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Four Quarters: Reconciling with some untimely injuries for the Raptors

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For our new Friday feature, we run through four unserious segments from this week in Raptors basketball. It’s a look back at what happened and where things stand right now in Toronto.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

“This week in Toronto Raptors basketball was close to being a much needed reprieve from the rough stretch that Raptors fans endured in the couple weeks prior. Unfortunately, injuries to both Norman Powell and Marc Gasol stopped us from fully enjoying three stress-free wins over the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Detroit Pistons. Still, there was finally some good this week, and it was not short on fun and interesting talking points.

On that note, here are the Four Quarters — four light and extremely unserious segments from this week in Raptors basketball.”

Oh boy. That’s what I had written for this piece yesterday before the news about Pascal Siakam’s groin injury. Raptors fans were disappointed about the injuries to Gasol and Powell, but were willing to put on a brave face a power through. The Siakam injury flipped that on its head entirely, and this week is now far from the reprieve that I had suggested it might be.

Basketball must still be played, however, and therefore, Four Quarters must continue to be light and unserious, in a moment when heavy and serious feels more fitting. It is now that we need Alex McKechnie more than ever.

1. The Optimist’s View:

Raptors fans, myself included, are often guilty of viewing their team through rose-coloured glasses. Where the outside world sees cause for concern about our beloved team, we see room to grow, positive signs, and small victories. The Optimist’s View gives a positive spin on an otherwise would-be negative.

This Week’s View - The regular season doesn’t matter

After this week, the Raptors sit at 19-8, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference and well within striking distance of the Boston Celtics, who are 18-7. Unfortunately, it appears Gasol, Powell, and Siakam will all miss significant time. That will make piling up regular season wins significantly more difficult, as all three of these players have had a major impact on winning this year. It is now that we need the Optimist more than ever.

Whatever. That’s the regular season. It does not matter. As long as the team is healthy come April, I like their chances. Do you know who else was once afforded the benefit of the doubt in the regular season? The Golden State Warriors. Why? Because they were the defending champions. That’s it. (Let’s not touch on the fact that while the already dominant Warriors added arguably the best player in the league in an offseason, the Raptors lost arguably the best player in the league this summer.)

Home court? No need. In the playoffs, these Raptors were a force on the road, winning three games at Oracle Arena to win the championship. The healthy Raptors are an anytime, anywhere team. The bottom of the East is weak, and the Raptors will still comfortably make the playoffs with these injuries, so as long as everyone is ready to go for the playoffs, the rest will not matter. This team will be confident and prepared no matter the opponent. And hey, you can’t lose game one at home if you don’t have home court.

2. Most Relatable Moment

It can feel like professional athletes inhabit a different world entirely than the average human being. However, every so often, they’ll do something that reminds us that they’re people just like us. Here is the Most Relatable Moment from this week in Raptors basketball.

The Moment - Marc Gasol pulling a hammy

Marc Gasol is already among the more relatable professional basketball players. He doesn’t exactly have the chiseled physique of some of his counterparts, and his movements follow suit. Where Pascal Siakam is a Ferrari — sleek, fluid and eye-catching — Gasol is more of a Grand Caravan — big, a tad clunky, but gets the job done.

The two things that truly make him an effective NBA player are his size, standing 6’11” and weighing a meaty 255 pounds, and his beautiful basketball brain. Similar to Kyle Lowry, who checks in at the other end of the size spectrum, Gasol compensates for his lack of physical gifts with a basketball IQ that almost always puts him in the right place at the right time. Offensively, there is no center that resides at sea level who sees the floor like Gasol, making clever, unselfish passes that keep the Raptors offense humming.

If he were but eight inches shorter, Gasol might look more like the old guy who dominates at the YMCA than a stalwart centre in the NBA. So, when he pulled up in the second quarter of the Raptors game against the Detroit Pistons grabbing the back of his leg, it was all the more relatable. He looked like a dad who pushed it a little too hard in a game of two-hand touch with the kids.

It was in this moment that Raptors fans who have maybe lost a step or two and experienced the pain and disappointment of pulling a hamstring could throw on the proverbial lab coat and stethoscope and begin their diagnosis. As soon as he pulled up, I’m willing to bet my life savings that the words “Yep, that’s a hammy” were uttered in thousands of houses across Canada by those who have been there. Following that, the anecdotal takes would undoubtedly start flowing:

“When that was me, I was bed-ridden for a week.”

“Oh he’s out at least a month, just like when I did that same thing playing beach volleyball.”

“Uh-oh, my hamstring hasn’t been quite right since that rec league game when I pulled it.”

Gasol is an essential part of the Raptors on both offense and defense, and his injury is certainly unfortunate. Ideally, VP of Player Health and Performance Alex McKechnie can work his magic once again and get the big Spaniard back on the floor soon. In the meantime, many will attempt to relate to what Marc Gasol is currently going through.

