There's been a common observation regarding the typical Raptors effort: they tend to play up or down to their competition. So far this season they've tumbled into tough situations with low end teams (the Kings and recent Nuggets game spring to mind), while also putting a scare into the invincible Warriors (twice). As we settled in to watch the Raptors take on the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise known for its relentless, consistent ability to be good, it was fair to believe they'd at least make a game of it.
And, boy howdy, did they ever. The Raptors played about as sharp a 48 minutes as they have all season. The Spurs never led, shot 44 percent for the game (and 27 percent from three) and despite a late push in the fourth, could never quite find a way to solve the Raptors. "Our guys executed on both ends of the floor, defensively and offensively," said coach Dwane Casey after the game. "We did a good job on offence and defence and making sure we took care of what we needed to do."
Doing what they needed to do for the Raptors usually involves notable games from the 1a and 1b of the team: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. On this night, Lowry played an efficient and tough 37 minutes, dropping 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting with eight assists and five rebounds. His running mate, DeRozan, did him a few better: 28 points on an uncharacteristic 10-for-15 shooting (plus 8-for-8 from the line) with six assists and four rebounds. Sure, DeMar added six turnovers to his line, but this was against the league's best defence--nobody's perfect. "We played consistent throughout the game. From the start to the finish, we knew they were going to make a push, we stayed disciplined," said DeRozan after the game. "They hit a couple big shots, but we didn't let that rattle us. I'm happy we played a 48 minute game."
To round out the game the Raptors got stirring contributions from Bismack Biyombo--10 points, seven rebounds and a few catches/finishes in traffic--and Patrick Patterson, who mixed up his offence on the evening (a couple of threes and one runner for ten points), while working on defence against some bigger and craftier opposition. And while former Spur Cory Joseph's line doesn't reflect it (six points, four assists), it was clear he was up for the game against his old employers. "This is the first time I've ever changed teams, but I was kind of expecting I wouldn't change teams, so little bit of emotion."
Whenever the Raptors beat the Spurs (it doesn't happen often), we usually end up looking for some explanation as to how. Last year it was the James Johnson Game, his late three pointer and uber-efficient shooting the story of the day. This time out, we can perhaps point to Kawhi Leonard's recent illness and invisible play for three quarters--he scored all nine of his points in the fourth. Likewise, whenever the Spurs do things outside the ordinary, like allow Toronto to shoot 58 percent for the game or commit 17 turnovers in a game, it's seen as a tremendous outlier. After all, this is the most consistent franchise in the NBA going on 20 years plus.
Then, what does this win then say about Toronto? "It should do a lot in showing us we can compete with the best teams in the league, especially being down a couple names [Carroll and Valanciunas]," said DeRozan afterwards. "We've got to use that to our advantage and help that build our confidence."
And so the Raptors move on to 14-9, a win against a top team something else to hang onto in a long season. While Toronto can still only aspire to the exact ball movement and execution of San Antonio, there was something in the team's effort and discipline that was, well, Spurs-ian. Some would say that's the highest compliment.
What did you guys think of the game?