After an exhilarating, but ultimately disappointing, bout with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors are set to play the Brooklyn Nets today, in a matinee marquee matchup. This will mark Kevin Durant’s first return to Toronto since his infamous Achilles injury in the 2019 NBA Finals. If you recall, there was some controversy, so this should prove to be a fun one.
Serge Ibaka apologizes to Kevin Durant for Raptors fans cheering his injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, but KD is super chill about it:— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) October 21, 2019
Full video: https://t.co/5sfcmWWUiu pic.twitter.com/FYNkSVe2GP
While Durant doesn’t appear especially peeved in the clip above, Torontonians may also remember how he insulted the Raptors’ franchise by callously proclaiming that the team’s first ever NBA Finals appearance in 2019 would also “probably be [their] last”.
However, all petty exchanges aside, this game is sure to be titillating for basketball reasons. The Brooklyn Nets are coming into their own, having won four games in a row after a mediocre start. The Nets currently sit near the top of the conference, while the Raptors slipped down a few seeds after last game’s heartbreaking loss. Still, the season is young, and the seeding varies wildly from night to night, so there’s really no reason to be concerned. This team has seen a relatively prolonged stretch of success already.
Additionally, Pascal Siakam is reportedly making his much-anticipated season debut today, which of course bodes well for the team’s immediate future. If things break right for this insanely long, defensively gifted Raptors team, I truly believe their ceiling is as high as nearly any Eastern Conference team.
Today’s matchup is exciting on multiple fronts, from Pascal Siakam’s long-awaited return, to the off-court narratives surrounding the fans, and Durant’s history in Toronto. It will surely feel like a playoff atmosphere in Scotiabank Arena today, as Kevin himself noted.
Kevin Durant said he’s expecting a “ridiculous” crowd to play in front of in Toronto. Durant said he’s excited to see the fans back in Toronto.— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) November 6, 2021
So, sit back, relax, and let’s all continue to pretend that Kyrie Irving doesn’t exist. Here are today’s game details:
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 3:30pm ET
Brooklyn — James Harden, Bruce Brown, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Brooklyn — Kyrie Irving (doesn’t exist — OUT), Nicolas Claxton (illness — OUT)
Toronto — Yuta Watanabe (calf — OUT)
Give Gary his flowers
Gary Trent Jr. has been a revelation. In my player preview for this season, I postulated that, regardless of how well Gary could play on defense, he wouldn’t be able to stay on the floor if he wasn’t hitting his shots. Evidently, this has turned out to be untrue, and I’d like to own up to that publicly. Trent is leading the NBA in steals at 3.1 per game, and his effort has been otherworldly. He’s much quicker than I initially pegged him for, possessing an exceptionally quick reaction time with speedy hands to match.
Of course, it’s not like Gary is completely lost on the offensive end either. His shots still aren’t going down at the same rate as they did for most of his Portland tenure, but his defense has been so transcendent, to the point where his pesky presence on the floor is always welcome. As well, with a previous track record of shooting prowess, teams are still respecting Gary’s long-range attempts, providing necessary spacing, even if he isn’t consistently making his shots just yet.
Embarrassment of riches
Kevin Durant is the lankiest, and most talented, high-volume scorer in the world. James Harden is similarly talented and creative at the guard position. For most NBA teams, these matchups would pose insurmountable problems. Luckily for the Raptors, however, this team employs multiple players that match up well with those guys, including Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., who are all available to apply the clamps.
While I don’t expect the Raptors to hold either Durant or Harden to zero points (I’m looking at you, Joel Embiid), I do think the collective disruption should give the Nets’ stars a run for their money. More than anything though, this game has me salivating over the return of Pascal Siakam — this team will truly be a defensive wonder to behold, if they weren’t already.
Before the season, the Raptors were expected to be a middling team, perhaps even landing in the lottery or, at best, the play-in tournament. Ten games into the year, expectations have changed. It would appear the Raptors are ahead of schedule in most regards, with OG playing exceptionally well and Scottie proving to be an impact-maker on both ends of the floor. With Pascal back now, I’d hope for the Raptors to be able to compete with just about any team.
The Nets, on the other hand, were expected to be a contender before the season started. While James Harden has struggled thus far to replicate his playing peak of yore, his team is still seen as a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference. This game will serve as an early-season litmus test for the Raptors, and how they stack up with one of the best teams in the league.