3. Sports Psychology Corner

An attempt to explain on-court occurrences through the mental aspect of the game.

The Case Study - Patrick McCaw’s minutes

Given full health, the Raptors’ rotation has seven fixtures — the six remaining members of the last year’s playoff rotation and OG Anunoby. Beyond that, minutes are up for grabs, and Nurse has yet to establish real consistency in playtime with his reserves. These positions appear to be merit based, as a good game by a member of the bench will often warrant a chance to do it again the next game, but a bad game may lead to significant diminishment in minutes.

With Patrick McCaw, however, his standing with Nick Nurse has more reflected that of the Steady Seven than it has the depth pieces fighting for playing time. This week, he has led the bench in minutes by a rather healthy margin. Though his defense has been effective in that time, he has not exactly been setting the league on fire with this play. As a result, we must turn to psychology to explain McCaw’s situation.

It’s organizational behaviour 101 that the empowerment of employees can lead them to unlock their true potential. Nurse is taking that to the extreme with McCaw, empowering him with minutes and a role for beyond what his play thus far suggests he deserves. He must have insight into the mind of McCaw, and feel that he is the type to succeed when he is given freedom and confidence. With the time and self-belief that Nurse is bestowing upon him, McCaw will blossom into the player that he can be.

But hey, don’t take it from me (someone with literally no background in psychology). Let the numbers do the talking. Since McCaw has been healthy, he played ten minutes in his first game back, and has since led the bench in minutes in his next three games, averaging 26 minutes off the bench. His scoring? After kicking things off in the first game with an Embiid, McCaw had two points in his second game then poured in six in the third. In the fourth, McCaw stuffed the stat sheet with two points, three rebounds, and two assists.

Evidently, Nurse’s (presumed) mind games are paying off. At this rate, McCaw will be dropping a nightly 20-5-5 in no time. With all these injuries, he’ll probably start at small forward in a small lineup.

4. Raptors Debate Show

American debate shows seemingly have little time for the Toronto Raptors. As a result, I have decided to give extreme, manufactured takes about the team a platform in the Raptors Debate Show segment. Conveniently, this also will be an outlet for me to air out the ongoing debate that rages inside my head about the team.

The Question: Are the Raptors among the East’s elite when healthy?

Debater #1: “Here are the numbers over the past three games this week, all three of them wins: The Raptors have outscored their opponents by 13.7 points a game, games that were never in doubt. This team is BACK. Pascal Siakam once again looks like the star that I predicted that he would be this year, and he’ll bounce back quick from that groin injury. Kyle Lowry is still one of the best point guards in the league. That kid that they got there, OG Anunoby, can defend better than anybody since his old teammate Kawhi Leonard in his prime. The Raptors have sorted themselves out after that ugly little stretch — by the time this season is done we’re going to be talking about this team as the best in the East. Forget the injuries, we know what this team can do.”

Debater #2 takes a moment, shuffles his notes, and calmly addresses debater #1: “I have a number for you. Three. Three wins. That’s how many wins the Raptors have over teams above .500. Do you want to know how many losses? Seven. Seven losses!”

[Debater #2 continues, losing all of his previous tranquility and now verging on hysterical]

“Last time I checked, to be considered a good team, you have to beat good teams! And you’re saying they’re going to be the best in the East? I’m not even sure they’ll make it out of the first round!”

Debater #1, now visibly angry with debater #2: “Now you’d better start talking about this team with some respect! This ain’t some junior varsity never-won-nothing crew, you’re talking about the DEFENDING CHAMPIO-”

#2: “Who lost their best player this summer!”

#1: “-NS! These guys have been there. They know what to do. And you just wait until they’re all healthy and have had a chance to get a good feel for each other cause they are going to start setting the NBA on FIRE!”

#2: “You’re honestly telling me they’re going to be better than Milwaukee the way Giannis is playing?! Or Philadelphia, who just easily beat this Raptors team? I’m not buying it!”

#1: “Oh? You mean the Giannis who disappeared in the Conference Finals last year against this very team? Or the 76ers whose best player can’t seem to figure out Marc Gasol?

Moderator: “Get your last points in, we have to wrap this one up!”

#1: “Forget about that 1-4 stretch. Throw it out. That’s the worst you’re going to see these Raptors play all year. They’ll worked out the kinks, and they are going to start ripping off some wins. Don’t underestimate champions.”

#2: “I just don’t see it. Until they show they can beat top teams consistently, I’m just not ready to put them up there with Milwaukee, Boston, or Philly.”

Moderator: “That’s all for this segment, stay tuned for more. When we return, we ask the meaningless question ‘Who deserves more credit for the Raptors success, Pascal Siakam or Nick Nurse?’”