“I don’t shoot trying to miss.”
That was OG Anunoby, nonchalantly — as if he has ever shown himself to be some other way — after being asked about his stoic reaction to a game-winning, series-saving, three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left.
To many a Toronto Raptors fan, such as those who catch the odd regular season game and pick up their viewership as the playoffs heat up, this was shocking to hear from the stone-faced, supposedly emotionless small forward. If you’ve been paying attention, however, it was all — the shot, the reaction, the quote — hardly a surprise. OG Anunoby has always been confident. He is steady in every situation, and that shows up both in his play and in his interactions.
When the Raptors collapsed against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 playoffs, a rookie Anunoby was really the only player who outperformed their expectations while the rest of the team floundered. He looked unafraid of peak LeBron James, who he was tasked with guarding. Though the statistics won’t necessarily back it up, thanks to an absurd barrage of turnaround jumpers from James, he defended him admirably. His shooting was excellent, as he hit 45 percent of his threes in his rookie playoffs. In fact, in a bit of foreshadowing, Anunoby hit a clutch three in the dying seconds of the third game of the series.
That game, however, it was LeBron’s late game heroics that became the story. Look away if you’re prone to flashbacks.
On Thursday, it was Anunoby’s improbable shot that dripped through the net as the outline of the backboard glowed red.
With both shots, Anunoby stayed steady.
Now, there is an inevitable comparison that will occur with Anunoby. After all, his starting spot is the one that was vacated by another quiet small forward. They are both fearless. They both began as muscle bound defensive terrors with developing offensive games.
If you’re aware that sports exist, you’d know that this player is Kawhi Leonard. His offensive game, let’s just say, has developed now. OG’s offense is improving and shows flashes of being quite effective, although it will likely never be as controlled and ruthlessly efficient as Leonard’s. Another point of difference between them is what goes on behind their sober expressions.
Behind Anunoby’s there is actually quite a bit of mischief. The same mental make-up that allows him to casually walk away following a series altering three-pointer manifests in some hilarious exchanges. His ability to keep his emotions in check and maintain his subtle confidence has gotten a rise out of teammates and opponents who are more prone to passion.
The most notorious of those exchanges occurs with Serge Ibaka on his show Avec Classe. In a scene that had an entire fanbase obsessed with scarves for weeks, Anunoby poked Ibaka about fashion, claiming that he had inspired Serge, and asked the now famous question repeatedly, “But what about scarves?” Serge became increasingly flustered while Anunoby wore a smirk for the bulk of the episode.
The iconic exchange begins at 3:55. An underrated one occurs at 8:18 when he goes back and forth asking Serge if he wants to hear about his favourite outfit, or his best one.
Anunoby has also used his stable demeanor to get under the skin of opponents. Occasionally, he’ll get tangled up with an opponent, and his blank expression will make you wonder if his physicality is an accident. If you watch closely enough, you can often see a brief grin emerge on his face knowing that he got under the skin of his opponent.
Next time Anunoby ends up in one of those extracurricular situations with an adversary, watch what he does. He may lean on them a little extra when getting himself up or give a bonus shove as they part. Then, most importantly, watch for the smirk. Catching Anunoby breaking and showing that faint hint of funny business is one of my favourite things to see in a Raptors game. Another favourite of mine is his dead-eye playoff shooting.
This season, he has continued his trend from his rookie year of postseason improvement. No, he doesn’t turn into Kevin Durant, but his shooting is lights out, once again going 45 percent from deep these playoffs. Particularly in this Celtics series, Anunoby’s scoring volume has increased as well, averaging 14 points thus far. So, while his buzzer beater will rightfully get the bulk of the shine, his consistency has been essential in bringing the Raptors back in this series, which now sits even at 2-2.
It has been special to watch OG have his moment in the playoffs now since he was unable to last season due to an emergency appendectomy. If they were without him again this postseason, it’s likely the Raptors would have left Orlando by now.
As Chris Paul ironically noted before his Oklahoma City Thunder team was dispatched by the Houston Rockets in game 7, some players are just “built for it.” Anunoby’s steady confidence in all he does is emblematic of someone who fits that bill. Whether he is stirring up trouble, or recapping a historic shot, that steady confidence remains. It is not glaring, but if you noticed the little things OG Anunoby does, you would have known all along that he is certainly built for it.