If you were expecting the emotion and closure of the Kawhi Leonard ring ceremony to right the Raptors’ ship last night, unfortunately, the exact opposite happened.
It didn’t look that way early — the Raptors played a great first quarter! — then the wheels came off, the bad habits of the past two weeks resurfaced, and the game was all but over by halftime.
Are the Raptors... Bad?
A 1-4 record in the last five games, with all four losses against winning teams, starts to make you think about what this Raptors team really is. The defensive effort we saw early in the year has waned, the shooting has dropped off the face of the earth, and when things get tough against the best teams, the Raptors haven’t been able to weather the storms.
I think the reality here is that the fast start probably made us overestimate the Raptors — especially because so many prognosticators had the Raptors being bad, to see them come out of the gate strong made us want to stand up and shout about how great the champs are. A fairly soft schedule helped.
And now, I think what we’re seeing is closer to reality. The Raptors are better than your bad teams, good enough to beat most good teams, but they don’t have the horses to compete with the elite teams. And that’s OK! That’s perfectly fine. We won a title, and now we get to see Kyle Lowry ride into the sunset while Pascal Siakam ascends, we get to see gems plucked from the depths develop, we get to see Marc Gasol school the rest of the league on defense. The Raptors-as-title-contenders may not be a thing, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to enjoy and get excited about.
”Janky” is a great word, but I don’t think it was accurate when Stephen Curry used it to describe Nick Nurse’s defense against Golden State in the Finals. But if you wanted to use it to describe Lou Williams’ game? That, I could get behind. Those floaters, those off-balance threes, that low release... he moves in a different way, that I think is best described as janky.
In any event, he was a killer last night in that second quarter, scoring 13 of his 18 points (on 5-of-7 shooting) as the Clippers outscored the Raptors 37-14.
He also got his tribute video, as part of the Raptors’ 25th anniversary celebration. Which made me wonder...
Where Was 2Pat’s Video Tribute?
I generally agree that video tributes in the NBA have gotten out of control, but I’m on board with the Raptors celebrating former players as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. That seems like a pretty good excuse. Thing is, when the Raptors don’t celebrate a player, it tends to stand out!
Like, say, Patrick Patterson. Patterson played 3.5 seasons in Toronto, was a key contributor off the bench, and helped the team reach its first ever Conference Finals. A knee injury turned him into a useless pile of goo the last season he was here, sure (he’s finally playing some decent ball for the Clippers now, 2.5 seasons after leaving TO) but he made real contributions to the team when he was here.
I don’t know, it just seems like an odd omission to me, especially with Williams getting one the same night.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
OG Anunoby was everywhere once again last night, playing aggressive on the offensive end, fighting on the boards, and playing solid defense. I think he took guarding Kawhi Leonard personally, I think he wanted to show everyone that while Kawhi was the past, he was the future. Kawhi still scored 23 on 14 shots, but I thought OG did a solid job overall. His shot wasn’t dropping, but I liked how many he took (14). Keep firing, man! He was also an encouraging 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
Norman Powell was kinda good last night, in that he scored well when no one else seemed able to, but I think if the Raptors are relying on him for that much offensive production, they’re gonna be in trouble. Powell had another classic Norm stat line of 11 shots, three boards and one assist... and five turnovers. That’s bad.
Serge Ibaka had about as ugly a night as you’ll ever see, going 0-for-8 from the floor and generally looking like he didn’t know what the heck he was doing out there. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a bad Serge game like this, so let’s just hope he was overcome by the emotion of the evening and he’ll bounce back next time.
Speaking of the emotion....
Closure, but the Memories Remain
The Kawhi Leonard ring ceremony was, in a word, awesome. The Raptors production team did a stellar job, with the video tribute and the light show (the footprints on the court were an incredible touch), and then Kawhi moving down the lineup, the hugs with Masai Ujiri, Nick Nurse, and his championship teammates, and then Kyle Lowry waiting at the end with his ring — just awesome.
While it does provide a nice sense of closure on Kawhi’s single season, at the same time, I hope it also serves as a reminder of how special that season was, and a reminder not to forget it. It’s a fast-paced world, and at times, that championship seems like it was years ago, instead of months. So much has happened since, and we’re rightly focused on this season and its ups and downs, but that accomplishment was too special to just move on from.
I think we owe it to ourselves to remember how that run to the title made us feel, that excitement and joy, those moments — the shot, of course, but also Kyle Lowry stealing that rebound against Orlando, Kawhi draining that three-pointer against Philly in Game 4, the double-OT game against Milwaukee, Pascal’s floater in the final minute of Game 6 in Golden State, so many more — it was all so magical, so unlikely, and yet it really did happen.
So, if you have photos saved on your phone from a playoff game you attended, or of you and your friends the night you watched a game together, or from when you celebrated in the streets, or at the parade — take a look at them and remember the feelings associated with them. Or go back and watch an Open Gym playoff episode or your championship DVD. Anything that brings back a memory of the title run, take a moment and re-connect with it today. I promise it’ll be worth it.
The good news for the Raptors here is that the schedule finally turns in their favour, at least somewhat. Three of their next four are at home, against Brooklyn, Cleveland, and Washington, and the lone road trip is to the home-away-from-home in Detroit. All very winnable games — and then another tough stretch looms, against Dallas, Indiana, Boston (twice!) and Oklahoma City. In other words — the Raptors had best use these next four to get their s--t together!