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Toronto Temperature: The Raptors ran hot and cold to the brink of elimination

Toronto’s Games 3, 4 and 5 against the Celtics have all happened since we last took the Temperature. How could we possibly feel?

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors - Game Five
Coach Nurse directing traffic for Norman Powell.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This week’s Toronto Temperature is brought to you by Fall, a season in which the weather is hot, then cold, and then both simultaneously, leaving your body in a twisted sickness that you can’t wrap enough sweaters or buzzer-beaters around to feel warm inside again.

Before we dive into the effort of assessing how we should be feeling about the Raptors, it’s important to note that the police have not been defunded and you can still contact your city councillor, mayor and MPP to push them to do so. Without change we’re never going to stop seeing officers like this, who believe a career is more important than a life and that they are only in power to herd, abuse, and kill the “sheep” that they are meant to be protecting.

*****

Who’s Hot

Kyle Lowry, A True Gift

Leo Rautins hit the nail squarely on the head when speaking about Kyle Lowry before tip-off of Game 5. We’re “running out of superlatives” to throw out there when we speak about Lowry. We know he’s the undisputed Raptors GOAT, we know he’s going to give absolutely everything he has to win and we know he’s criminally underrated, just ask Brad Stevens.

Even though we know all of that, the man continues to bewilder and surprise us at every turn. In Game 3, Lowry had a filthy 31/8/6/2 slash on nearly 47 minutes only to follow that up with a 22/11/7/2/2 line in nearly 45 minutes. If the insane offensive burst isn’t doing it for you, there are a litany of defensive highlights that we can turn to admire, like this one.

Perfectly predicting a charge when his opponent is basically still at the three point line? Come on.

How about this one, where Kyle makes a Herculean play that doesn’t result in a possession, but an extended timeout near the end of the game when the starters had mostly played the entirety of the second half and the majority of the game.

There is of course one more highlight to illustrate, but it’s more of a package deal. Let’s kick it over to OG real quick.

OG Anunoby, Saviour

We, Toronto Raptors fans, are spoiled. Last year, we had Kawhi’s shot and a championship to go along with it. This year, we get the absolutely ridiculous pass from Kyle Lowry over Tacko Fall (now -3 in the series) to OG Anunoby, a cold-blooded killer who proceeded to dart Jaylen Brown’s eye with the game-winner that kept the series alive.

Anunoby has been Toronto’s second best player in the series and it isn’t particularly close. He’s doing everything expected of him and so much more. He’s drilling 3s. He’s cutting with purpose. He’s making the smart rotational pass. He’s also locking down whomever Nick Nurse assigns to him (often Jayson Tatum) and he’s even managing to create some of his own offense off the bounce. If OG can keep this up and some of the other Raptors remember how to function on offense, Toronto has more than a fighting chance to battle back into this series.

Who’s Not

Serge Ibaka, Booted Up

You should always say something nice when possible, so let’s lead this section off by saying the Raptors likely lose Game 4 if not for Ibaka’s dead-eye shooting that led to 18 points off of the bench. Serge was decisive when he caught the ball and shot 78 percent from the field and 100 percent from deep on four attempts. The Raptors really needed all those points.

Having said that though, it’s on the defensive end where Serge has been having some troubles. This presents a conundrum for Nick Nurse as Marc Gasol, while brilliant in his spacing, passing, and positioning on both ends of the court, has really struggled with his touch both around the basket and from deep. He also can’t stay on the court due to being outpaced by the smaller, younger, faster Daniel Theis and the whistle that comes along with being blown by on more than the odd occasion. Ibaka on the other hand can feast in the right scenarios (please, stop feeding Ibaka in the high post) but has struggled mightily when tasked to guard the pick-and-roll — a play that Stevens has hunted when Ibaka is on the floor.

To make matters worse, Nick Nurse’s hand might be forced into something radical with Serge sporting a walking boot after Game 5. Speaking of which...

Chris Boucher, Unplayable

After an atrocious nine minute spell in Game 2 that lead to a -9 with 0 points and many missed rotations and gambles, Chris Boucher had been stapled to the bench. With the Raptors getting pummeled in Game 5, Nurse broke the seal and inserted Boucher into the lineup into what were effectively garbage time minutes. How did Boucher respond? A -2 on 1-of-5 shooting and three offensive rebounds that all came on missed putback attempts of his own shot. Boucher has been chasing every Raptors offensive rebound, often with no chance to get it, chasing blocks, missing rotations and shooting outside of the flow of the offense. In other words, he’s been really, really, bad.

With Ibaka possibly missing Game 6, Nurse is going to have a tough decision to make. Do you go back to Boucher, who was more than serviceable in the regular season? Do you turn to the likes of Pascal Siakam at the 5 when Gasol sits and mix-in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in a P.J. Tucker type role, you know, minus being able to shoot from three? Whatever decision Nick goes with, it very well could decide the fate of the series.

Norman Powell, Ice Cold

Speaking of tough decisions for Nurse, just what do you do with Norman Powell at this point? He’s not finishing at the rim. He’s forcing shots outside of the rhythm of the offense and he’s been lackluster to say the least on the defensive end. A small sliver of hope? He did shoot 43 percent from three point range in Game 5. Could there be a resurgence? Please? Can we have pre-COVID Norm back just for the rest of the playoffs until the Raptors repeat?

BONUS: Who’s Not

Everyone involved in the voting for this award that gave first or even second team votes to Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Beverley (and somehow two votes for Luka Dončić) and not to Kyle Lowry ought to be ashamed of themselves. Kyle led the league in charges taken and routinely defended every position on the court, making winning defensive plays at almost every turn.

I will say that I take less umbrage with OG not making either of these teams, though he deserved more than two votes. Every forward here deserves their spot, but those two guards getting recognized over Kyle. What a disgrace.