It's excusable to assume the fourth-last game of the Raptors' season, on the second night of a back-to-back, would be a less than a thrilling experience. The Raptors announced pre-game they would rest their two stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan along with Luis Scola. The city was looking to the Blue Jays as they took the field for their home opener. And hey, the two-seed isn't going anywhere. Outside of tonight's opponent, the Indiana Pacers, being a potential first round matchup, why would you even care?
Because, dammit, these Raptors and their rookies are a fun team. They beat the Pacers tonight 111-98, and it felt like gazing into the future. Leading the way for Toronto were none other than Norman Powell and Delon Wright. Yes, you read that correctly. The rookies carried the show.
In 41 minutes, Powell tried his best DeRozan impression, going 5-of-11 from the field (including 3-of-4 from three) to go with 19 trips (!!) to the free throw line and a career-high 27 points. He also worked in six rebounds and four assists and hounded everyone he could on the defensive end. In coach Dwane Casey's eyes he's still a rookie, but boy, the visions are coming hard and fast now -- especially when Powell catches guys napping in transition. He will look to push it, and it's clear his confidence is not something he struggles with.
Likewise, Delon Wright came off the bench for 26 minutes and shot a smooth 6-of-10 for 19 points. He showed off some nice dribble-drive moves, and generally played with a poise that belied his years. (The kid's still got braces for goodness sakes.) Wright's a rookie too, playing behind one of the league's best point guards and one of its best backups at the position, but if you squint, images of something emerge.
After a mostly ugly first quarter, the second began like this:
It was just two of Terrence Ross' 14 points but it felt like a turning point. Despite slight runs here and there by the Pacers, it was clear they were not in the game. Star Paul George managed only 14 points (on 4-of-11 shooting), and while the team as a whole got plenty of open looks, they managed to shoot only 44 percent from the field and 31 percent from three (compared to the Raps' 54 and 45, respectively). They've now tumbled into eighth -- a spot which gets them out of the Raptors' immediate playoff future. "This team played hard," said George afterwards. "They came out and just played harder than us. There is nothing else to say."
Other highlights include the first game in Jason Thompson's career with two made three pointers. And a perfect night from the floor for Cory Joseph -- he shot 6-of-6 from the field, 2-of-2 from three and finished with 18 points and 9 assists (with just one turnover). The rest of the Raptors had mostly quiet nights, which is to be expected as the team steels itself for the playoffs. Their fate at this point is secure. Second place guaranteed. Three games remain (against three of the worst teams in the league). It feels good.
What did you guys think of the game?