The Raptors are good as hell. Even when they lose the odd game here or there, it will be important to not lose sight of that. This is the most talented team ever assembled in Toronto, and it won’t last forever. So rather than getting hung up on the things the Raptors do poorly, this column is designed to appreciate the silver linings even when the score line doesn’t favour the good guys. There are only so many games in a season — why not enjoy all 82?
This is What Didn’t Suck about the Raptors’ 112-107 overtime loss to the Pistons on Sunday.
Sometimes with this column, I have to stretch the boundaries of my imagination of find a positive nugget worthy of milking a thousand-ish words out of. Not so with Sunday’s loss to the Pistons in overtime. Yeah, it would have been nice had Jeremy Lin not been skunked from the field and had the bench not pissed away a lead to start the fourth to continue a worrying trend. OG Anunoby probably didn’t have to chuck up that eventual air-ball three point try in overtime either. And hoo boy did the refs ever try to suck the heat and flow out out of the otherwise electric
Scotiabank Little Caesar’s Arena.
All told though, Sunday’s L in Detroit was one of the more digestible of the season. There were so many aspects that didn’t suck, in fact, that we’ll rattle off a few in rapid fire form!
Dwane Casey, Prospering!
Before we get into the Raptor-centric good bits of Sunday, let’s stop a moment to be happy for an old friend.
Actively rooting for an ex to fail is rarely a productive use of time. Relationships run their course; it doesn’t necessarily have to be anyone’s fault — which is probably the best way to sum up Dwane Casey’s split with the Raptors. It was an entirely defensible move for Masai Ujiri to make when he fired Casey after last year’s playoffs. The team had veered off the road at the same checkpoint several years running; at the time of the decision, a Kawhi Leonard-sized upgrade to the roster was a far-fetched concept. A coaching change seemed like the only plausible way to change up the mix enough to sell fans on the idea of returning the same group of players next year.
At the same time... Casey didn’t really deserve to get fired! Toronto won 59 freaking games, he won Coach of the Year, and the only thing he or the team were really guilty of was having LeBron James stuck in their heads. Nick Nurse directing the same roster would have probably been just as hopeless against the kind of psychological torment LeBron and the Cavs seemed to inflict upon Toronto. With LeBron out of the East, and Kawhi Leonard, a broken-out Pascal Siakam and now Marc Gasol on the team, Casey probably would have had the Raptors in a similar Finals-contending position to the one they’re in now. As the one on the receiving end of the unceremonious firing, it’s kind of understandable, even normal, that Casey still feels jilted by the Raptors.
Casey may still be in the salt-rich phase of the post-breakup period, but that doesn’t preclude Raps fans from being happy for the man who helped bring prolonged stability and winning to Toronto for the first time in team history. He wasn’t exactly done dirty by the Raps, but the divorce certainly wasn’t clean. To see him prospering at the helm of what is now the hottest team in the league offers vindication for Casey, I’m sure, as well as those who defended Casey’s status as an Actually Good coach during his run in Toronto.
And perhaps down the road, as the post-breakup angst softens, Casey may in fact relish the Raptors’ successes and appreciate the ways in which he and the franchise symbiotically lifted one another up. Although judging from his post-game comments last night, that closure may have to wait until after the Nick Nurse era concludes.
Dwane Casey with a jab at nick nurse pic.twitter.com/EHZCJmOwQm— Owen (@SirOwenThaGOAT) March 4, 2019
OG Anunoby is Apparently Prime Ron Artest Now?
OG Anunoby has had some great defensive showings in the past. He’s one of the more surprisingly stout Giannis defenders in the league, helped shut down James Harden’s nearly unstoppable ass down in his very first NBA start, and even offered some resistance against LeBron from time-to-time last year, the buzzer beater that shall not be named notwithstanding.
He may have never, though, had a start-to-finish defensive performance like the one he put in on Sunday against Detroit. He was a maniac. Blocking Wayne Ellington corner threes, poking balls loose, serving as a one-man transition defense and chipping in to slow Blake Griffin all the way down in the second half — OG was everywhere, and offered a reminder of why folks were just as sweet on his outlook as Pascal Siakam’s coming into this season.
The Griffin stuff was particularly encouraging. Remember back in November when the Pistons beat the Raps on a buzzer-beater? And Griffin ate the Raptors’ collective lunch en route to a 30-12-3 line on 13-of-22 shooting? Well, it came a little less easily for Griffin on Sunday as OG’s menacing presence loomed.
Per NBA.com’s match-up data, OG guarded Griffin for 24 possessions Sunday night, on which the hub of Detroit’s offense scored just four points, coughed up two turnovers, slung zero assists and the Pistons poured in a smidgen less than a point per possession. That’s Blake Griffin! One of the six or seven best players in the East, and until yesterday, one of the more unsolvable riddles the Raptors have come across this season. In the event of say, a Raptors-Pistons playoff match-up, it’s handy to know that OG’s ability to hassle stars extends to Griffin’s bruising, point-forward stylings as well.
As it pertains to the potential playoff match-ups that might actually be, like, challenging for the Raptors to win, OG’s recent run of form is even more encouraging and/or necessary. And all of this excitement without even a mention of his 11 first-half points against Detroit, or the fact that he’s gunning 44 percent from three since the start of February. At the moment, he’s just about the only part of the bench that doesn’t engender groans.
Kyle Lowry — Still Over Everything!
The Raptors are the kind of team for which the results of games don’t matter nearly as much as the substance to be found within each added 48 minute data sample. It’s rare that a Kyle Lowry Fuck You™ game doesn’t end in a Raptors win; that possessed version of Lowry simply doesn’t allow an L to happen if he can help it. But even if Lowry’s season-best 35-point, seven-rebound, five-assist night on 6-of-14 from deep didn’t help yield Toronto’s 47th win of the season, it did continue the recent trend of Lowry generally being back to his old ass-whipping ways.
More than any other Raptor, Lowry seems to have been revitalized by the arrival of Marc Gasol — one of the few basketball savants who can claim to be on Lowry’s intellectual level. Two geniuses, cutting, passing, screening and shooting in the vicinity of one another, flanked by three other smart and good players — it would be shocking if it didn’t all translate into on-court magic. In 137 minutes together, the Raptors have a 114.8 / 106.6 / +8.2 efficiency slash line with a 74.4 (!!!) assist percentage with the two-man combo of Gasol and Lowry.
Since Gasol’s debut, Lowry’s slowly but surely been dragging up his season-long scoring and shooting numbers, while still doing all the other things that put him on his familiar perch overlooking Everything. In those eight games next to his old Grizzlies teammate, Lowry’s averaging 18.3 / 5.1 / 8.3 on a 43.5 clip from deep on nearly eight attempts a game. He’s a few assists a night shy of the MVP Nash-like numbers he was putting up for the first month and a half of the season before his back started acting up. That version of Lowry makes the Raptors exponentially harder to beat. Beneath Leonard’s 27 a game is a layer of Raptors all capable of being more than viable section options on any given night. Lowry jumping back up into that group, actively hunting his own looks while Gasol absorbs some of his old play-making burden, makes Toronto an even more harrowing nightmare from which teams must attempt to awaken.
So yeah, the loss to Detroit wasn’t all that bad.