They did it again! Despite trailing pretty much the entire game and missing nearly every three-pointer they took, the Toronto Raptors made a late push — fuelled by a Reggie Miller-esque stretch from rookie Malachi Flynn — only to eventually fall to the Atlanta Hawks.
It’s been the story of their season. Well, that, and the pandemic, and Tampa, and health and safety protocols, and injuries, and… well, I could go on but you’ve heard it all before. Let’s take a look at the good and bad from last night.
1. Ice Cold
It’s easy to dismiss this Raptors loss as, “well, no Fred VanVleet, no Kyle Lowry, no DeAndre’ Bembry, of course it’s a loss.” But the Hawks were missing players too! This one came down to what the players on the floor did and didn’t do, and the Raptors simply didn’t shoot the ball well.
Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher and Rodney Hood combined to shoot 2-for-18 from downtown. Pascal Siakam (who was 1-for-5 himself) was operating effectively inside the arc, including drawing the defense and kicking the ball out, but his cold teammates robbed him of a ton of assists.
It might sound like an oversimplification, but sometimes, you just gotta [Sam Mitchell voice] “hit more shats.”
2. Birch Standing Tall
You know who did hit a three? Khem Birch! He was 1-for-2 from downtown, part of a 5-for-6 shooting night. The three-pointer is not exactly a huge part of his game, but I bet it will be, especially if he sticks around the Raptors.
As for the rest of his game, he’s quickly starting to fit in, isn’t he? Not that it would be hard to supplant Aron Baynes in this rotation, but still — seeing Birch use his size to get in position for rebounds and block out opposing players so other Raptors can get rebounds is a delight to see. He’s flashed a bit of rim protection too, swatting a Brandon Goodwin shot in the fourth that he then hustled to track down before it went out of bounds.
Given how Clint Capela abused Chris Boucher last night, I’m actually surprised we didn’t see more of Birch — and, I wouldn’t be shocked if Birch starts over Boucher sooner rather than later.
3. Bounce-back Pascal
It was great to see Pascal Siakam have a big night after his boner in the clutch the other day. I worried about his mental health after all he’s been through recently — I still worry about it! — but this was nice to see. And, frankly, a reminder that we all needed, about who Pascal Siakam is.
Siakam: "If you don't have a good game I feel like the next game you gotta bounce-back. Its always my mentality in life."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 14, 2021
"You have games that you feel like you didnt do well, you can either sit all night & cry about it or you can move on, go to the next game & try to do better"
I particularly loved how decisive he was when he attacked the basket. Even when using his now-much-maligned spin, he took the ball straight up and at the rim.
Now, it wasn’t all perfect. He bobbled a ball out of bounds in the third when the Raptors had a chance to cut the lead to four. The three point shooting needs to get better; he was 1-for-5, and shooting just 26% over the past 12. And, yeah, he missed another clutch shot last night, a runner with seven seconds left and the Raptors down four (and he did double-clutch on that one). But I don’t think we need to nitpick. This was a great bounceback performance — Pascal just needed little more scoring from his teammates.
4. Flynn Thriving
What a transformation for Malachi Flynn! I preached patience with Flynn early this season — I felt like collectively, Raptors fans might have had too-high expectations for a 29th overall pick, and typically, point guards need a little time to acclimate to the NBA.
Well that time has come and gone! The kid his acclimated, folks.
Flynn scored a career-high 22 and caught fire late, nearly bringing the Raptors all the way back with four threes (on five attempts) in the final two minutes. Fake comeback? Sure, but that was pretty freakin’ exciting! Flynn took 13 threes last night, which is at least five too many, but he hit six, which is two more than the rest of the team combined — they clearly needed him to keep shooting.
He’s come ridiculously far in just a couple months here, and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table next season.
5. Kings of the Net Ratings
Despite the 21-34 record, the Raptors have a positive net rating (0.3, 14th in the league) and a positive point differential (also 0.3, also 14th in the league). That’s thanks to all of these “fake comebacks,” where the Raptors, trailing by double digits, turn on the jets in the final minutes, racing against the clock to catch up before time expires.
The question, I suppose, is, “does any of this matter?” The Raptors aren’t winning these games and they’ll more than likely be in the lottery.
But, I think it does matter! The Raptors have tried hard — successfully — under Masai Ujiri to transform their culture into a winning one from the perennial loser franchise they were before. I think these comebacks and those positive numbers show that, even though the talent isn’t as high as it used to be, even though the circumstances are tough, there’s a no-quit, winning mentality that permeates throughout. Guys like Trent, Flynn and Birch weren’t here during the winning seasons, but they’re still playing hard until the final whistle.
All of these minutes and reps, that “don’t give up” attitude, will serve the team well as it transitions through this underwhelming year into, hopefully, something better next year.
The Raptors are back it again tonight against our old pal DeMar DeRozan. It’s always great to see DeMar, and Jakob Poeltl, and hey, the games are usually pretty good too! Since the big trade, the teams have split wins every other game, with the last four being decided by 3, 1, 4 and 5 points. If things go to form, it should be the Raptors turn to win tonight!