Another week of basketball is in the books for the Toronto Raptors, and with it comes another light and unserious iteration of the Four Quarters. Let’s get right into it with the Optimist’s View:
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 – It’s good that SGA beat us
Sure, a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been nice. We here in Toronto, however, play the long game. In allowing young Hamiltonian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to carve the Raptors defense like a holiday turkey on his way to 32 points, Toronto gave him a taste of what it would it feel like to wear the crown in the 6ix. Though the Raptors faithful will never veer entirely away from the home team, they are always willing to give a warm reception to a Canadian player, especially one as young, talented and charismatic as Gilgeous-Alexander. Thus, phase one of an extended (and slightly unrealistic) recruiting pitch begins.
Unrestricted free agency is years away for SGA, and Thunder General Manager Sam Presti is not one to just trade away a talented young guard with All-NBA potential willy-nilly… oh wait. Nonetheless, there is a rule here north of the border. If a player a) plays basketball and b) is from Canada, then we must at least entertain the idea of acquiring said player, no matter the feasibility. Gilgeous-Alexander is the latest, and perhaps the most enticing of the Canadian basketball players. My Raptors optimism requires me, by law, to at least pretend like this might happen.
Although Jamal Murray is the current keeper of the Best Canadian Player belt, SGA is making a case to challenge his fellow Ontarian. He is averaging 19.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 36% percent from three — strong numbers for a second-year guard. He stands 6’4” and has a 6’9” wingspan, dimensions that give him defensive versatility and the ability to play either guard position. He’s even showing signs of midseason improvement, averaging 22 points over his last ten games.
If his statistics weren’t impressive enough, watch SGA play and you’ll see just how special he is. He glides across the court, his strides smooth and graceful. With the ball, his body never betrays his final intent. He goes from a lighting quick drive to stopping his movement on a dime, creating space for his next move. He never looks rushed, and it can sometimes appear time has slowed down around him when he has the ball. There just aren’t many players who have the control and unpredictability of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
As mentioned above, picturing SGA in a Raptors jersey is part of a national pastime, and Raptors fans will mentally concoct unrealistic scenarios that involve his acquisition by their favourite team. In these scenarios, this game in Toronto will be referenced as a major step. That is why it’s OK that the Raptors lost this one, given that it means an improved chance (not really) at landing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. In the meantime, we can still keep our values as Canadian basketball fans intact, and root for SGA as he headlines our revamped national team.
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 – Terence Davis II’s bounce back
With just under ten seconds left against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Raptors were down one. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had the ball, and Terence Davis II had a clear shot at fouling him. The Raptors still had a foul to give, but Davis II needed to get the process started of sending the Thunder to the free throw line, or at least causing a dead ball, where the Raptors would have a better chance at a steal. Davis II missed the opportunity, and Fred VanVleet had to commit a foul with 3.5 seconds left. After that, the Raptors’ chances of winning the game dwindled significantly, and the time ran out before there was a chance for another possession.
The next game, against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Davis II was committed to erasing the memory of this rookie mistake. In doing so, he had arguably his best game as a pro, scoring an electric 19 points, with 14 of those coming in the fourth quarter. He also did this:
This is a classic move by Davis II, and something that we can all relate to. Those of us who played sports growing up have all gone through this process. You make a mistake that hurts the team, then kick the effort levels into overdrive to make up for it. Whether it was turning the puck over in your own zone, missing a block that gets your quarterback sacked, or taking a bad penalty in a pivotal moment (can you tell I’ve done all of these?), you use the next possible opportunity you have to make up for this.
Even as we move out of the youth sports realm into adulthood, this phenomenon continues. At my most recent job (grass-cutting), if I ever made a mistake (cut the grass poorly), I would put in extra time and effort to ensure that my next job was exemplary (I cut the grass better). I’m sure the same applies to those in the business realm in matters such as closing deals and crunching numbers (my knowledge of what business folk do is clearly extensive).
For Davis II, the game ended after his mistake, so the next possible opportunity came in the next game against the Cavs. He took advantage of this and put on a show for Raptors fans to end 2019. We can appreciate Davis II’s actions in a familiar process.
3. Sports Psychology Corner:
An attempt to explain on-court occurrences through the mental aspect of the game.
The Case Study – Swapping Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and OG Anunoby
Prior to the Raptors game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Nick Nurse announced that he would be swapping Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into the starting lineup in the place of OG Anunoby. Psychologically, this move had an impact on both players. Hollis-Jefferson showed a little bit of extra juice as a starter, and Anunoby played with more motivation than we had seen from him in a while.
