That had to have been one of the most talked-about games of the season, right? At least on Raptors Twitter! The officials were a mess. The league treated Kevin Durant like a yo-yo, making a mockery of its own safety protocols. Kyle Lowry was the best player on the court. Pascal Siakam scored a season high. And the Raptors won!
If one can set aside the noise, it’s not a stretch to say that the 123-117 win over the Brooklyn Nets was the Toronto Raptors’ most impressive victory of the season. And that should be celebrated! But of course, we can’t set aside the noise, can we? So let’s start there:
1. Maybe I Don’t Understand how Contact Tracing Works
I’m no medical professional, obviously. But if COVID-19 is airborne, and there are fears that a person has been exposed to the virus, then, in my mind at least, it seems clear that that person could potentially pass the virus on to others.
And on the surface, that seems to be how the NBA’s contact tracing protocols work. If someone is exposed they go into isolation. It’s exactly what happened to Kevin Durant a month ago.
That’s why last night is so confusing. There was an “inconclusive” test so Durant was pulled. Makes sense! Then he was allowed to play so I at least assumed that the inconclusive test was negative.
Then we found out later the inconclusive test was positive. So Durant was pulled again.
So... why was he allowed to play? And if Durant was exposed, and he then played... isn’t everyone else now exposed? And if there isn’t a risk of the other players being exposed... then why was Durant pulled?
It just makes no sense to me.
2. Kyle Lowry Over Big Three
Man, do I love it when Kyle Lowry shows up in big games and reminds everyone who doesn’t understand basketball how great he is. Raptors fans know it, smart basketball fans know it, but most of the rest of the world doesn’t get it... but if you can watch last night’s game and still not get it, it might be time to switch to baseball.
Lowry was masterful last night, hitting big shots, setting up his teammates, making big defensive plays and, yep, fooling the officials too, by drawing a very dubious charge on Kevin Durant.
No shot was bigger than the back-to-back dagger threes that put the Raptors up for good. Trailing 110-108, Lowry buried this stepback to give Toronto the lead:
On the next possession, he pulled up over Bruce Brown to push the lead to four:
It was a crazy game, but it ended exactly the way it should have: With the best player on the floor hitting big buckets to put the game away.
3. Seeing is Believing, or Whatever the Opposite of That Is
You really can’t imagine just how bad this Brooklyn Nets defense is until you watch a full 48 minutes of it, can you?
It’s really bad!
Coming in to last night’s game, the Raptors were 28th in points in the paint, at 40.5 per game. They had 64 last night! If you wanna look at it another way, the Raptors are really good in transition, at 16.6 fast break points per game, good for second in the league; they had 26 last night! When a team makes your weaknesses look like strengths and makes your strengths look stronger, that team is not a good defensive team.
Now, will it matter? Probably not. The Nets scored an easy 40 points in the second quarter, the only one in which Durant was fully available. When they’re healthy, they are all but unstoppable. And they may pick up another player before the trade deadline or on the buyout market.
But that’s tenuous, as last night showed. Their margin for error is thin, and without Durant, it’s really thin.
4. Boucher Back
It was great to see Chris Boucher look a little more like the early season version of himself last night, blocking shots, making sharp cuts and finishing at the rim. This, too, probably speaks to how poor Brooklyn is defensively; Boucher was catching opposing teams by surprise early in the year before they adjusted, but the Nets are pretty much just helpless.
Regardless, it was fun as hell to watch, as Boucher always is when he’s rolling. He finished with 17 points, nine boards and two blocks, none more enjoyable than this play when he swallowed Landry Shamet whole:
5. So, About the Officiating...
It was bad both ways last night, and both teams have plenty to complain about today. But I’ve got two here that I think are worth digging in to.
First, let’s watch this foul:
On the broadcast, ESPN’s Dave Pasch notes that Baynes picks up the foul, and expresses his confusion on the replay, as he should: It’s a textbook screen from Baynes, the type of screen they show in basketball camps to show kids how to do it.
Here’s the thing, though; the foul was not on Baynes. It was on Lowry. And if you watch it again... yep, Lowry gives Joe Harris a fairly decent shove to run him in to Baynes:
(If you go back and watch the first video, you’ll see Lowry walk away, too — he knew it.)
I point this out because a) I was pissed about this play until I realized on my second watch that it was Lowry’s foul, not Baynes’ and b) we should take it as a reminder that, especially in this season, when announcers aren’t usually in the arena, they don’t always have the full information and what they relay to us isn’t always accurate.
But that brings me to my second point, the big foul call on Kevin Durant immediately before he was removed from the game, a loose ball foul as he and Norman Powell chased down this pass:
It was his fifth, Brooklyn challenged it, and the call was overturned. This is the explanation:
But in what universe does the explanation that “Durant got to the ball first” make any sense? Norman Powell clearly gets there first:
(Besides which, it’s not a loose ball; it’s a pass from Lowry to Powell. You can’t just run in to guys and knock them out of the way to pick off a pass!)
Saying this is a “bad” call is the understatement of the year. It’s not a judgment call, it’s a call based on a replay — and the official simply denied the evidence of the replay. And if you want to say he did so because the league did not want Kevin Durant to have five fouls in the third quarter... well, I’d be happy to hear any other explanation, because I can’t think of any other reason this call would be overturned.
If you ever doubted the integrity of NBA officials, especially when it comes to superstars, well, you got all the evidence you need right there to uphold your beliefs.
So, as I said: Pretty hard to ignore all that noise! Especially since we still don’t know the long-term ramifications, if any, of Durant’s exposure.
It was a signature win for the Raps, but hardly a signature experience from the NBA last night.