Here's a weird stat: heading into tonight's game against the Clippers, the Raptors were 4-3 when down by double digits in the first quarter. That's good for first in the NBA, but it's not exactly something you'd celebrate.
Well, now they're 5-3. The Raptors played about as poor a first quarter as you could imagine. At one point the score was 30-10. They were out worked on the glass, shot a plethora of contested jumpers, let easy baskets go all around for the Clips, and committed sad turnovers. They were miraculously down 34-19 by the end but it felt far worse than that. The Raps weren't just playing in mud, they were drowning in it.
But then the second quarter started, and things started to turn.
Lead by twelve points (on perfect 5-for-5 shooting) from James Johnson, the Raptors outscored the Clippers 38-25 in the second quarter on the way to a suddenly close 59-57 game. Read that sentence again to let it sink in. Johnson, the lost legend of Toronto, surrounded by injury talk and possible conspiracy,
returned from exile played just shy of 19 minutes in the game, shot a perfect 7-for-7 (all his plays were at the rim) for 16 points, tucked in five rebounds and three assists, and frustrated everyone from Blake Griffin to Chris Paul on defense. It was the story of the game - but not the only story of the game.
Lost in Johnson's folk lore building appearance (and disappearance; JJ went to put some shots up immediately post-game and was not available for questions afterwards), was the giddy explosion of Raptors offense and defense that hasn't been seen against a quality opponent for some time. In the second half, the lead only grew.
Let's take point form account:
- DeMar DeRozan posted a near triple-double with 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists (and 12-for-13 from the FT line);
Kyle Lowry managed 21 points on nine shots (to go with an odd one rebound, one assist performance);
- Lou "LOU' Williams kept things interesting once again with 18 points from everywhere;
- Not to be outdone, brother-in-swag Grevis Vasquez dropped 17 points including a sizzling 4-of-7 from three;
- And, just for fun, Patrick Patterson chipped in 11 points, and did his best to also pester Griffin.
The Raptors remain a team that is not difficult to figure out. When their brand of gunning, streaky, delirious basketball is working, they appear as one of the most offensively efficient teams in the NBA. The team is stocked with shooters, one-on-one maestros, and even a post threat or two (when Jonas Valanciunas or even Amir Johnson has it going). They can look invincible.
Does Toronto always play this way? Is it entirely sustainable? The short answer is no. We know this now.
But all those wonky stats and strange numbers don't quite capture the joy of watching these Raptors when they decide to go supernova. When it happens, well, I'll let an old friend finish the thought:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Salami and Cheese time at the ACC. Book it <a href="http://t.co/hByc47QPK8">pic.twitter.com/hByc47QPK8</a></p>— chuck swirsky (@swirsk054) <a href="https://twitter.com/swirsk054/status/563881031166459904">February 7, 2015</a></blockquote>
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What did you guys think of the game?