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Watch the Tape: Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard cook up something special

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For the absolute apex of last week, we need look no further than the final 30 seconds of Raptors-Spurs, and the link-up between Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Watch the Tape will teach you absolutely nothing about basketball, how to watch it better, or how it’s properly played. It WILL take you on a tour of some of the finest, and most random Raptors-related (and sometimes adjacent) material on the net.

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For the return of Watch the Tape, in what has been both a light and super-heavy week for the Raptors, we didn’t have to look too hard to find the footage to review. Toronto played two games this week, one a disaster against the Orlando Magic (throw it in the trash), and the other against the San Antonio Spurs and the former heart of the Raps, DeMar DeRozan. You’re already nodding along.

Yes, for this week’s Watch the Tape, we take you back to Friday night, the dying seconds of Raps-Spurs, and the play that somehow summarizes the kind of season Toronto is having with Kawhi Leonard right now, its grand aspirations for the future, and how exactly it got to where it is.

Roll it!

0:00-0:02: We jump directly into the action here, so let me go back and set the scene a little bit.

The Raptors and Spurs were in an evenly-pitched battle throughout most of the night. The lead seesawed in the first, again in the second, once more in the third, and inexplicably in the fourth. No one could build any sort of lead or rhythm (thanks Marc Davis?), and while it was clear both DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were locked in, few others could match their level of intensity. (Though Marco Belinelli, Jakob Poeltl, and Patty Mills did try for San Antonio; and eventually Kawhi Leonard got it going too.)

The Raptors were down two in the final minute of play. After Serge Ibaka missed one of two free throws with 24 seconds left, the ball caromed off the rim to DeRozan and the stage, as they say, was set. 117-116, game on the line, the crowd on its feet.

Which makes these two seconds — Kawhi diving in for the steal, DeRozan slipping, and Lowry knowing exactly when to press the advantage — two of the more metaphorically loaded seconds in recent Raptors history. There was the dynamism of the play itself, with Kawhi and Lowry teaming up to flip the outcome of the game by themselves. There was the poetic weight of it all happening because of DeRozan, labouring hard, wearing it all on his sleeve, unable to get his team over the hump. And there was the broader symbolism of the Raptors winning out because of a heady defensive play from the guy they traded for to produce such a play, the kind of moment that has eluded them for years — the kind of play DeMar has never quite had in him.

While DeMar has saved Toronto’s bacon on multiple occasions with his offensive prowess, you’d have to dig pretty deep to find a similarly remarkable or noteworthy defensive play from DeRozan, god love him. The only ones I can recall happened in the same game, during the absurd curse-breaking contest against the Bulls back in 2017. That game, and those plays (a block and a steal), were so ridiculous we built a whole post around it.

Anyway, those two seconds were a lot.

0:03-0:07: And here comes Kawhi with the dunk. Now, I’ll be honest. In this moment, as Kawhi went sprinting towards the net and the crowd started to absolutely lose its collective shit, I was straight up cackling on press row. I know we’re supposed to maintain some modicum of professional distance from the action happening on the court (and my seat way up in the media gondola does indeed help that). But that’s difficult when the absolute most is happening before your very eyes. I’m not saying I’m proud of myself. I’m just admitting the truth: cackling.

0:08-0:18: “Lowry... coming over to double DeRozan, and Leonard scoops it up... Toronto by 1.”

I’ve gotta hand it to Matt Devlin on this one. As the camera pans across faces in the crowd going wild and Kawhi stalks back to the bench, his words recount both exactly what just happened — and underscore the absurdity of just what happened.

How often do you find the home team down one in the dying seconds without the ball and hoping for a steal or turnover? And how often does it just turn into a foul shooting contest with the odds forever swaying further and further out of favour for said home team? That Kawhi and Lowry were both in their own way not willing to go down without a (clean, non-fouling) fight says something about their talent and savvy. Nested in this whole retrospective, let me just add: here’s hoping they will combine again come playoff time. Moving on!

0:19-0:20: Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard with a nice medium-five. Folks, he’s staying.

0:21-0:35: The rest of this clip is just repetition. We see the entire play from a different angle, and can now fully appreciate exactly what part Kawhi, Lowry, and DeRozan each had to play in the outcome. Devlin goes through the motions again, seeming to put a little extra mustard on “DeRozan slipping” which, I mean, dang I hate it had to be him. And then the dunk.

After these seconds, the Raptors would make one more stout defensive play, getting the ball out of DeRozan’s hands for the final shot. (Davis Bertans would take it and miss.) There was a break for some video review in favour of the Raptors. And that would be it for the first return of DeRozan to Toronto.

As I said before, this is the kind of play that used to happen to the Raptors, much to our dismay and often with DeRozan involved as some sort of catalyzing (or cataclysmic) agent. In that spirit, and while I don’t take a huge amount of pleasure in posting this, I feel I must:

This just sums it all up in a way words — of which I just wrote a bunch! — never could.