The Raptors are good as hell. Even when they lose the odd game here or there, it will be important to not lose sight of that. This is the most talented team ever assembled in Toronto, and it won’t last forever. So rather than getting hung up on the things the Raptors do poorly, this column is designed to appreciate the silver linings even when the score line doesn’t favour the good guys. There are only so many games in a season — why not enjoy all 82?
This is What Didn’t Suck for the Raptors 117-108 loss to the Boston Celtics.
Even for the most optimist among us, gleaning positives from a loss to the goddamned Celtics is a tall task. Boston is the most odious type of good team — supremely talented, underachieving, moody, and shrouded in a mist of faux dysfunction that magically dissipates at the most dramatically effective moments.
Boston can piss away games against the Magics and Suns of the world while the likes of Milwaukee, Toronto and Indiana unassumingly pace the conference, knowing they can salvage their reputation and Vegas title odds with a 12-minute flourish of supernova ball against a good team with Mike Breen sitting sideline before going back to ho-humness for two more weeks.
An L to that team is one to which sugar does not easily adhere. But damnit, we’re gonna try.
Despite the late-game play-calling fresh out of a middle school game and the assembly line of back-breaking buckets the Celtics poured in over the final four minutes of Wednesday’s game, it really wasn’t all that bad a showing from Toronto. The ultimate result betrays the damned impressive stretches the Raptors conjured up during the first and third quarters. And I mean, any night you get to watch Kawhi Leonard can’t be considered a total disaster.
But what really caught my eye last night is a little more basic and small picture than the types of things we normally hit on in this column. More than anything else, I came away from Raps/Celtics thinking: “Damn, the Raptors threw some cool ass passes tonight.”
Seriously though, look these passes!
First, from Pascal Siakam — who opted to milk a career-high in assists (7) out of one of his lowest-scoring evenings of the season.
Jakob Poeltl is gone. But Pascal’s affinity for big-to-big passing lives, baby.
Remember when in the Finals a few years back, the Warriors game plan depending on Draymond Green making smart plays moving towards the basket on the roll? Well, the Green-Siakam comps just got a little more juice.
Those bourbon-smooth passes by Siakam provided more than just some purdy highlights to help soften the blow of the loss — they showcased Siakam taking the next steps in his development. Siakam’s gonna get dared a lot in the playoffs. Dared to shoot the open threes he’s handed; dared to take on Toronto’s creative burden when Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard are enveloped by traps. Unleashing hell via slick dimes will be his counter. Wednesday’s game showcased his increasing readiness for the challenge.
Or you know what... screw passing. ISO Pascal every time.**
** — added at 10:10pm, Thursday night
Someone who’s not so new to being awesome at doing passes is Kyle Lowry. But just because we’re used to it doesn’t mean we can’t revel in some recent additions to his CV — notably, this very stupid good dish.
You may be asking yourself what’s so special about this pass. It may seem like just one of the thousands of pristine pocket passes Lowry and Serge Ibaka have connected on this season. Watch it again if you’re ignorant enough to think that.
First he fakes left enough to dupe Irving into opening a gloriously wide-open passing channel. But I thought Kyrie was good at defense now!
Lowry then serves up what looks like an easily snag-able bouncer near the feet of Horford. Note Ibaka’s location ... directly behind the 6’9 Horford.
He put some curve on that shit! The pass is sent to a place where Ibaka and Ibaka only can catch it. It’s a perfect pass. One of the Steve Nashiest passes Lowry’s thrown in a season full of them. It’s simple and beautiful. It is has neither flash nor flaw.
That’s also true of the Raptors offense when it’s at its flowing best. Instances in which Toronto taps into its full offensive potential have ramped up in frequency in recent weeks as the team’s two stars have, well, actually played together.
Critical to Toronto’s refined attack has been Kawhi Leonard leaving the ISO-heavy sidecar he’d been riding in for the first few months, and inserting himself into the general rhythm of the offense. When he does that the Good Passes multiply.
That lineup in particular — the Ibaka-centred starting five — has been especially free-flowing as Kawhi’s integration has become more complete. Toronto’s go-to fivesome cooked the Celtics for nearly 123 points per 100 possessions in 22 minutes of floor time. Even with a porous defensive showing (118.8 DEF Rating) on Wednesday, that group is sporting a +20.7 NET Rating in 54 minutes against Boston this season. They’re extremely good! And they represent a very real match-up problem for the Celtics that Brad Stevens has yet to crack — especially with their newly discovered commitment to cohesion.
Now, if only the Raptors could sling some of those sweet, sweet dimes in crunch time.