It’s been a depressing season. Between watching the Raptors play in a new city, deal with the pandemic up close, and lose close games in empty arenas, there’s been very little to enjoy — especially lately.
Riding a nine-game losing streak into tonight’s game, the atmosphere of the team was about as low as you can go. Once in a tight playoff race, the distance between the Raptors and a scenario without the play in game was growing. Fans were openly courting tanking instead of continuing to go for it. And the funereal sensation of the end of an era was there too — Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell have been in very public trade talks all week, with a deal possibly coming tonight or tomorrow.
That’s what made this game feel like such a salve. The breath of fresh air was there even before the game started, with TSN’s first all-female broadcast taking over for the usual faces. (A special shout out to Kia Nurse and Meghan McPeak, who absolutely nailed colour and play-by-play — true professionals who we should hear more from in the booth.) The Raptors didn’t disappoint in following that up. The team went 7-for-12 shooting threes in the first quarter, laying the foundation for a blowout of the Denver Nuggets, 135-111.
The small pieces assembling this win are really what leave the viewer satisfied. We’ll get to those we might be saying goodbye to, but we have to start with Pascal Siakam. Leading all scorers with 27 points on 8-for-16 shooting, Siakam came out like a man possessed after a controversial 48 hours. While the was-he-or-wasn’t-he-fined talk looked like it might weigh heavy coming in, Siakam let his game do the talking: starting 4-for-4 from the field in the first quarter and doing a tremendous job shoring up the starting five’s rebounding — oft an issue for the Raptors against teams with big men — finishing the game with a team-high eight. (Nick Nurse also confirmed before the game that he and Siakam had had an exchange, but that no fine came from it.)
The Raptors’ starting unit as a whole just clicked in this game like we’ve been looking for all season. The defense was sharp among all rotation players, but especially showed up with the starters adapting to the Nuggets’ attack. Collapsing on Jokic, they were able to limit the influence of the MVP favourite, as the big man had just (haha) 20 points and ten rebounds; Jamal Murray had 20 to co-lead the Nuggets. The Raptors were also eager to take advantage of Denver’s miscues on defense, allowing for one of their best explosions of the season on that end.
OG Anunoby had his best game since returning from the virus, scoring 23 points, including 5-for-9 from three, and grabbing six boards of his own. Norman Powell ripped off five of the team’s first eight points in the first quarter — perhaps a final tribute to First Quarter Norm — on his way to 22 points on just 12 shots in the game. Fred VanVleet chipped in 19, including a couple classic Freddy bombs when a possession looked lost.
Then, there was Kyle Lowry. Being an old-timer, I don’t have a hard time remembering what the Raptors’ offense often looked like before Lowry arrived. There’d be a toss to Chris Bosh, later Rudy Gay or DeMar DeRozan, and everyone else would just watch. Lowry’s manic presence eventually became a ball movement motor as his years with Toronto went on. Tonight was an excellent example, and maybe the last one, of that kind of influence Lowry can have.
While he took just five shots in the game, scoring eight points, Lowry posted a career-high +42 while on the floor, making all the right decisions in a red hot starting unit.
THIS BALL MOVEMENT RIGHT HERE > pic.twitter.com/mydelRaZMl— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 25, 2021
Lowry was also massive on defense, helping when necessary on Jokic in the high post position and disrupting Denver’s offense in the early part of the shot clock. His ability to get the Nuggets out of their comfort zone ensured that the Raptors’ hot shooting could give them the lead and keep it through most of the game.
And while it may not be goodbye to Lowry (a painful 24 hours await us now), there was certainly some emotion from the man in question as he left the court tonight.
Kyle Lowry, when he saw the cameras as he walked off the floor tonight for Toronto in Tampa. pic.twitter.com/FHK6q2Mdfe— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) March 25, 2021
Between the excellent broadcast, the shooting (a franchise record 24 made threes!), and the nostalgia at the end with Lowry and Powell — this was one of those Raptors games that gave you all the immaculate energy they used to. The only true disappointment is that this game couldn’t happen at Scotiabank Arena in front of a packed house — what would’ve been a great opportunity for Raptors fans to possibly pay off their franchise’s greatest player.
Regardless of what happens in the next day, though, the Raptors did their thing and snapped a losing streak that bummed everyone out. Even if the team looks a bit different Friday against Phoenix, that was one hell of a way to close a chapter in the book.