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3 Lessons: On one-point losses, the COVID recovery, and Baynes’ dunks

After another loss, the shorthanded Raptors needed their full squad than ever. 3 Lessons delves into that along with a couple other takeaways from the past week.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah I don’t know, that sucked. The Toronto Raptors earned last night’s game over the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, mistakes were made and free throws should have been converted, but to even be in the position they were in — up two with just over 10 seconds left — considering the circumstances was mightily impressive. Whether the Raptors make a trade or not, I’d still like to get a playoff series out of this season, so the team can ill afford to lose many more games like that. We can only hope that the delightfully mediocre Eastern Conference will continue to allow the Raptors to hang around.

Alas, lessons! We begin with the absurd rate of close losses.

1) One-point losses plague the Raptors

Last night, the Raptors’ fate was decided as the buzzer sounded once again. After a truly gritty effort to take a second-half lead against the Atlanta Hawks, the Raptors ran out of gas as the Hawks clawed their way back in. Down two with time ticking off, Tony Snell hit a three to give the Hawks a narrow win over the shorthanded Raptors. Another one-point loss, their third of the season.

Going back to 2013-2014, the first year of Toronto’s current streak of playoff, the Raptors have not had more than two one-point losses in a season. We are not even at 40 games, and these Raptors have had three. That all these games have been decided by the result of a buzzer-beating attempt — two by the Raptors and last night’s three by the Hawks — has made these losses all the more gut-wrenching.

Perhaps a deal was made with the basketball gods back in 2019 to make the rims accept every Kawhi Leonard shot with open arms, and they forgot to exact their punishment last season so they’re really going at the team now. It’s not only the one-point losses. The Raptors have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory too many times this season, in games that I had already chalked up mentally as a win.

Whatever the case, the margin of error is razor-thin as is, and the team is starting to run out of time. Between the outsized impact of the pandemic and this late-game misery, these Raptors are building a solid case for one of the most snake-bitten teams in recent NBA history. But hey, if anything, these close losses keep the ol’ net rating air tight, allowing us to revert back to the ever-reassuring “well, the numbers say they’re a lot better than they’re record!” Now, if only the record would start bearing that out.

2) The return of the cavalry may not be an instant fix

Although it was never explicitly said which Raptors players actually tested positive for COVID-19, a little bit of sleuthing all but confirms that at least three or four of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Patrick McCaw, and Malachi Flynn contracted the virus.

First and foremost, we hope that these players are safe and healthy, and that those around them were able to avoid the brunt of the coronavirus.

They will return soon, but it would be optimistic to assume that the Raptors will start firing on all cylinders as soon as that happens. Depending on the severity of their illnesses, it is possible that some of these players went more than a week without any physical activity. They won’t be at peak athletic performance when they return, even if their symptoms were relatively mild. There is no replacement for in-game reps and intensity, and there is the possibility for a lasting impact.

Players like Jayson Tatum and Draymond Green have noted that it’s taken much longer than the prescribed quarantine to fully get their “wind” back. Considering how many minutes that Pascal, Fred, and OG play and the intensity that Toronto’s system demands, any minor lingering effects could have a major impact on the Raptors. Boy it would have been nice to have some wins earlier in the season as a cushion.

Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry have been battling, pushing themselves to the brink to try and hold the fort. To use a somewhat dated reference, those two have been Jon Snow for the Raptors.

They’re now at the point of suffocation with the odds stacked against them. In an ideal world, the cavalry comes back with the same fervour as the Knights of the Vale and pulls the team out of this adverse situation.

3) Aron Baynes’ dunks are a little different

It’s the second straight week of weirdness for the Raptors, and the lessons are running a little thin right now. I frankly have a hard time thinking that we learned anything on the basketball court that we didn’t already know or that will impact the team going forward. Norman Powell can put the biscuit in the basket. The defense is better when the guys that make the defense good are playing. DeAndre Bembry and Stanley Johnson are, uh, limited on offense. As I said, we knew these things.

So I’m going to take the slot for lesson 3, ever the position for me to work through my least relevant thoughts about the Raptors, to discuss to bizarre dunks of Aron Baynes. For starters, his dunks aren’t bad! He gets a little more lift and hangtime than one might think from a meaty, 34-year-old Aussie. But the mechanics of it are just a little off.

Instead of taking of the rim straight-on, Baynes always seems to end up under the net. It’s scary as a Raptors fan, it often appears at first glance that he overran his spot, but he then extends his arm out, almost going around the net, and throws the ball through directly above his head. If the net was not there, the ball would hit his head on the way down at least a few times. I don’t get it! It’s like he’s standing under a tree branch, reaching for an apple directly over him.

Just dunk it in front of you Aron! He even does it on put-backs.

Baynes wasn’t bad last night, making some solid plays and staying steady on the glass, but the Baynes experiment as a whole has failed miserably. That said, the incessant positivity of his unofficial fan club’s Twitter account has brightened some dark moments for the Toronto faithful this season. If the Raptors are going to have a season from hell, might as well have a little fun with it, weird dunks and all.

Anyways, hopefully basketball can return to being a bit of an escape, rather than a constant reminder of the pandemic, and 3 Lessons can follow suit and become far more cheery once again.