The Raptors of 2016 were, in a word, fantastic. They plowed through the second half of last season to a franchise-record 56 wins. They won not one, but two best-of-seven playoff series. They even took two games from the King himself, LeBron James, in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the process, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan made the All-Star team, which Toronto hosted, and the Raptors moved up a level in the eyes of many NBA fans. The start of this season has been no different — a record-setting pace, some signature wins, and a lot of reasons to smile.
As we reach the end of the year, now comes the time for some reflection. Amidst all the games, the individual plays, the off-court quotes and interplay, what was the best Raptors moment of 2016?
There are a lot of fun candidates here to consider, but I will leave you with my favourite before opening the floor to everyone else in the comments.
Let’s take a trip back to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and a 43 second video clip that, to me, summarized the entire season and year for the Toronto Raptors. First, let’s watch.
Some context: the Raptors were in for another fight-for-their-lives series (after the previous fight-for-their-lives series against the Indiana Pacers). The two teams had traded wins up to this point to reach a 2-2 stalemate. Both had also lost their dominant centres — Hassan Whiteside and Jonas Valanciunas — to injury. This would become significant as the series went on.
For the Heat, the absence of Whiteside was a problem. The team was forced to go small — which worked sometimes — and rely on guys like Josh McRoberts (a less than ideal situation). For the Raptors, it was also kind of a problem. I say “kind of” because, really, Toronto had a ready-made solution. His name is Bismack Biyombo.
The above clip has all of the key ingredients that define the Raptors of 2016. First, there’s DeMar DeRozan dribbling, dribbling, dribbling before, after a pass from Lowry (always so smart; more on this in a bit), he steps into a long two. Surprise: he misses. But who is there? Bismack! The young big man from the Congo dunks it home with the force of a thousand earthquakes. As he turns back up the floor, you can see Biyombo getting himself pumped up, flexing a little bit. Meanwhile, the people... they are in a frenzy.
But hold on, it gets more crazy from there.
As the Heat recover and take the ball down the floor, Dwyane Wade, scourge of the Earth, gets it in his head to try and take a run at the rim. With the help of a quick screen from Justise Winslow, Wade is granted his wish. Biyombo jumps out to try and guard the future Hall of Famer as he drives by. It seems hopeless, with Biz sidling up too late as Wade skies in for what should be an easy dunk. Except....
Somehow Biyombo blocks the shot. I’ve watched this clip many times now and I’m still not entirely sure how Biz is about to do this. Wade, who has destroyed the hopes and dreams of more players and fans than I’d care to think about right now, is right there. It should be an easy two for Wade, a play he’s made thousands of times. And yet, there is the massive hand of Biyombo. The ball flies away, right into the waiting arms of Lowry. It feels impossible, but it happened.
Now comes the best part. There are few players more deadly than Lowry, our little champion, in the open court. He turns down the floor like the shark from Jaws as the Orca starts spewing black smoke. Lowry smells blood.
Biyombo meanwhile takes a moment to, first, stand over the dead body of Wade, lying on his back on the floor; and then, second, in one of the finest moments in franchise history, Biz decides to wag his finger at the crowd while staring directly at Dwyane Wade. Holy shit.
There are a few brief moments here — as TV’s Matt Devlin mentions “the finger wag” and Biyombo is swept out of the frame — when the remaining four Raptors run up the floor on the four other members of the Heat. Lowry is in charge, head on a swivel, looking for the play to really put this game away. He’s got DeMarre Carroll, playing on peg legs, to his left, DeRozan in the corner, and Patterson fighting for position down low. Not a ton of options.
Until Biyombo, fresh off the murder of Wade, comes galloping back into the frame.
There is such a natural crescendo to the entire sequence, which all happens in real-time in one 43 second interval by the way, that Biyombo’s reemergence here feels almost preordained. He was meant to make these plays, in this order, for the Toronto Raptors.
Back to the action: Lowry picks up his dribble and holds the ball for a moment, which allows Biyombo just enough time to get back into the play. And then, Lowry — again, just so, so smart — makes the perfect pass to Biz — chest-high, in-stride, no dribbles necessary — so that Biyombo can rise up and dunk the ball with enough force to tilt the planet off its axis.
Did the crowd go absolutely bananas as a result?
Yes, you bet it did.
Biyombo, now fully lost to the ecstasy of the moment, hops back up the court whilst waving his arms, he then throws up his Usain Bolt celebration. This is what it feels like to exist in a perfect state of being. The Heat, astoundingly, decline to call a timeout. The Raptors eventually win 99-91, lose Game 6, and then blow the Heat away in Game 7 before being slowly mercy-killed by the Cavaliers in the ECF. It was a hell of a run.
Regardless of the final outcome in last season’s playoffs, for those bright shining 43 seconds, the Raptors were an awesome and terrifying sight to behold, just an absolute marvel. And for my money, that’s the team’s best moment of 2016.
Now, what’s yours?