There have been many All-Star Games over the years where the Toronto Raptors have had representation, but not a lot of impact.
In the early parts of the DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry days, it was — as they say — just an honour to be nominated. The two looked at odds with the high flying, carefree attitude of the annual exhibition game, and always ended up somewhere on the periphery of what was actually going on the game.
This season, though, there’s been no ignoring the Raptors. As the team just wrapped up a 15-game win streak, everyone is talking about the team’s surprise aspirations for the Eastern Conference second seed. Pascal Siakam was voted an All-Star starter by fan vote and Nick Nurse, along with the rest of the Raptors coaching staff, earned their jobs with Team Giannis on merit.
There was no ignoring the Raptors in this year’s All-Star Game, either, as all three of Kyle Lowry, Siakam, and Nurse were central figures to one of the most competitive quarters — if not games — in All-Star history.
It turns out changing formats and making people do math can be a good thing. The NBA’s experiment with the Elam ending — adding 24 points in honour of Kobe Bryant to the team leading at the end of three quarters and making that the “target score” — was a wild success down the stretch. While the first three quarters were a bit predictable, full of long timeouts, and didn’t have the intensity that the “playing for charity” stakes may have dictated, the fourth quarter looked like cocaine for an NBA adrenaline junkie.
With the two teams tied at 146, the battle to get the last 11 points was particularly memorable. It was here where Kyle Lowry took not one, but two charges — the first on former teammate Kawhi Leonard and overall, the first charges ever recorded in an All-Star Game. How perfect is that?
Lowry finished with 13 points, eight assists, five rebounds, and three steals in 28 minutes. That was far and away the most minutes by a Team Giannis bench player (Khris Middleton played 23), showing you a bit of what was apparent all night: Nick Nurse showing trust in his guys.
Did Lowry miss a couple tough shots that could’ve gotten his team closer to 157? Yeah, he did, and a certain delegation online didn’t care for that. The other options on Team Giannis were limited, though, especially in the guard creator department. Trae Young and Donovan Mitchell were both first time All-Stars. Jimmy Butler looked nonchalant in the first half of play. Kemba Walker was great, scoring 23 points on 18 shots, but looked undersized under the intense pressure of Team LeBron’s supersize closing lineup. In a two-point game, it’s hard to be mad at Lowry for putting it on the line defensively and coming up a bit short on a couple jumpers.
Pascal Siakam also got crunch time minutes for Team Giannis, but finished with just 18 minutes overall — scoring 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, with six rebounds and a steal. Siakam missed a big free throw that could’ve brought his team to 154 and within a possession of winning, but it ultimately didn’t matter much, as they weren’t able to take advantage on following possessions to close the gap on Team LeBron.
As for Nick Nurse? He won a challenge! Honestly, there’s not much coaching to be done in the All-Star Game, and most of his work was done in fourth quarter lineups. Going with a couple Raptors is a safe decision, but one that made sense given the fact that, you know, they all work together every day. It was particularly funny that he found an 11th and 12th guy to bench, even in an All-Star Game.
Nick Nurse really looked at Brandon Ingram before the game and said "you are my Stanley tonight"— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) February 17, 2020
In any light, it was a great finish to an All-Star Game that needed a refresh after a few years of low effort and low intensity. A lot changed in just one year, but it wasn’t that difficult to follow along as it played out. TNT playing the fourth quarter without commercials was a big part of that, as it was almost unnerving to watch the drama ratchet up as teams inched closer to 157 — without interruption from State Farm or Diamond and Diamond.
Kawhi Leonard was named the first Kobe Bryant NBA All-Star MVP for Team LeBron, as he made 8-for-14 from three to get to a game-high 30 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo led his team with 25, but Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert(!!) chipped in 22 and 21, respectively.
The Raptors resume regular season action on Friday, as they host the Phoenix Suns.