There were times last night when what the Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic were doing could barely be called basketball.
Then there were the times that Paul Watson Jr. and Yuta Watanabe had the basketball.
Behind stellar offensive performances from those two deep rotation players, the Raptors moved one step closer to their seeming destiny as a playoff play-in team.
1. The Paul Watson Jr. Game
Scoring 30 in your first-ever game as a starter? That’s a pretty good way to make your case for more minutes!
Watson caught fire in the third quarter last night, and as always, it’s a delight to see guys get into the zone like that. Fred VanVleet did it against the Magic just a few months ago, and while Watson didn’t get to 50, for a minute there it felt like he might!
I particularly loved how when Watson came back into the game in the fourth quarter after a long rest, he immediately jacked up a three just to see if the fire was still there… and it was!
Pull up on 'em then, @_PWJiii pic.twitter.com/MnuaPuxu8O— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 17, 2021
Watson finished 8-of-11 from downtown. To see him taking shots that aggressively, and his teammates feeding him, and everyone else on the bench going nuts… I just love shit like that.
2. Also, the Yuta Watanabe Game
I wrote about Yuta the other day so no need to go over it all again — he’s much more aggressive and confident on offense, and continues making smart plays with his feet on defense.
It is fair to wonder what the future holds for these two, though. Watson’s deal for next season is non-guaranteed, so he should be back, barring some major offseason reshuffling. Watanabe, though, is on a two-way; I feel like it would make sense for the team to give him basically the same deal as Watson, to keep him around, but again, I think that will depend a lot on what this team wants to do this summer, in terms of signing Gary Trent Jr., making a decision on Kyle Lowry and trying to fill the centre spot. This is a franchise that loves to save money on the edges, don’t forget, often going up against roster minimums just to save those few extra bucks.
So we’ll see. But either way, I think both players have earned notice from the league and should they not be retained here, they should get plenty of attention elsewhere.
3. Stanley, Just Stop
Over on the negative side of the ball, we have Stanley Johnson, who has undone any progress he made earlier this season.
He seems to have developed this habit of driving the ball right into the heart of the defense with reckless abandon, which, you’ll be surprised to hear, does not usually work out very well for him. And he seems to do it in late-quarter situations! Twice last night he drove, out of control, into two defenders with the clock winding down; once, he turned it over, and the second time, got called for an offensive foul.
Stanley, listen man. I really want you to succeed and find your next NBA contract. This is not your game. Defend well, rebound well, shoot corner threes when open and swing the rock quickly when you’re not. That’s all you have to do! And we know you can do these things! Why are you driving the ball into two defenders? Sigh.
4. The Magic Are Bad
The entire first half last night was exceptionally bad basketball. The Raptors started the game shooting 5-for-19, and 0-for-7 from downtown, and yet, they held a two-point lead with 25 seconds to go in the first quarter. How?
The Orlando Magic, everyone!
These wins are hard for the pro-tank crowd, but the thing about tanking is, other teams with a lot more (recent, anyway) experience at being bad are out here too.
Since falling to 11th place on March 14, the Raptors have gone 6-12 ... and moved up (to 10th).— Joseph Casciaro (@JosephCasciaro) April 17, 2021
Between March 15-April 15, they won less than a third of their games and somehow just stayed in 11th for 32 straight days.
The Orlando Magic just know how to tank better, baby. Did the Raptors think they could compete? The Magic traded away all their best players! Toronto brought a knife to a gunfight, as they say.
Which leads me to say...
5. Just Enjoy It
Regardless of whether the Raptors tank or make the play-in, I highly encourage everyone to live in the moment and enjoy these games in whatever way you can. And it should be easy to do so, when guys like Watson and Watanabe, and Freddie Gillespie (career high 10 points last night!), or Malachi Flynn or Khem Birch, go off.
If the reverse standings are not letting you enjoy Paul Watson’s night, you’re doing life wrong.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 17, 2021
Who knows what next year brings? In basketball, or anything else? When life presents you with these little things, you gotta find a way to enjoy them in the moment.
The Raptors now find themselves in, essentially, a three-way tie for 10th place (the Raptors have played two more games than the Bulls and Wizards). I still think they have an uphill climb ahead of them, with some tough games on the schedule, but I simply cannot trust in the Chicago or Washington’s ability to win basketball games. The Raptors may indeed be play-in bound!