Last night was perfect.
There really isn’t any other way to describe what took place at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday evening: A touching ring ceremony, a beautiful banner revealed in the rafters, and an absolutely thrilling basketball game in which the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 130-122 in overtime — a game that featured a gutty showing from an NBA Finals hero and an all-time performance from the future of the franchise.
I’m still buzzing. Let’s get to the thoughts!
The Rings are Gloriously Over the Top
As you’ve no doubt seen by now, the championship rings the Raptors players and personnel (uh, and Drake) received are gorgeous. The Toronto skyline on an NBA Championship ring!? I never imagined I’d live to see the day.
They are also utterly ridiculous. You see the size of those things!? NBA players are literal giants and the photos of these rings on their hands look like somebody made a scaling error in Photoshop.
But they’re perfect. After all, isn’t the very idea of an NBA Champion in Toronto kind of ridiculous, in a who-ever-woulda-thought way?
The Banner is Perfect
Arriving in the arena, of course one had to look up — and see that the team has consolidated their Atlantic Division championship banners onto one, and added an Eastern Conference Championship banner.
And then the reveal of the championship banner, with a Kyle Lowry-led countdown... goosebumps.
You can’t see it in that little video, but the players’ last names are stitched in black along the red outline of the banner. That is a damn classy touch.
I’ll admit I didn’t get as emotional as I thought I might. Perhaps the, ahem, opulence of the whole affair overruled that mushy side of me. But the Raptors did it all just right.
The Future is Bright
Oh, right, there was a game! So I wonder how many people wanna walk back their “I can’t believe the Raptors paid Pascal Siakam $130 million” takes this morning? He didn’t even play that well for stretches but somehow ended up with 34 points, 18 rebounds and five assists.
In racking up those numbers, Siakam joins some pretty elite company:
With 34 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 assists tonight, Pascal Siakam joins Vince Carter (Dec. 7, 2001) as the only players in @Raptors history to record at least 30 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists in a game. pic.twitter.com/lkhXF4ShBh— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) October 23, 2019
The best part of Siakam’s game, along with his 11 free throw attempts, was how he stepped up when the team needed it. In the final six minutes — before he fouled out on an egregious flop by JJ Redick — Siakam scored eight points, including a three-pointer and a three-point play, and pulled in four boards, including two offensive on one sequence where he was getting hammered by Brandon Ingram.
One can only wonder how the final play call — a curious iso-deep-three from Norman Powell — might have played out were Siakam available.
The Fred VanVleet All-Star Campaign Begins Now
I think most of us expect Siakam to make his first All-Star team this year, but if Fred VanVleet can keep up this pace — that started halfway through the Eastern Conference Finals, don’t forget — he’ll have his own case. 34 points on 18 shots? 5-of-7 from downtown? Seven assists, two steals and only two turnovers in 44.5 minutes!?
And two game-tilting triples, one late in regulation and one in OT, after turning his ankle at the end of the third? Contract year Fred VanVleet is here!
VanVleet also played well out of the pick and roll, an area in which I’ve wanted to see improvements from him; he still missed both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka on rolls more than once, but overall he was less hesitant, both in terms of dishing off and in terms of taking the ball hard himself. That decisiveness in screen situations has been lacking in the past — I don’t think any of us will mourn the death of “Fred VanVleet dribbles for 18 seconds then attempts a wild drive” in the play-by-play.
I’m Fine with the Tight Rotation... for One Night
Ordinarily I’d be concerned with the Raptors only playing eight guys, and running Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet out there for 45 minutes apiece, in a regular season game. Especially with VanVleet hobbling on a bum ankle; why run him into the ground for a meaningless game?
But this game wasn’t meaningless. I think the Raptors, and Nick Nurse, really wanted this one. I think they wanted to give the fans a win; I think they really wanted to defend home court for the first time as reigning champs on national TV. I think it meant something to them, and I can tell you, as a fan, it meant something to me. It’s one of those odd things — if the Raptors had gotten blown out, it wouldn’t have meant a thing, but somehow, with the game tightly contested down the stretch... it suddenly mattered that they win, and they pulled out all the stops to do so.
I’m glad they did.
You couldn’t have asked for a better start to the defense of Toronto’s first NBA championship. No matter what happens between now and April (and beyond), we’ll always have that perfect night in October.