It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of analytics, it was the age of long contested jumpers, it was the epoch of swagger, it was the epoch of questionable heat checks, it was the season of ups, it was the season of downs.
It was the Toronto Raptors and their sometimes sloppy, sometimes inspiring, mostly tense showdown with the Washington Wizards. It was a game that seemed destined as a loss, and just as quickly became a 95-93 win. Not every team can find the Dickensian aspect of basketball, but these Raps, in all their frustrating, magnificent glory, can.
The Raptors of the first half shot 37 percent from the field, and 33 percent from three. The only thing keeping them it it was a 13-for-15 from the line performance (spearheaded, as per usual, by DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams), and some careless play from the Wizards. They seemed discombobulated, despite the closeness of the score. Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas were largely invisible. And, gasp, (folk hero) James Johnson did not quite come to the rescue. (Two quick fouls got him out of his rhythm.)
Meanwhile, the Wizards' Nene - who, let's face it, is essentially a Rhodes scholar of basketball - and John Wall began to pace their team toward victory with leads that grew as large as ten. Drew Gooden, of all people, was in the midst of a double-double. The third quarter began, and the metaphorical darkness appeared poised to fall on the Raptors.
But the light, my friends, the light!
The Raptors of the final 15 minutes or so were a team that could do no wrong. They were a team whereby every shot Lou Williams, human fireball, took went in (he finished 8-for-16, 4-for-8 from 3, 7-for-7 from the line for 27 points); where Patrick Patterson - despite shooting 1-for-8 - will make key defensive plays everywhere on the floor; where Kyle Lowry can win a foot race with the lightning fast John Wall; where DeRozan can shoot 6-for-18, take a myriad of awful contested jumpers and still hit the game winner (over Paul Pierce, no less; how's that for dramatic stakes?). They are a team that has now won the season series 3-0 over the Wizards.
The Raptors now head into the All-Star break at 36-17, their best record ever as a franchise. This is a team of ups and downs; that's undeniably true. But it is also a team that wins more than it loses. "At the end of the day we won the game and I'm excited," said Lowry. "We won the game and we are going into the break on a high note."
So, can the Raptors be completely content, knowing those two versions of their team are out there, able to frustrate and amaze in equal measure?
"Not really," said coach Dwane Casey. "We're not done yet."
It's All-Star break, everyone. Enjoy it. What did you guys think of the Raps tonight?