The Toronto Raptors haven’t been two games over .500 since the 2019-20 season, but that's exactly where they are right now, having beaten the league-leading New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden last night.
That’s a quality road win against a quality team (and without . I know it’s still early, but I can’t help myself — I’m starting to get excited about this team!
1. Malachi, making it happen
Not only did Malachi Flynn play real first-half minutes last night, he actually had an impact! A significant one! He orchestrated the offense nicely, including connecting with OG Anunoby in the pick-and-roll — something I mentioned the other day I wanted to see Anunoby and VanVleet do more of (which they did, right here).
Flynn was also a pest on the defensive end, getting after the Knicks on the perimeter.
I still think Flynn will benefit greatly from an extended 905 stint, but it was really encouraging to see him make the most of his opportunity yesterday.
2. Birch rising
Precious Achiuwa has looked more and more raw as the season has gone on. Luckily for the Raptors, Khem Birch has looked better and better as he’s gotten into shape after a short preseason.
Birch got the second-half start last night after Achiuwa had a rough first half. And it didn’t really get better for Precious after he checked back in later in the second half, as he launched an airball from about 14 feet.
I think Achiuwa might also have some 905 time in his future.
3. The loooong stride turnaround
There were a whole lot of OG Anunoby highlights to choose from last night, as he dropped a career high 36. I thought he was about the do the splits on this one:
OG’s footwork has never been stellar, but being able to maintain balance and hit that shot after that slip was impressive. He also nailed a similar turnaround in the fist half (one where he didn’t slip!). You can see that this is something he’s been working on for a while now, and if he can hit that consistently, look out.
4. Freddy OK
After some, ah, consternation from Raptos fans about his play 10 or so days ago, I think it’s safe to say Fred VanVleet has found his groove (and that Raptors fans have change their minds!).
He’s averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and six assists during the team’s four-game winning streak. He’s also shooting 44% from deep on eight attempts per game.
Yeah, he’s gonna be just fine.
I also think it’s instructive to remember how short the preseason is now. Yeah, it still seems long. But teams used to play eight games. They also used to have longer practices, and even two-a-days. Now they play 4-5 games, and have comparatively mild practices. It’s a long-term positive for player health, but it does mean it takes a couple of regular season games in addition to the preseason for everyone to find their feet again.
Either way, happy to see that Fred’s found his!
5. Anniversary miss
Whatever happened to the Huskies jerseys? They wore them as an alternate in the 2016-17 season, and they’ve never been seen again.
Last night, of course, would have been the perfect opportunity to wear them again, as the league was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Basketball Association of America game between the Knickerbockers and the Huskies. The Knicks wore throwback uniforms... why not the Raps?
Missed opportunity there, for sure.