Hopefully a good night’s sleep has washed the taste of last night’s game between the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks from your mouth! Or, even better, selectively allowed you to erase the first 46.5 minutes from your memory and just remember the sensational D the Raptors played in the last 90 seconds to seal the game and put the Hawks away.
I Love me Some Lowry Come-From-Behind Steals
One of Kyle Lowry’s signature plays is to sneak up behind an opposing big after a rebound or inbounds and try and poke the ball away. And he’s shockingly successful at it! You’d think word would be out by now.
Last night, with 6:30 to go in the third, Kawhi Leonard missed a corner three and DeAndre’ Bembry grabbed the rebound. Lowry was right there! And he still managed to poke it away from Bembry, right to Pascal Siakam, who in turn dished to Lowry for a 3-pointer.
He missed, but Siakam snatched the offensive rebound and they tried it again — this time, Lowry hit.
It was just one turnover/steal in a game with many, but it was a big one, and a favourite of mine.
OG Anunoby, Getting the Closer’s Minutes
While we saw OG Anunoby get the early call from the bench in the first half, and extended run with the starters, I’ll admit I was surprised to see him stay out with the starters down the stretch last night; I thought for sure Siakam was just getting a breather and he’d be in for the final few minutes.
Instead, Nick Nurse rolled with OG for all of crunch time. Not gonna lie, I was a bit worried it would backfire! But I get it. Nurse is trying to get OG going, trying to build up his confidence, and by my eye test he’s played better with Lowry and Leonard (hardly shocking) than with all-bench units. And, hey, if you’re going to experiment... why not do it against the lowly Hawks?
Plus, defensively, Anunoby earned the minutes last night. He was solid all game, and he also played solid D on the Hawks’ second last possession. And offensively, while he still looks a bit out of sorts at times, he only missed one shot and only had one turnover last night. Maybe Nurse’s plan will work, and this will be the game that gets OG back on track.
Stalwart Defense Down the Stretch
We can certainly argue that the Raptors should not have been in the position they were in: trailing 101-98 with 2:15 to go. They should have been beating the Hawks easily. (Heck, you could argue the Hawks shouldn’t have been in that position! They should be in full-on tank mode!)
But so it was, and I was frustrated and annoyed and I couldn’t believe the Raptors were going to lose to the Hawks. Looks like I wasn’t the only one:
Kawhi misses. We really are about the lose to the Hawks. I hate this.— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) January 9, 2019
A reminder then, that these aren’t the Raptors of old. This Raptors team sports one of the greatest perimeter defenders of all time.
Trailing by one with 1:05 to go, Kawhi Leonard subtly (ahem) nudged Bembry on an inbounds, forcing a Jeremy Lin pass to go awry — although Leonard couldn’t convert on the other end. Then, still trailing by one, OG Anunoby hounded John Collins as he attempted to drive, forcing him to pass it Bembry again; this time, Leonard just swiped it away from Bembry after two dribbles. The Raptors went the other way and this happened:
And then! Finally, up one, Trae Young tried to win it for Atlanta... with Kawhi guarding him. You can guess how that went. OG took it the other way for a dunk to seal it.
Leonard ended up with six (!) steal on the night, and the Raptors closed the game on a 6-0 run. I think it’s safe to say he’s a difference maker on both ends in close games — the type of player the Raptors, frankly, have never had.
Let’s Talk Buyouts
The Hawks feature two veterans on expiring contracts who may well have their contracts bought out in the coming months so that they can sign with a contender: Jeremy Lin and Vince Carter.
Lin, who tends to play well against Toronto, could be an attractive target for the Raptors, especially since they just waived another (supposed) playmaker in Lorenzo Brown. Lin isn’t much a defender, but as we saw last night, he can still break a guy down off his dribble, get to the rim and find the open man. He could be a good fit in Toronto, if he can accept the limited minutes.
Carter, of course, is a whole other story, given the history. I don’t think the Raptors should go after him at all. For one, they don’t really need another wing, assuming Danny Green, Leonard, Anunoby and Norman Powell are all healthy for the stretch run. More importantly, I just think bringing Vince back would just be a distraction the team doesn’t need. It’s a nod to the past when this team, this season, needs to be focusing on the here and now. This is Leonard and Lowry’s season. Let’s not cheapen it by turning into a Vince Carter swan song.
So You’re Still Mad at Vince, Eh?
No, I’m not really. I was for a long time, during the bad years, post-trade. I booed lustily along with everyone else. Though I’d argue, as I’ve said before, we were booing the team, management, the trade return, the whole general situation as such as we were booing Vince. We had nothing to cheer for, so why not root against a villain?
And I think I’d still hate Vince just as much if the Raptors hadn’t gotten good. But they did, and so I moved on, and so did most of the fans I think — judging by the reaction of the crowd. If you’d asked me in 2005 should Vince Carter ever be honoured here, I would have had some very choice words for you. Now? I’m OK with it. Sign him to a one-day contract in the summer and let him “retire a Raptor,” whatever.
What I’m not OK with, though, is Carter (and others!) apparently trying to reframe his exit from the Raptors. There is a narrative he’s trying to form that it wasn’t about him, he was traded, it was management’s decision, etc.
"I mean, they act like I walked out the door and left the team no choice. I was traded." https://t.co/mkSDu7vzDl— The Athletic (@TheAthleticTO) January 8, 2019
Which is absolute bullshit of course, from the trade demands, to trying to install Dr. J. as the GM, to dustups with the coach and teammates, to (allegedly) tipping plays, to taking nights off, to giving less than 100% (and later admitting it)... it was Vince Carter’s decision, purely and solely.
Would I have wanted to get the hell away from Rob Babcock and the ship of fools that was the Toronto Raptors at the time? Sure. But I’d like to think I’d have the stones to at least admit it years later.
We’ve forgiven you, dude. You don’t have to try to change the story to try and make yourself look like the victim, because buddy, you sure as hell weren’t.
All right, that’s my hot take for the day. The Raptors have a couple of days off before attempt to get their revenge upon Brooklyn for that earlier OT loss. We might even have a nearly-healthy roster to play with! Fingers crossed.