bench play.

Toronto has knocked off the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers with strong support from the bench.

Against Dallas the team had 53 bench points, versus Houston they had 49 and in the team’s most recent win against Cleveland they finished with 59 off the bench. Entering the year, the Raptors were labeled as a team with a second unit that would be capable of stealing games for the club. With injuries that hit the team almost the moment the season tipped-off, Toronto’s depth took a hit and players began to do too much trying to make up for lost teammates.

It’s no coincidence that with the return of Alan Anderson and Linas Kleiza to the line-up against the Mavericks, the team has gone on a winning streak. Both players are capable of providing a scoring spark off the bench along with making the opposition work through their hard nosed defense.

Kleiza found instant success returning to the line-up with 20 points against Dallas, while Anderson has impressed with 24 point and 18 point performances in the team’s past two games. Both players might take questionable shots at times and they aren’t shutdown defensive stoppers by any means. However, there is no denying that with their hustle and hard-working attitude Toronto is a much better team with the two in the line-up.

Another factor for the team’s recent success has been the mistake of opposing coaches to match small ball line-ups against the Raptors.

Toronto hasn’t faced a team with a dominating post presence in the past three games and it’s a major reason why the team has had success. For a franchise with a history of poor interior defense they’ve been thankful to only have to face the likes of Chris Kaman, Omer Asik and Anderson Varejao, three quality big men but not players known for their dominating offensive contributions.

This has allowed the Raptors to use smaller line-ups, playing 6-foot-8 Kleiza at power forward for long stretches. The small ball match-ups favor Toronto against opposing teams given their depth at the wing positions with Anderson, DeMar DeRozan, Mikael Pietrus and rookie Terrence Ross.

It hasn’t all been good for the Raptors with the Rocket’s Marcus Morris still posting 19 points against the team, along with Varejao recording a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds. One bright spot for the team is that Morris’ production was from a mix of being in the post and hanging out on the perimeter, while 12 of Varejao’s points came by free throw shooting.

Still, a player doesn’t get fouled and have an opportunity to shoot 16 free throws in a game if he isn’t getting great inside position. This is something the team is going to have to be concerned with heading into their next match-up with Greg Monroe’s Detroit Pistons. It’s unlikely the small ball match-ups will continue given the size the Pistons possess and if that is the case the Raptors win streak could be in significant jeopardy.

Toronto had no answers for Monroe on the inside, losing in their Nov. 23 contest where the big man posted 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. The team also had no answers for rookie Andre Drummond who recorded his first ever career double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

If the Raptors have any hopes of continuing their win streak they’ll need their bench to maintain it’s productive play while trying to contain the Pistons bigs on the inside.

It also wouldn’t hurt if that Jose Calderon guy continued his impressive play, averaging 18.3 points, 7.6 assists and 6.3 rebounds over the three game win streak.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the Toronto Raptors for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts

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