Talk about your bittersweet victories. The Raptors have completed their easiest playoff series victory in franchise history, a four-game sweep of the Brooklyn Nets — but a pall has been cast over the proceedings: Kyle Lowry is hurt.
Before the thoughts, here’s an insane statistic for you: of the 633 First Nations reservations in Canada, 73% are at risk of water contamination. Some have been under boil water advisories for over 20 years, with promises to provide clean water dating back over four decades. Canada’s treatment of its Indigenous people is shameful and embarrassing, and we need to actively work to make change. Click here to learn more and to see how you can help.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the horrifying feeling of once again waking up to find out that another unarmed Black man had been shot by police. Seven times. After being tased. In front of his children. After months of protests, actions and calls for police reform, not a single thing has changed. It remains vitally important that we continue to push back against police use of violent force, hold police accountable, push our elected officials to defund our over-militarized police forces, and call for the redistribution of public funds from policing to community services.
OK. On to the thoughts.
1. This Feels Funny. But... Nice?
Not even in the first round last year, when Kawhi Leonard showed us what it means to have a superduperstar on your side, have I experienced this level of comfort and ease while watching the Raptors in a playoff series. It’s really, really strange. Even in Game 2 when the Nets were giving the Raps everything they had, I wasn’t concerned; I was confident the Raptors would win that one, and even if they did lose it, that they could handle a loss and that they were the better team. But with how easily the Raptors dismantled the Joe Harris-less Nets in Games 3 and 4...
Garbage time with 10 minutes to go in a clinching playoff game. For the Raptors. Never thought I’d live to see the day— Josh Kern (@joshuakern) August 24, 2020
I mean, just think about what this game gave us: the Raptors completing their first ever series sweep; a franchise record 150 points, and the first playoff team in 30 years (and only the sixth ever) to score 150 points; an NBA-record (regular season or playoffs) 100 bench points; a franchise playoff record 39 assists; and two Raptors breaking the team record for playoff points off the bench (Norman Powell with 29, and Serge Ibaka with 27, both surpassing Jose Calderon’s record, 25). Nine Raptors scored nine or more points!
Teams that have made the second round of the playoffs in each of the last five years: The Toronto Raptors.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) August 24, 2020
It’s uncharted territory. I wish I could enjoy it. But...
2. No, Wait, This Feels Awful
When I woke up this morning, the very first thought on my mind was of Kyle Lowry. It was just an awful feeling, watching him limp off the court last night, and as much as I enjoyed watching the rest of team blow out the Nets, a dark cloud hung over the entire rest of the game.
As of this writing, no news has come out, beyond the fact that he was going to get “imaging” done on it last night, and that Nick Nurse thought it was more of a foot injury than an ankle injury. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that we haven’t heard anything further; usually you hear right away what the results of an MRI or x-ray reveal. Then again, the Raptors don’t leak, so it’s not a huge surprise our phones haven’t yet lit up with Woj notifications.
Obviously, the Raptors can’t afford to lose Lowry for any portion of their upcoming series against the Celtics. As deep as the Raptors are, and as resilient as they are, I can’t imagine them beating Boston without Lowry at or near full health. Even with the Celtics missing Gordon Hayward, they’re still an incredibly tough matchup for Toronto. My fingers are crossed for good news.
3. Siakam Back In the Paint
I was pretty darn pleased with Pascal Siakam’s scoring last night. I noted last game that it seemed he was making more of an effort to get his shots up going to the rim (but they just weren’t falling); last night, the effort was there once again, and this time, it looked like his touch was back as well.
Check out these two great takes from the first quarter:
That’s what I like to see from Pascal: just decisive, going quick, not thinking about it.
But let’s look at what happened here in the third quarter.
First, we get this classic SIakam push-floater — that nice soft touch going to the rim:
On the next play, he got a pass from Powell, looked to drive, drew the defense and dished to OG Anunoby for the corner three:
Then Siakam got a defensive rebound, drove the lane again, and this time found Norman Powell for three:
Finally, Pascal got another defensive rebound, and kicked it ahead to Fred VanVleet for three:
That’s an 11-0 run, with Siakam notching two points, three assists (to three different players!) and two rebounds.
Siakam finished with 20 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in 33 minutes. ‘Nuff said.
4. Caris LeVert, Man Possessed
Apparently Caris LeVert didn’t get the memo that this series was over after Game 3. Sporting a new ‘do, LeVert came out like a ball of fire in the first half, penetrating and probing, putting the Raptors D on its heels. Oh, and he also stroked four threes. His aggressive play was certainly a factor in Fred VanVleet picking up three early fouls.
Caris LeVert pic.twitter.com/ohwgs183Ja— The Ringer (@ringer) August 23, 2020
In the second half, OG Anunoby got the start on LeVert, but ultimately it didn’t really matter. The Nets just didn’t have the horses in this one, and LeVert and Anunoby were both sent to the bench for the fourth quarter. LeVert finished with 35 points on 23 shots, with six boards and six assists.
I have no idea how LeVert will fit in next to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but on paper, as a third scorer, he should be exactly the type of player the new-look Nets should be putting around their two stars.
5. Get that Foul Trouble Outta Here
The Raptors just couldn’t stop fouling the Nets last night, and that, combined with the Kyle Lowry injury, left them to run out some curious lineups in the first half, with pretty weird combos like Matt Thomas, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Terence Davis. Powell was in there in place of Siakam at one point, and Marc Gasol came in for Thomas at another point, giving the Raps the ultra-rare double-big-no-PG lineup!
The funny thing is, after VanVleet and Lowry left, the Raptors were +12 over the next 12 minutes. They only had six turnovers all half, and managed 15 assists.
If there’s any silver lining to the Lowry injury and the VanVleet fouls, it’s that Davis and Thomas got extended minutes, and Powell and Ibaka had to take on even larger roles on offense. It’s good for those guys to get the reps, even if Lowry comes back fully healthy. The Raptors are gonna need ‘em against the Celtics.
I’m practically chewing off my fingernails waiting for Lowry news. I guess I’m relieved that the second-round series doesn’t start until Thursday, and hoping that whatever ails Lowry can heal up in three days. But I’m gonna be on edge until I know for sure!
In any event: Celtics-Raptors is the playoff series we’ve all been waiting for. Stay tuned to HQ for all kinds of previews and matchup breakdowns over the next few days!