Like a good politician, Global Ambassador Drake never quite allows himself to be pinned down to one stance. He’s a Raptors guy, through-and-through, but he also has great respect for the Warriors. He cites Steph Curry and Kevin Durant as “family,” but outwardly loves to make appearances with Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, always easy to spot deep in conversation. The show that is Drake Night continued apace this year, with more of the usual pizzazz (and ugly shirts), but the feeling was different, muted. That the Raptors lost 127-121, their first defeat on a Drake Night in what felt like an interminably long game, didn’t help.
Coming off a game last night against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors were never going to be favoured in this one. The Warriors may not have sorted out their defense yet — they’re firmly middle of the pack in the NBA right now — but they still have two former MVPs and enough basketball IQ to field an athletic Mensa squad. To the Raptors’ credit, they had a strong, rollicking first quarter, and then, well, they didn’t get blown out. But still, even with second half Warriors’ leads of five points, this game was never particularly close.
For Toronto, surprise, DeMar DeRozan led the way with 34 points on 8-for-18 shooting and 17 (!!!) trips to the line (he made all 17). He also chipped in six rebounds and four assists (against five turnovers — oops). This wasn’t exactly the best DeRozan game. It was clear the Warriors long arms on D bothered him — enough so that he even managed to get himself T-ed up in the second quarter. In throwback DeRozan fashion, he was part of the reason the game got out of hand for the Raptors in the second quarter (as he started pressing on O, and being inattentive on D), but then he also drove the Raps’ comeback later in the second half. This is the DeMar I know! To his credit, DeRozan knows where they stand. “We played both of the best teams in the NBA. We were right there and had a couple of stretches where we could have put it away. We gave it away.”
For the rest of the Raptors, Kyle Lowry got his customary laborious stat line of 24 points (on 6-of-17 shooting) to go with five rebounds, five assists, and three steals. It looked like hard work. His point guard partner Cory Joseph had one of his better games of the season with 14 points and seven trips to the free throw line. But it too looked like it a real effort to get anything rolling against these Warriors.
The truth of it is, this Golden State team always has an answer. Before the game, coach Dwane Casey mentioned that there is no room for error against teams like the Warriors (and by extension, the Cavaliers). They play sharp and pounce on mistakes. That they too made some gaffs is perhaps a tad surprising, but the Raptors were not able to pounce on enough of them to make a difference. And really, when the Warriors really really need to make something happen they still have Curry, who put up a casual 35 points on 10-of-19 shooting with three 3s, 12 free throws and at least one acrobatic lay-up. I’m sure Drake appreciated the effort.
I’m left only with a couple small positives (and a question) to hang onto here. First, a small shoutout to rookie Pascal Siakam. In almost 30 minutes tonight, Siakam had 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting, to go with nine rebounds and a steal. On defense he was one of the few Raptors with the speed and length to switch on to almost any foe. “I thought he competed,” said Casey. “I thought he brought us energy. And again, we knew these two games were going to be tough, difficult, but I thought the youthfulness, and his youthful enthusiasm, his bouncing around, kept us going, got us bouncing.”
Second, Patrick Patterson hit a three pointer. I’ll just leave that there.
Third, the quandary that is Jonas Valanciunas. The bright side of JV’s minutes came early when he was matched up with Zaza Pachulia and able to go to work. In 18 minutes, JV had 12 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting, plus eight rebounds. But then the speed of the game increased, the Warriors increasingly went to a frontcourt of Draymond Green and Durant, as expected, and there just was no place for Valanciunas on the court.
Could the Raptors have attempted to weather Jonas’ slow-footed presence on D to leverage him on the offensive end? It’s possible — particularly when GSW had David West out there. But it’s also a lot to ask JV to step into the Warriors’ pick-and-roll blender again and again and then come down the other way and try to keep the Raptors in the game. Like everything else about this evening for Toronto, it would have be an uphill battle.
This recap sounds like the Raptors did in fact get blown out by 30. It didn’t happen that way. But as with the entire Drake Night experience, the expectations — of the spectacle, of the turn of events (Curry hitting big shots, JV being slow, DeMar and Lowry pushing and straining), of the ultimate outcome — were fulfilled.
So see you next year, Drake. Now, on to the next one.