This is not the first time that Nurse has toyed with the starting lineups, as his platooning of Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas at the centre position was the first significant move of his coaching tenure. That he has done so sparingly speaks to how sensitive of a topic this can be. Players like to start, and the gravitas of doing so means something to the guys.
Obviously, Nurse was not doing this move to punish Anunoby. Doing so may work on a high school team but doesn’t necessarily fly with professionals. Instead, this was an attempt to get a struggling Anunoby going, and light a bit of a fire under him. Nurse had to trust the mental fortitude of Anunoby and that it would not be a hit to his confidence.
Anunoby came out with something to prove in the game. He flew around on defense and was seemingly in the mix on every rebounding opportunity. Offensively, he played with more aggression as his 12 points, while certainly nothing spectacular, were an improvement over his recent offensive output.
On the other end, Hollis-Jefferson was the perfect guy to put in the starting lineup. Hollis-Jefferson has made it clear that his role on the team has no affect on his mental makeup. Whether he is playing five minutes or 25, his effort levels do not wane. He had a solid game as a starter as well, with 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists, and brought his usual energy on defense.
RHJ likely had no illusions about keeping a starting spot, and was content to compete in the time he was given, and will continue to do the same now that he is back to coming off the bench as Nurse returned the starting lineup to normalcy in the very next game against the Heat. The impact, however, remains. Anunoby is now aware that a starting spot must be earned, and the guys off the bench know that they can play into these spots. It was another subtle yet clever coaching decision by Nurse, who seems to be quite good at sensing what his players need mentally.
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: Who would win in a playoff series, the Miami Heat or the Toronto Raptors?
The Die Hard: “The Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors have played each other twice so far this season. The Heat have won both times. Both games have been tight, with the Heat pulling away at the end, whether in the fourth quarter or overtime. The Heat have won twice, so they’d have the edge in a playoff series, right? WRONG!
“The first time they played was Kyle Lowry’s first game back from injury and he shot 2-for-18 from the floor and 0-for-11 from three-point range. ‘2-for-18 from Kyle Lowry? Well the Raptors must have gotten blown out!’ Nope! This one went to overtime, they barely lost! Do you think Lowry will play that poorly again? I don’t! This most recent game? They were missing Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, and Marc Gasol! In a seven-game series at full health, give me the Raptors.”
The Skeptic gives the Die Hard a long stare, with a perplexed look: “Do I hear excuses? Last time I checked; injuries don’t show up in the win column. The only thing that shows up is wins. The Miami Heat have won both games, and they’ve given the Raptors a whole lot of problems in doing so.
“The Heat have so many guys that they can throw at you. Bam Adebayo has been an All-Star this year. Nunn and Robinson are a great young back court, and those guys have something to prove. Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro killed the Raptors off the bench, and I haven’t even mentioned Jimmy Butler yet! There are just too many guys that can kill the Raptors, and it looks like Miami will have home court in a series. This is an easy choice for me, I’ll take the Heat.”
The Die Hard: “You’re talking about depth? These Raptors have been hurt too long and you’re forgetting that they have about nine different guys that can take a game over on a given night. And let’s talk about experience. How many of the Heat guys have even been out of the first round? Their “leader” Jimmy Butler, for all that talk he does about winning, hasn’t made it out of the second round. There is no substitute for playoff experience, and the Raptors have more of it that anyone in the East.”
The Skeptic: “Are we just going to ignore the fact that they don’t have Kawhi Leonard anymore? I’m not even going to bother talking about that because you know how much that changes things. Instead, let’s talk about that zone defense. The Heat completely flummoxed the Raptors with a zone defense –
The Die Hard: “You honestly think that will work with Siakam, Gasol, and Powell?!”
The Skeptic: “I don’t care who they were missing! That should not work on an NBA team for a full game! The Raptors should be embarrassed by that performance! And we know how creative Spoelstra is – he’ll always have something new to throw at the Raptors.”
The Die Hard and the Skeptic stare at each other for a moment, both plotting ways to defeat the other.
The Die-Hard, seeing an opportunity, doubles down, and speaks quietly: “Not only do I think the Raptors would win in a series. I think it would be a sweep.”
The Skeptic looks around incredulously, wondering if anyone is as baffled as he: “A SW- … A SWEEP?! Against the HEAT?! But –”
The Moderator: “And we are out of time for today’s debate, thanks for joining us.”
The Skeptic stares, red faced, unable to unleash his impassioned rebuttal.
There’s the buzzer, and so ends another week of the Four Quarters.