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Top 10 highlights from the 2018-19 Raptors season: Part 1

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With another NBA year at an end for the Raptors, we got together to rank our favourite moments from Toronto’s 2018-19 regular season run.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard’s (first?) regular season as a Toronto Raptor has come to a close. Despite a considerable amount of load management, Kawhi still provided fans with dazzling highlights, as did his teammates. With Pascal Siakam’s breakout year, Danny Green’s impressive return to form, Kyle Lowry as the always reliable leader, Serge Ibaka bringing the hammer, and others, we had many moments to choose from in compiling a top ten list.

The HQ staff — including Josh Kern, Dylan Litman, Conor McCreery, Thomas Mooney, Mitch Orsatti, Jay Rosales, and me, Sully Akbari — voted for and ranked our favourite plays of the 2018-19 regular season for the Raptors. Take a look and make sure to let us know if you agree or disagree with our rankings! (And note: the top three will be posted tomorrow.)

Before we get to our list, here are the honourable mentions that didn’t make the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Alas, here are our top Raptors plays from 10 to 4.

10. Kawhi Leonard’s Screwface Against Paul George

Mitch: From this day forth, let March 20th be remembered as the day Kawhi Leonard decided that he was going to stay with the Toronto Raptors.

In this moment, the roots of decades of Toronto Mans manifested in Kawhi when he felt the wholly ineffective (and illegal) arms of Paul George trying to push him off of his spot. Kawhi scanned his big, beautiful brain and found a still image from Kardinal Offishal’s Bakardi Slang (which Drake, presumably made him watch), recognized the cultural importance of the Screwface, rendered appropriately and proceeded to wet a fadeaway jumper for good measure.

9. Danny Green’s Game-Winner Against the Magic

Conor: Let’s get into the way-back machine for this one. If you’ll remember, back in late November, the Raptors had just come off their first three-game losing streak, with two of them — a 106-104 loss at home to Detroit, and the other a 123-116 overtime defeat in Boston — giving the Toronto faithful some heavy flashbacks.

In both those losses, really their first two closes games of the year since almost blowing a 13-point lead to the Wiz in game three, Nick Nurse gave Raptors fans an all-too-familiar sight: uninspired play-calling and late-game execution featuring a heavy dose of “iso your best guy even though the other team knows exactly what is coming, and where it’s coming from.” It was like the bad old days of the playoffs — except with Kawhi instead of DeMar.

That’s what makes this play a highlight. Sure, this game-winner is a sweet-ass shot, coming off a good play call, but that’s not why it’s here. This baby is all about what the process to get the shot could mean to this year’s Raptor’s playoff hopes. This baby is all about the idea, that when the games really matter, Nurse has some tricks up his sleeve, and the Raptors have enough on-the-ball magicians to make them work.

8. Pascal’s Spin Move Compilation

Dylan: In the 70s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook perplexed opposing big men. In the 90s, Hakeem Olajuwon’s dream shake dazzled viewers. This year, Pascal Siakam’s spin move left defenders reeling. At the beginning of the season, Pascal utterly stunned his opponents by creating a vortex that led right to the rim. As the year progressed, scouting increased, but to no avail. Somehow, Pascal continued to manoeuvre past (and through) defenders using his perfect blend of speed, strength and length, lighting up DVR rewind buttons one spin at a time.

7. Danny Green’s Seven 3-Pointers in the Third Buries Memphis

Josh: It’s been a long time since the Raptors had someone catch fire from downtown quite like Danny Green did on January 19 against the Grizzlies. Green nailed seven three-pointers, from all over the court, in the third quarter as the Raptors outscored the Grizzlies 45-14 in the quarter. 45-14! That’s ridiculous. What’s most fun about watching this highlight package is seeing Green’s court awareness; he’s not just parked in the corners, he’s moving around, watching plays (and sometimes breakdowns) develop, and seeing just the right moments to sprint out to the three-point line to rain fire. It was a hell of a show in what has been a sensational season for Green.

6. Pascal Siakam’s Game-Winning Drive Against the Suns

Sully: This was just an absurd game-winning play by Siakam. Coming out of the timeout, Lowry hands the ball to Spicy P at the top of the key with 10 seconds left. Siakam dribbles and dribbles and dribbles until there are about four seconds left on the clock. Then he begins to make his move. At this point I’m thinking to myself there is no way he is going to get a shot off before the buzzer. Then with 2.7 seconds left, he drives from the three-point line right to the cup for the tough layup over Deandre Ayton.

Let me repeat: Siakam went from the three-point line to the basket in under three seconds and banked the layup!

Seeing the joy on Kawhi’s face afterwards — plus the high-five! — was the cherry on top.

5. Kawhi Leonard’s Game-Winners vs. the Trail Blazers and Nets

Jay: Lots have been made of the Raptors’ end-of-game play calling. Ball & Player movement drop, while Isolation plays increase. Each buzzer-beating miss by Kawhi was met with scoffs from Raptor fans near and far. What gets lost in the shuffle is all of the positive plays made by Kawhi leading to those situations. Of players who have at least 80 FGA in the clutch this season, Kawhi is second (48.1%), behind Kyrie Irving (49.6%). Also, Kawhi leads the league with nine buckets to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the 4th or OT.

It certainly quells some fears when game-winners against Portland and Brooklyn occur — in front of the home crowd, no less. The Portland shot was sweet redemption after the Raptors fell short of an incredible comeback at the Moda Center back on December 14.

The Brooklyn shot was a symbol of Toronto’s resiliency. In year’s past, a hot-shooting opponent would walk out of Scotiabank Arena with a surprising victory. That the Raptors were able to win, despite the Nets hitting 20 triples, showed that this is a different squad. One with alternate (happy) endings and a hero ready to save the day.

4. Siakam’s Career-Night: 44 points and 10 rebounds Against the Wizards

Thomas: To say it’s been fun to watch Siakam’s growth this year is a massive understatement. This game was awesome not just because it was the sixth time he set a new career high in points this season, but because he did it in a variety of ways. Whether it was getting buckets in transition, working down in the post, breaking the defender in isolations, or making it rain from deep, Spicy P could not be stopped. Doing it against the Wizards was a nice cherry on top as well.

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Check back tomorrow for our top three Raptors highlights of the year from the 2018-19 regular season!