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Four Quarters: Christmas woes, comeback psychology, and wing debates

Four Quarters returns with four more iterations of the same light and unserious — but no less important! — segments about the Toronto Raptors. Let’s get into it.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

This week, if nothing else, was a memorable one for Raptors fans. It was a week of firsts for Raptors fans. They had never come back from a 30-point deficit prior to their game against the Dallas Mavericks. They had also never hosted a Christmas Day game. Both of which were crossed off of the NBA team bucket list during the most festive of weeks.

The Four Quarters highlights some moments and angles from the past week that are a little different, and, as always, remain light and unserious. Anything more than that has no place on a Friday.

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 – Going .500 this week is a win

Sure, it doesn’t feel great that the Raptors have lost their last two. After stepping back and examining the week as a whole, however, this week can absolutely be seen as a success. No one thought that the Raptors would rip off an extended win streak with so many important pieces out, but two wins to start the week recalibrated the expectations for the skeleton crew Raptors.

After the Mavericks game, Raptors fever was peaking, and fans grew in their belief of the shorthanded team. Games against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics reminded us that though the Raptors could always be competitive, margin for error is razor thin given the personnel. One bad stretch in a game could put it out of hand entirely.

That is okay. We do not need this iteration of the team to gain ground in the Eastern Conference. We need them to stay afloat. We need them to hold down the fort and bide their time for reinforcements.

Going .500 while missing three key (key is a severe understatement) players is absolutely a victory. In the meantime, this is a great time to figure out the lineups on the margins (less McCaw please), and have some fun watching this underhanded team battle with everything that they have. Don’t forget, just as Fred VanVleet made sure Jaylen Brown did not forget, just wait until we get out guys back.

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 – The Raptors just not having it on Christmas

The holidays can be a strenuous time of the year for everyone. It’s branded as a time of joy and celebration, but the constant gatherings, cooking, cleaning, and maybe just a bit too much eggnog can take a toll on even the best of us. As the exhaustion builds leading up to December 25th, it can feel like you’ve been caught in a tornado of turkey, sugar cookies, and the sweet sounds of Michael Bublé and it’s just as tiring as a 60-hour work week. Then, finally, when Christmas Day hits, you just don’t have it.

The Raptors certainly just did not have it on Christmas. After a 10-0 run to start the game, the Celtics took over with a run of their own and never looked back. After taking the lead midway through the first, the Celtics winning this game rarely felt in doubt. Any sign of life that the Raptors showed was quickly quelled by a Kemba Walker three or a jumper by Jaylen Brown, who was simply spectacular against the Raptors. Brown was so magical that, between his play and his beard, I briefly could have been convinced that he spent the night prior circumventing the globe delivering presents and joy to children all around.

Perhaps Christmas Day is a rare occasion when playing on the road is an advantage. At home, you are surrounded by family and it is easy to get caught up in the festivities of the season. Basketball is just one of the many things that is part of Christmas Day when you’re at home. When you’re travelling on Christmas Day, all you can think about is how pissed off that you are that you are not at home. Basketball then becomes the outlet for that fire.

Who would you pick to win a basketball game? The team that has had nothing to do but focus on the upcoming game, or the team with full bellies and partially occupied minds. Yes, the Raptors were short-handed, and the Celtics are a good team, but it was clear that on this Christmas Day, the Raptors just did not have it. So, thank you NBA for the home game on Christmas, but maybe we’ll go back to how it was.

3. Sports Psychology Corner:

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

The Case Study – The anatomy of a comeback

On Sunday, the Toronto Raptors came back from a 30-point deficit to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in the largest comeback in franchise history. A comeback such as this requires a perfect storm of opportunity, scheme, personnel, and mindset. Here in Sports Psychology Corner, we focus on the occurrences in the cranium. Using my nonexistent knowledge of psychology, we will pinpoint three things inside the mind of the team that made the comeback possible.

1) The Leader – You need a player that you can look to, that you can trust, and that will be fearless in the big moments. Kyle Lowry was absolutely this player. Lowry could not miss, catching fire in this game, and hitting threes that would make Steph Curry jealous. His contributions extended well beyond that though, as he was always right in the thick of the full court press, hustling and urging his teammates on. The tone set and the idea that, “We can do this,” came from Kyle Lowry.

