The floor was purple, the jerseys white and pinstriped, and the Raptors barely managed to score 100 points — yep, everything was as it should be for a tribute to 90’s basketball, particularly the Toronto brand. Despite an opening frame against the Orlando Magic on Monday night that saw the Raptors play to the tenets of new age basketball — lots of ball movement, speed, and long-range shooting — it was the long stretches of slug-it-out ball that defined the game. Unlike their 1995 counterparts, however, this Raptors squad could rely on their defense to pull out the win, 104-95.
It’s also fortunate the Raptors are captained by ageless wonder Kyle Lowry, a player able to run-and-gun with ease and not one to shy away from ugly basketball when the need arises. When the game got out of control tonight, when the Magic climbed out of a 14-point hole to take a 2-point lead with just over four minutes to play, there was Lowry, ready to do what had to be done. “Nothing surprises me about [Kyle],” said coach Nick Nurse of his star guard, acknowledging the long layoff he had this offseason while recovering from wrist surgery. “He’s just such an experienced guy. And he’s such a gamer, man.”
Lowry led the Raptors with 26 points (on 7-of-18 shooting), to go with six assists and five rebounds. Yes, it was another high-minute night (38 this time), but it was obvious most times Lowry sat that the Raptors’ offense was not quite as sharp in his absence. It also lacked his specific style of derring-do — Lowry drew another charge in this one, and finished both the first and second quarters with 2-for-1 possession attempts, the second of which saw him put in five straight points for Toronto to maintain their slim 5-point lead at the half.
In his efforts, Lowry was supported by his fellow starters once again, specifically Pascal Siakam. Toronto’s star power forward accumulated his usual numbers, scoring 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting, to go with nine rebounds and three assists. In those final four minutes, with the game suddenly close after a 13-0 run for Orlando, it was Siakam running 1-4 pick-and-rolls with Lowry that helped produce open shots nearly every time down the floor. Once again Siakam also had moments where he found cutting teammates upon drawing a double-team; in another instance, he hit a mid-range one legged jumper to help seal the contest for Toronto. It was another small step in the further expansion of Siakam’s all-around game.
Speaking of expansion, we have to talk about OG Anunoby right now. The hope for the Raptors’ third year forward was at least a modest breakout — show enough utility on defense, hit enough open 3s, and it’ll all be good. Well, Anunoby has so far been doing that and more. Powered by Nurse’s defensive scheme, and often twinned with Siakam, Anunoby continues to be a holy terror anywhere on the court. On the night he had five steals and two blocks, and was once again found jumping passing lanes, credibly switching onto every player the Magic tried to mismatch on him, picking pockets in the open floor, and meeting opponents at the rim. OG also shot 5-of-11 with two 3s for 12 points and eight rebounds. If you had to draw up an ideal Anunoby performance right now, it would look something like this.
The rest of the Raptors’ starters slotted in evenly behind these three stars for the night. Fred VanVleet had 14 points, six assists, and five rebounds, despite shooting just 3-of-14 from the field (and 1-of-7 from deep). Those stretches where the Raptors’ offense slogged were often during his minutes without Lowry and Siakam on the court, but he was tasked with trying to draw production from Norman Powell (an ineffective 1-for-7), Serge Ibaka (3-of-10 with 10 boards), and Patrick McCaw (a hyper but unproductive 17 minutes). Fortunately Marc Gasol played bigger tonight, with a 10-10 double-double and his continued nightmare defense on Nikola Vucevic (1-for-13 from the field for five points). In all, with the Raptors holding the lead for most of the game, it was enough production from down the bench (18 total points) to get the job done.
Still, it was funny to note the weird throwback 2019 Game 1 Playoff vibes in this one. There were the Magic, down but not out, charging back to make a game of it. There was D.J. Augustin making plays out of nowhere down the stretch. There was the extra-long Jonathan Isaac getting in the way of a lot. If you had told me the Magic won this game on a near-buzzer beater I would have believed you. All that was missing was Kawhi.
But Lowry wasn’t missing. And this version of Lowry, off to another strong start to the season, seems hellbent on turning back the clock in a whole different way. It’s fitting that the guy who wore the retro Stoudamire jersey in the Raptors’ championship parade is the player now doing the most to keep that team legacy — fearless, confident, undaunted — alive. By the end Lowry was feeling so good he even brought back his old spinning elbow jumper that we haven’t seen much of lately. It didn’t go in, but by then it didn’t matter. The Raptors in their waybacks were all the way back.