The Toronto Raptors have hit 20 wins faster than any other team in franchise history. For a franchise that's gone through years of turmoil, the headline is obvious: started from the bottom, now we're here.
But where is here? After the Game 7 defeat at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets in May, the team and the city have been smarting. Heading into tonight's game against the Nets, with the buzz of Drake Night II, the expectation was revenge. "I would say they remember," Coach Casey remarked pre-game. "Now whether it motivates them or not, you'd have to ask them." So, were the Raptors motivated? Just how fast would the team go 0 to 100?
"I think it's gonna be, dare I say... real quick," said Drake.
Despite the sentiment, the first quarter felt like the Air Canada Centre had gone through a reverse Interstellar wormhole. There was Deron Williams carving up the team on the perimeter, Mason Plumlee torpedoing through the lane, and Joe Johnson, as always, maddeningly backing down the entire world to get his team into a 30-22 lead. If that kind of play wasn't motivation enough, I don't know what would be.
The next three quarters were a nod to where the Raptors are now. Jonas Valanciunas grabbed a 16-10 double-double, Kyle Lowry grabed a 20-14 double-double, and Amir Johnson fell a rebound short of his own double-double (13-9). The strength though came with the endless permutations of the bench. The Raptors wheeled out lineups that found shots for Greivis Vasquez (he had an old school game of 13 points on a combination of post-ups, floaters and push shots), and the usual bombs away touches of Lou Williams (10 points). Patrick Patterson meanwhile continued his assault on expectations, shooting the three, playing in the post, and making moves when the Nets chased him off the line. These guys didn't quite start on the bottom, but they are definitely here.
The fourth quarter felt personal. The Raptors were exorcising some demons as they poured on the points. The lead grew. This Nets team is different: new coach, different personal, and a style of play slightly off from the wacky "big" small ball days of Jason Kidd. Their bench eased them out of the game and no amount of time machine power was going to allow Joe Johnson - with zero points in the fourth - to get them back in it.
"It's very unusual you can grow as a team and get some wins," said Casey afterwards. So that's the Raptors, still growing, still rising. But also, still winning.
Bonus note: This doesn't really have anything to do with the game, other than the fact that Bruno Caboclo managed to squeeze in 54 seconds of play time. He could have recorded an assists if Patterson, with a rare miss, hadn't janked a dunk. Ah well. Anyway, pre-game, everybody's favourite Raptor Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira interviewed Bruno (and himself) in a delightful flight of fancy. TSN's Josh Lewenberg loaned Bebe the equipment:
On Drake Night II, with everything else going on (I didn't even mention the purple jerseys!), this was a sight to behold.
What did you guys think of the game?