2) The Scheme – A mini-run to end the third quarter by the Raptors was all the justification that Nick Nurse needed to put a scheme in place to really kick the comeback into overdrive. The scheme, of course, was the full-court press. The full-court press did a couple things psychologically — it signalled to the team that they were willing to take risks and play with some extra reckless abandon, something that is suited perfectly to the play style of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher, fixtures of the comeback. It also indicated to the team that Nurse was not ready to punt quite yet. If the coach believes, then that seeps into the team, and that belief spurred something special on Sunday.

3) The Play – With about eight minutes left in the game, and the Raptors down 13 points, Kyle Lowry had the ball. He faked a drive to the rim, then calmly stepped back behind the three-point line and drilled an arena-erupting, timeout-forcing three. We’ve seen a lot of mini-comebacks by the Raptors that fizzle out. Suddenly, it was clear that this would not be one of them. This shot was proof that this team would not go away. Being within ten points feels attainable, and it was reflected by the team’s reaction, they then knew they were going to do this.

This comeback was another special moment for the Toronto Raptors, and there were so many great aspects that made it possible.

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 Debatin’ the Dinos. Conveniently, this also will be an outlet for me to air out the ongoing debate that rages inside my head about the team. Of course, Raptors fans fall into two groups – Die Hards and Skeptics – and these groups will be represented in each debater.

The Question: When healthy, who has a better young wing duo, the Raptors or the Celtics?

The Skeptic: Pascal Siakam was playing like an all-star before he went down. Anunoby is one of the best young defenders in the league and he’s starting to do some things on offense. THAT BEING SAID, give me the Boston guys any day of the week. On any given night, Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum can be the best player on the floor. Can you say that about Anunoby? I haven’t seen it. Have you? Brown and Tatum can both score, defend, and lead a team. It’s an easy choice.”

The Die Hard: “I understand your point and I respect it, but we both know what the NBA is about. It’s about having a superstar, and it’s about getting guys that fit around him. Pascal Siakam is absolutely a superstar, and there is not a better player that you would want beside him than OG Anunoby. Siakam can create, and Anunoby just needs to hit open shots and attack openings that Siakam makes for him – two things that are his bread and butter. On the other end, these guys defend as well as any duo not named George and Leonard.”

The Skeptic: “Don’t get me wrong I love Siakam, but OG Anunoby is NOWHERE CLOSE to either Brown or Tatum! Since Siakam went down, he has only averaged 11 points! This is when the Raptors need him to step up most! And he has done the opposite! He’s faded! He’s made just 3 three-pointers in 15 attempts since the injury, and you mean to tell me that you would want a tandem that he is a part of rather than one with Brown and Tatum?”

The Die Hard, suddenly agitated: “Now you know that OG Anunoby is better than he has played over the last few games. He is as good as a role player can be without being a star, and Siakam is A LEGITIMATE MVP CANDIDATE. He IS WHY I believe that this tandem is better. The best player is the most important part of a basketball team, and there are maybe… MAYBE!... six players in the NBA that are better than the man from Cameroon.”

The Skeptic: “Oh, I suppose you want me to forget about the Conference Finals when Tatum was a rookie and Jaylen was just in his second year and they went TOE-TO-TOE WITH LEBRON JAMES AND TOOK HIM TO SEVEN GAMES! These guys have the experience, the resumé, and the potential. The scariest part? I don’t know which one is better. Both of them could lead a team to a championship one day.”

The Die Hard pauses for what feels like five minutes, then looks up, chuckles slightly, and proceeds, initially quietly: “Did you just bring playoff performance into this argument?”

*Suddenly, the volume increases drastically as he continues* “DID YOU JUST BRING PLAYOFF PERFORMANCE INTO THIS ARGUMENT?! We are talking about PASCAL SIAKAM! This man had 32 points in game one of the NBA FINALS, and in game six, when he won the title? 26 POINTS! And he had the basket that put the game to bed! If we’re going to talk about who has been there, this debate is a farce if you don’t talk about Pascal Siakam.”

The Skeptic: “Say what you want, we’ll see what happens with these guys come playoff time.”

The Die Hard: “You’d better believe we will.”

There’s the buzzer for this week’s Four Quarters, we’ll be back next week.