Remember Game 1? The “oh no, here we go again?” feeling? The jokes on twitter, the “same old Raptors” takes on TV, the eye-roll emojis, the “Kyle Lowry stinks” flamewars.
That seems like a million years ago.
The Toronto Raptors did it. They really did it! Despite that Game 1 blip, they went on to win a playoff series in decisive fashion, as a top seed should do, leaving no doubt as to the validity of that seed or their regular season record.
This... is an Odd Feeling
We are officially in uncharted territory as Raptors fans. Our team has never won four straight playoff games, has never closed a best of seven series in five games, has never had this high a margin of victory in a series. And we’ve never had a player like Kawhi Leonard; you could argue we’ve never even had the best player in a series, with one exception (Vince Carter in in the Knicks series in 2001).
So this is all new. Winning a playoff game — let alone a series! — this easily is a really odd feeling.
Even the crowd last night was oddly subdued; the 7:00 p.m. start meant the crowd was late arriving, and by the time the building was full the Raptors were up 18-3. The “Let’s Go Raptors” and “De-dense” charts didn’t have any legs all night... but they weren’t needed.
I hope that the crowd at least enjoyed the moment, and its rarity. I know I did.
Kyle Lowry is Ready to Go Home
Uh, not in that way, like he's ready to go home for the summer. I mean he’s ready to go to his hometown and kick some ass.
Lowry came out like a house afire last night, scoring the Raps’ first nine points. He settled nicely into the offense after that, finishing with 14 points and nine assists, and his defense was off the charts. He drew three (!) offensive fouls in the first half, harassed Terrence Ross into several tough shots (when he allowed Ross to actually catch the ball), and picked up four rebounds and a steal.
Rod Black “Lowry taking more charges than your credit card”.— Sandro Rubin (@Insider6ix) April 24, 2019
He even posted up Evan Fournier in the third and scored, a play that drew one of the loudest cheers of the night.
Kyle Lowry playing Philadelphia in the playoffs is an awesome subplot. A Philly guy through and through, Lowry always gives his best against his hometown team, and his play in this first round — yes, folks, even with that scoreless Game 1 — was sensational.
In the 177 minutes Lowry played this series, the Raptors outscored the Magic by 106 points. They were a -34 in the 63 minutes he sat.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 24, 2019
Round Two Kyle in Philly is gonna be super-fun.
Kawhi Leonard is Ridiculous
Leonard once again was the answer to anything and everything the Magic did. He was masterful on defense, unstoppable on offense... I mean, 27 points on 11 shots? Perfect from downtown, including 3-for-3 in the third quarter, when the Magic made their last desperate gasp? He had a true shooting percentage of 99.0! I don’t even have the words.
There’s also this, possibly the most ridiculous thing of all from an insane performance:
The other day in this space I recalled Allen Iverson and called Leonard the Raptors’ version of the answer, but, if you’ll allow me to put this another way:
Fuck Paul Pierce, Kawhi Leonard is the motherfucking truth— Josh Kern (@joshuakern) April 13, 2019
Nikola Vucevic, Giving Raptors fans Deja Vu
As a Raptors fan, I am all too familiar with the discomfort of watching a player be a star in the regular season and then struggle mightily in the playoffs, so I feel a kinship with Magic fans who are disappointed in the play of Nikola Vucevic this morning.
Vooch had possibly his worst game if the series last night, picking up three early fouls and starting 0-for-4. Steve Clifford took him out halfway through the first quarter, and he didn’t see the floor again until the second half; he ended up with a mere six points on 10 shots in 17.5 minutes. He finished the series averaging 11 points and eight rebounds (and was a -66 across five games) — this after an All-Star season where he averaged 21 and 12.
What’s funny about being on the other side, though, is I can clearly see that Vucevic isn’t (entirely) to blame; the Raptors’ defensive scheme, and the individual brilliance of Marc Gasol, deserve most of the credit for Vucevic’s disappearing act.
Did we, as Raptors fans, give the opposing defenses the same credit after DeRozan’s disappointing postseason campaigns? Probably not... and it would be small comfort either way.
Did Marc Gasol Shamgodd Vooch!?
OK, so it’s quite the killer God Shammgod one-handed crossover, but it’s pretty slick:
As noted above, Gasol had another all-around excellent game. Much like Lowry, a lot of what Gasol does doesn’t show up in the box score; he only had nine points and nine boards, and averaged 8.4 and 5.6 for the series. But his impact on both ends is undeniable; he finished +60 for the series with a net rating of 23.9.
Of course, I still want Marc to shoot more — he passes up a lot of open looks — but when he does stuff like this on the defensive end, he’s earned the right to do whatever the heck he wants on offense.
It’s only the first round, but damn... this feels good. Odd, sure! But good. This is pretty much the bare minimum of confidence, this feeling I have, and yet it’s so unusual at this time of the year that it feels like I’m overconfident.
The 76ers series won't be easy. I think it’s a great matchup for Toronto; Lowry’s at his best against them, Gasol has had great success against Joel Embiid, and Leonard has never lost to the Sixers and pretty much erased Ben Simmons earlier this year... it won’t be easy, but it should be fun.