There’s that old meme, maybe you’ve seen it, of a tearful, bespectacled man getting very worked up about all of the bodily sacrifices put in by a cadre of pro wrestlers. The context here isn’t important; what’s important is the emotion at work, the consistent long-held beliefs on display — even in just those 30 seconds. This guy really can’t and won’t forget.
Now then. The Raptors beat up LeBron James and the Lakers on Saturday in their first Bubble contest. It was something of a seesaw affair, with Toronto running out to a comical 10-0 lead before LA eventually claimed the lead and so on. This is all typical of many NBA games, of course, but seeing as this one involved the Raptors and LeBron, it felt even more familiar — and heavy.
That’s because there was a moment early in the fourth quarter against LA when LeBron hit back-to-back threes and looked to be calmly moving into destroyer mode. It’s a sight we Raptors fans will never forget, thanks to the visual of James casually wiping out Toronto year after year. And despite winning the championship, the city has never quite vanquished this one particular demon — by besting James in the playoffs — which makes any contest against him a highly fraught affair. The pain of those old memories is, you guessed it, still real (to me, dammit).
So, anyway, the Raptors beat up the Lakers down the stretch on Saturday, moved to 1-0 in Orlando, and insisted to the world that they are for real. As it is now Monday (albeit a holiday here in Canada), it’s time to review where the Power Rankings have the Raptors — and to get emotional all over again.
First up, let’s review ESPN’s take care of a particularly churlish Tim Bontemps:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 4)
The Raptors have told anyone who would listen — usually no one — that they believe they can defend their title. It seems safe to assume people will be listening after the Raptors’ emphatic victory over the Lakers in their first seeding game. Kyle Lowry was brilliant, the defense was suffocating and Toronto acted as if it were no big deal. That’s because to the Raptors, it wasn’t. This team isn’t afraid of anyone and believes it is as good as any team here. Toronto will be a very difficult team to beat four times in seven games.
Usually no one! Is Bontemps saying this just to get a rise out of us, specifically? Ah, maybe we should all just relax. Everything after that little aside is absolutely correct. The Raptors got an emphatic victory over the favourite Lakers and looked confident doing so. That counts for a lot from a team (pre-title) that was known for its emotional shakiness.
Next up, let’s see where The Athletic’s Zach Harper takes us:
1. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
The Raptors have only played one game, but their win over the Los Angeles Lakers was a lot of fun. It’s hard to tell how much of the Lakers’ offensive struggles were due to poor shooting or what the Raptors defense made them do. The Raptors have been elite defensively most of the season, but the Lakers have also struggled to make shots through their two games. It’s probably a bit of both. The biggest takeaway for the entirety of their one game is the lineup of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol. This lineup dominated the Lakers in 16 minutes Saturday night. Fine-tuning with this unit will set them up for a deep playoff run.
Speaking of emotion, woah! We’re riding high here, literally, on top of Zach’s rankings. It is only one game, yes, but based on that game plus the 60-odd games before, we are, in fact, willing to say that the Lakers’ shooting woes were the result of Toronto’s awesome defense. In case you missed this screenshot floating around the Twitterverse the other day:
Raptors are the first team to finish top 2 in all these categories since 1980. That is a historical defense. pic.twitter.com/3NRwVZbImi— GIANNIS ANTEDTORONTO 2021 (@premekee) August 2, 2020
For our third entry, we of course turn to Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com with the read:
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 4)
We didn’t really need a reminder that the Raptors are really good, but they provided one just in case, handing the Lakers their least efficient offensive performance of the season (92 points on 103 possessions). The Bucks have the league’s No. 1 defense, but no team rotates like the champs, and that was on full display on Saturday as Anthony Davis got a season-low two shots in the paint, L.A. had more turnovers (18) than assists (17) for just the third time, and what had been a top-five offense before the hiatus scored a paltry 17 points on 36 possessions against Toronto’s reunited starting lineup.
One word in John’s very last point there is relevant: “Reunited.” The band is back together! The Raptors haven’t had a consistent starting lineup all year, and now, at least, we get to see what this team can do with a healthy Marc Gasol. Early results, as John notes, are very positive.
And finally, our good friend and pal Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports has this to say about the Raptors:
1. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
To those who don’t consider the defending champs a legitimate threat to repeat, they sent a loud warning shot with Saturday’s impressive win over the Lakers. Now fully healthy, the Raptors sent waves of skilled, tenacious bodies at LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with Kyle Lowry clearly the best player on the floor on Saturday. Toronto has a rough bubble schedule, but it got off to the best start possible by taking down the Lakers.
We’ll just leave that there.
Now, on to the poll.
After their first Bubble game, are the Raptors being ranked fairly?
This poll is closed
No. 2/4 polls have them #3 or worse? Insane.
Yes. 2/4 polls have them #1. That’s completely fair.
No. They beat the Lakers, why even have playoffs? Cancel the bubble!
Yes, but if the Raptors beat the Lakers and no fans were in attendance, did it really happen?