It was just another regular season game. Featuring the Toronto Raptors, the team with the league’s best record. Playing against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. On national TV in the U.S. With fans in attendance in a frenzy, and Twitter blowing up. That saw two superstars battling all night, each putting up season highs. That saw the champs erase an 18-point deficit to force overtime on the back of absolutely insane shotmaking from Kevin Durant. That saw the Raptors bend, not break, and ultimately prevail in the extra period, sealing it with a stellar Kyle Lowry defensive play.
Yep, just another regular season game.
You know that sound you hear in an action movie, where there’s a fire burning, and it’s about to bloom into a big explosion or fireball, usually just as the hero pulls someone to safety? WHHHOOOOOOSH.
That’s what Toronto’s first quarter felt like to me last night. They came out of the gate ready to play, already warm, went up 7-6 and suddenly WHHHOOOOOOSH they were up 32-14.
What an incredible first eight minutes. Some subpar bench minutes (surprise!) allowed the Warriors to close the gap before the end of the frame, but even the subs were catching the vibe:
Certainly we all knew the hot shooting (16-of-22, 6-of-10 from downtown) was unsustainable, but if the Raptors can find that groove for a big enough stretch every game... look out.
Danny Green, Mixing Things Up
In the first quarter last night, the Raptors tried to take advantage of a height mismatch and posted Danny Green up on the smaller Quinn Cook. And it was mostly successful! Green scored on the first one, backing Cook down and executing a sort of half-dropstep to get to the rim; and he dished to Serge Ibaka on the second who, after a pump fake, hit from midrange. Green finally missed on the third attempt, but even that was a decent shot — and it prompted the Warriors to sub Cook out and bring in Jonas Jerebko.
Green hasn’t looked effective, or even comfortable, at much on offense except the catch-and-shoot. It was pretty neat to see him bust out another part of his game, even if it was only for three plays.
Oh, and as for those catch-and-shoot plays? Yeah, he’s still OK at those too, with a clutch one in the fourth quarter...
And an even more clutch shot in OT:
Offensive Rebounds Nearly Killed the Raptors Last Night — And Me
The Raptors are not a great rebounding team; they grab about 50% of available rebounds, which puts them right about in the middle the league. It’s not a huge surprise, as the Raptors are a tad on the smaller size. That’s why it’s critical, when he’s in the game, that Jonas Valanciunas be a monster on the glass.
He was far from that last night.
As the Warriors chipped away at the lead last night, they made an effort to crash the glass, and they completely outworked the Raptors. In the fourth quarter alone, the Warriors generated seven extra points off of seven offensive rebounds; they had 15 total rebounds in the quarter, and the Raptors only grabbed nine total. And the Raptors were damn lucky, because five — yes, five — of those Warriors offensive rebounds ended up in Klay Thompson’s hands for good looks — and five times, he missed. Not gonna have that happen very often, folks.
I wrote about this a couple of times last year — there’s nothing that breaks your spirit more than busting your ass on D for a possession, forcing a difficult shot, and then giving up the rebound and having to do it all over again. As a fan it’s infuriating, and even more so when it’s your best rebounder giving them up (Valanciunas had 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting and had four boards, but finished with a -13, if you were wondering how his night went overall).
Thankfully, the Raptors did grab one critical offensive rebound of their own in OT — when Kawhi Leonard snuck in and stole the rebound off of a missed Pascal Siakam free throw. Hey, speaking of which...
It’s the Return of Five Thoughts on How Amazing Pascal Siakam Is
Pascal Siakam had a career high 26 points on 10 shots; just a ho-hum 80-75-88 (!) game. But I don’t want to talk about the three 3-pointers or the spin moves or getting out ahead of the D for a transition dunk.
I want to talk about the five (of six) clutch free throws he made in the final minute of OT (he was 7-for-8 on the night).
In Siakam’s rookie season, he didn’t even average one free throw a night, and shot 69%. Last season, he was up to 1.1 per game and his percentage dropped to 62%.
This year, he’s shooting more than three per game, at a 77% clip. And
It’s just one more thing in the incredible development we’ve seen from Siakam, and it sure paid off last night in OT.
(Also, a small thing — post-game, Siakam mentioned how it was like a playoff game out there. And I thought, how great is it that Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby have been in the playoffs every year of their careers? It used to take Raptors draft picks years to get playoff experience, if they ever did, and these guys have been getting it since day one. That’s amazing.)
Just Another GD Regular Season MFing Game
Speaking of “like a playoff game” (I’m killing the segues today), all throughout last night’s game, I kept telling myself: It’s just a regular season game. The Raptors are 18-4. It’s OK to lose against a transcendent player having a ridiculous night. And so on. I thought I was managing my emotions effectively.
And yet, as the buzzer sounded, the adrenaline finally dissipated and I stumbled into the other room, my wife says: “With all the yelling you were doing in there, that sounded like a playoff game.”
So clearly I wasn’t keeping the emotions in check. What do you do though? You become invested in a team at the best of times, but when your team has chance to do something special — and the window may only stay open for this one season — every game, every possession even, just matters a little more.
I guess what I’m saying is... it’s OK to get emotional, to get invested, even in the otherwise meaningless games. It’s actually pretty awesome to be passionate about something.
This is twice now that the Raptors have an opposing player play an absolutely transcendent game against them, and twice, the Raptors have had a chance to win in regulation, with the ball in Kawhi Leonard’s hands. Both games have gone to OT.
That doesn’t mean Leonard isn’t clutch. I take it to mean he’s simply got room to improve. And after scoring 37 points on 24 shots, and leading his team to a 19-4 record, the thought that Leonard can still be better is pretty damn awesome.