If you decided to take a nap yesterday afternoon instead of watching the Toronto Raptors take on the Phoenix Suns, you’d be forgiven — after all, it looked like the Raptors never really woke up for this one! It was a low-energy affair from the champs, who were clearly over this whole “scrimmage” thing and just want to get down to real business.
Is there anything we can take away from this one? Let’s see!
1. No Ball, No Problem
Pascal Siakam admitted earlier this month that he hadn’t played basketball for about three months after the league initially shut down. That raised some concerns from the more vocal fans, worried that Siakam would take a step back when play resumed and the Raptors would suffer for it.
Well, he looks fine! He shot 16-for-31 through the three scrimmages, spent plenty of time running the offense and flashed his usual array of silky spin moves. Now, he did turn the ball over nine times, but I think we can forgive him that.
2. Welcome Back Norm
Norman Powell was pretty quiet through the first two scrimmages, hitting just seven of his 21 shots, and making me worry that old, unreliable Norman Powell was back in our lives. But Nick Nurse said he was happy with Powell’s play and the shots he was taking, and that they’d eventually fall. They finally did yesterday, as Powell shot 6-for-11 (and 2-for-3 from downtown) to finish with 14 points. He got to the rim a couple times too, showing that explosiveness we all like to see from him. It was good to see “good Norm” on display again.
3. They're Really Gonna Ruin the TV Experience, Aren’t They
If you thought the Bubble was gonna be a chance to just focus on basketball, well, it looks like ESPN and the broadcast partners have other plans! Yesterday we got our first terrifying glimpse of the “virtual fans”, who will appear — via Zoom call, because of course — as floating busts in digital seats looming over the team benches.
I have to ask: Who is this for? It’s not visible on TV most of the time, and looks terrible when it is (again, televised Zoom calls are bad! Stop doing it!); and I can’t imagine this is doing anything for the players on the floor. 150 virtual fans is not going to make them feel like they're playing in their home stadium! It’s just weird and unnecessary.
Meanwhile, we’ll also be getting virtual logos plastered on to the floor, which is also completely unnecessary but at least I get it, from a branding perspective.
Hopefully they work out the bugs, though because yesterday’s broadcast was a mess. At times, both the Raptors logo and the Suns logo appeared at the same time, and the scorebug was wonky all game. Good thing they waited until the final scrimmage to test all this stuff!
4. Defensive Concerns? Hmmm.
The Raptors were pretty terrible on defense last night, looking disengaged and disinterested most of the time, especially in transition; the Suns ran often, and often, the Raptors were a few steps behind, and fouling to slow them down.
Rotations out to shooters, especially in the corners, were slow as well.
So: Do we need to be concerned? Nah. The Raptors were fine in the first two games, so I think we can chalk this up to it being the last meaningless game. The Raps may also have taken the competition lightly; the Suns aren’t a good team, and the Raptors might not have felt they needed to give a full effort. That shouldn’t be a problem in the seeding games, what with the Raptors difficult schedule!
(The Raptors do have two afternoon seeding games, so hopefully the sleepy performance in this one wasn't just because it was an afternoon game!)
5. Nick Nurse: “You can never know until you get there”
Post-game, Nurse was asked about whether or not he thinks the team is ready for the real games. It doesn’t sound like he put too much value in the scrimmages, even suggesting there were one too many; hopefully, though, he saw enough to give the team some things to work on in practice this week, and again, hopefully, the defensive lapses last night were just a blip.
But, like the man says: We’ll find out when we get there!
Watching hoops for the past few days, has made it easier to forget all the craziness that’s going on in the world. Even though basketball in July is weird, it was a good distraction. As always, though, we can’t let it be too much of a distraction. Just now, I’m hearing that Toronto is moving to “Stage 3” of its reopening, and while the low COVID-19 case numbers in Ontario are encouraging, we haven’t beaten this coronavirus yet. And, in Canada and the U.S., there’s still a long, uphill battle to be fought for racial justice and equity. Breonna Taylor’s killers are still free. So: enjoy the hoops, but don’t forget that there are still real, important issues that also deserve our full attention.