A 21-point first-quarter deficit is a tough thing to overcome. The Toronto Raptors did their best, fighting to the very end against the Philadelphia 76ers, but ultimately the clock ran out and the Sixers walked away with the 109-102 win.
I’m not a “moral victories” guy but the finish did harken back to last year’s gritty Raptors team that never gave up, and if that’s the identity that this iteration of the team is finally establishing, then there’s definitely a positive to be taken from such a loss.
1. Rough Start
The Raptors came out so flat-footed last night, they looked like they were on the second night of a back-to-back, not the first! Naturally, something I wrote about the other day — the Raptors’ improved effort closing out on three-point shooters — disappeared, and once again, the least likely players (Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton) burned them, over and over again. Even Danny Green hit a couple!
All told the Raptors gave up 37 points in the first quarter, and 21 of those came from behind the arc. The 76ers were going to get open shots — that’s the price the Raptors will pay when they send the house at Joel Embiid every possession — and that’s why the closeouts are so key.
The Raps did a better job for most of the rest of the game in terms of guarding the three-point line, but in the fourth, when the Raptors were trying to whittle the lead down, the Sixers again got hot again, hitting 4-of-8 from behind the line, putting the game juuuust out of reach of a valiant comeback attempt.
On Sunday, the 76ers shot 11-for-37 from downtown and lost to the Raptors by seven points.
On Tuesday, the Raptors shot 11-for-37 from downtown and lost to the 76ers by seven points.
This is a weird season, man.
3. Why Isn’t Matt Thomas Shot-Ready?
Twice on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, Matt Thomas received the ball behind the three point line… and wasn’t ready to shoot. He ended up dribbling around a flying defender on the first and missed a short baseline J, and on the second he eventually found Chris Boucher under the rim for a layup.
But Thomas’ job isn’t baseline Js or getting the ball inside. It’s to shoot threes! Thomas supposedly worked out with JJ Redick last offseason, and I can guarantee you that in both of those instances, Redick would have gotten a three-ball up.
Thomas doesn’t have as quick a release as Redick, so he needs more space. But if he’s not even ready to shoot it, well, he’s never gonna make an impact out there.
4. The Aron Baynes All-Star Comedy Hour
Remember that brutal stretch of play in the last Celtics-Raptors game, where the two teams missed 17 consecutive shots over a four-minute period? And I couldn’t decide if it was the worst thing I’d ever seen, or the most hilarious?
I’m asking that same question again, only this time, it’s about a single sequence:
this is the greatest play i have ever seen pic.twitter.com/rhWoeswQnJ— William Lou (@william_lou) February 24, 2021
Why is Aron Baynes trying to shoot it with one hand from 12 feet? Why did Joel Embiid fall over? Where did that sudden burst of quickness from Baynes come from?!
5. Coded Language
I was absolutely livid down the stretch of last night’s game, and it wasn’t because the Raptors were losing, or that Ben Simmons nearly decapitated Norman Powell, or because of the free throw disparity, or because the Sixers kept hitting opportune threes. It was because of what was happening on Twitter.
If you were on Twitter at all during the fourth quarter, you no doubt saw Doug Smith’s awful tweet calling Dwight Howard a “thug”.
I hope I don’t have to tell you why this is a coded racial term filled with bias when used to describe Black men. Apparently, Doug Smith did need to be told, and he didn’t want to listen, doubling down against those that told him he was wrong to use that term.
And that’s when I really got angry. It’s bad enough, of course, that a white writer covering a predominantly Black sport would use that term. (And you can’t even really give Doug the benefit of the doubt here because [a], he couched this by saying “I’ll just say it” indicating that he knew it was an objectionable thing to say, and [b] he covers professional basketball, and a professional basketball coach, John Beilein, got in shit for using the same term to describe his players just one year ago, stepping down from the job a couple weeks later. Doug knows better, or should know better.) But, I have seen enough of this over the years to have become desensitized to it a bit: white sportswriter says racially insensitive thing, apologizes, world moves on. I expected the deleted tweet and apology to come straight away.
But it didn’t and Doug instead doubled down, using his follow up tweet to say that he meant “bully”…
Bully— Doug Smith: Raptors (@SmithRaps) February 24, 2021
Unfollow if you think I meant otherwise https://t.co/VrKyUrfeEz
… but by QTing Kendra, he literally bullied her by opening up her timeline to attacks from his 50K followers. It resulted in bullshit like this:
Doug Stans in the DMs! pic.twitter.com/BdY0ef6rI3— Kendra (@_Kendrawacharge) February 24, 2021
This whole shitshow was the absolute embodiment of white sportswriter privilege: “I can say whatever I want about Black athletes, and if a woman dares to criticize, I’ll bully her into silence.”
Doug’s apology was not much better; after the Tweet went wide and ESPN personalities including Dan LeBatard and Katie Nolan commented, he finally “saw the error of his ways”.
Having heard from one woman I respect greatly and whose opinions I hold dearly, I have deleted an earlier tweet and apologize for using a word I shouldn't, even if it was inadvertent.— Doug Smith: Raptors (@SmithRaps) February 24, 2021
I should have said
Why did it take the word of Katie Nolan to change his mind? Why not the responses from the hundreds of Black people in his mentions? Why didn’t Katie’s response get the bully treatment the way Kendra’s did?
That this happened during Black History Month, at the same time Adam Silver’s racially insensitive… actually, scratch that, racist remarks about Masai Ujiri essentially “knowing his place” are still fresh in our minds, makes it even worse.
I don’t think Doug is a bad person, and I don’t think he’s any more (or less) racist than any other white person, and I include myself in that. This is the world we live in and changing it, changing our mindset, eradicating language like this, is difficult; mistakes will be made. But my God, at this point, we have to be better at listening to those who speak up when we make those mistakes. It’s literally the easiest thing we can do.
Anyway. I’ve channelled my rage into a donation to the Canadian Association of Black Journalists, and I encourage anyone as angry as I am to do something similar.
The Raptors are back in action tonight against the Heat. You know how I feel about Raptors-Heat games, and with this one coming on the second night of a back-to-back... well, let’s just say I’m keeping my expectations low for this one!