The Raptors lost to a pretty talented G League team on Wednesday. What’s messed up is that probably doesn’t even come as a surprise.
This loss doesn’t quite rank up with the one against Houston last week on the despair index, considering the franchise-altering implications that one had, deep in the throws of Kyle Lowry trade fever. It wasn’t much better in OKC, though.
Things looked okay, even fun in the first quarter, as Toronto put together a rare string of gorgeous offensive possessions that fueled loud starts from OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. A 19-3 run put the Raptors up 29-15, and it looked as though they just might have the juice to blow out a team that everyone should be blowing out right now. Instead of putting away a team missing its three best scorers and starting Svi Mykhailiuk, the Raptors did that thing where they forget how to score baskets on account of only having four good players to spread over 240 available minutes.
The lead shrunk to just two after one quarter, and though it ballooned up to a 67-59 cushion by halftime, this hellish season has fans conditioned to expect all good things to end in spectacularly depressing fashion.
You're all laughing at the Raptors ripping apart a g League OKC team but I promise you the score is going to end up being like 110-109 and I don't know which team is on either end of that— Marx Gasol (@socialistraptor) April 1, 2021
Among the things that went wrong in the second half that saw Toronto muster 36 points: Rodney Hood left the game with a hip injury; Stanley Johnson drove one-on-four into a failed layup try before also leaving the game after tweaking his ankle; Justin Jackson threw a lob to Svi for an emphatic dunk in the early stages of crunch time; Pascal Siakam went scoreless; Fred VanVleet, clearly exhausted, missed everything; and the Thunder padded their hilarious rebounding edge on the night. The Raptors grabbed 35 rebounds in the entire game. OKC snagged 64, including 19 offensive boards to Toronto’s seven. In a game that saw the Raptors win the turnover battle 20-7, Nick Nurse’s side managed to take just four more field goal attempts than the Thunder. That is bad.
Speaking of bad. I get it, the Raptors aren’t exactly flush with large dudes on the roster right now. But at some point the continued usage of Aron Baynes is either coaching negligence, or the greatest stealth tanking maneuver in modern NBA history. Amid his usual array of punched balls and instances of getting out-leaped by smalls, Baynes posted a truly remarkable 0-2-1 line on 0-of-3 shooting in 21 minutes. That he finished a team-best +6 is enough cause to remove that stat column from box scores forever starting tomorrow.
Even the usual “well, what can you do, it’s hard to win games with only four good players” defense of the Raptors struggles doesn’t totally apply here, because the skeleton Thunder don’t have any good players. VanVleet and Siakam are culpable for what happened in Oklahoma on Wednesday — their second half eggs trimmed Toronto’s miniscule margin for error down to absolute zero.
But even with that being true, it’s hard to really fault them. The load they’re each carrying is enormous and efficiency-sapping. Not to mention they’re each just a couple weeks removed from having COVID-19, the recovery process from which has been measured in months, not weeks. To expect those two along with Anunoby and Trent to paper over every one of the many glaring holes in this depleted roster is a entirely unfair, even if they’ve already proven in various stretches this season that they are capable of keeping the team buoyant on their own. The Tampa toll is real, and its cascading effects have left behind a team that doesn’t have a shot, no matter how much it wants one.
The rest of this season promises to be a slog, with the only salve being the good flourishes from the handful guys that matter to the team’s future. Trent had one of those tonight, where as the lone bright spot of the full 48 minute experience, he dropped a career-high 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting, flashing some three-level scoring pop that makes it pretty clear what the front office was thinking when they made the Norman Powell swap.
Those fleeting, disconnected spurts of intriguing development are what’s left for Raptors fans to enjoy right now. That, and draft lottery simulators.