Well, we’re sure in the middle of it now, aren’t we? The Toronto Raptors appear to have made their intentions about the remainder of the 2020-21 season obvious to all, with their decision to rest their top four players despite not playing on a back-to-back and not having another game until Wednesday. Winning, in other words, hardly seems to be a priority.
Unfortunately, they played the Oklahoma City Thunder last night — a seasoned, professional loser franchise!
1. Chris Boucher, Everywhere
You know who didn’t get the “don’t worry about winning” memo? Chris Boucher! He was up for last night’s game right from the start: he opened the scoring with a triple, followed it up with a tip-in offensive rebound, then picked up a loose ball at midcourt to turn a fast break the other way.
What else? A sweet dish to Khem Birch for a three of his own, a strong take to the rim, and oh yeah, the play that made all the highlight reels:
I almost feel bad for AleksejPokusevski (and yes, I copy-pasted that over from NBA.com) there — look at the poor guy’s face! But I’ll take all the sweet Raptors highlights I can get. Sorry, Poku.
Boucher, of course, was not done; he pretty much single-handedly finished the Thunder off in the fourth, scoring 10 points on 3-for-3 shooting in the final five minutes to seal the win.
2. Not to be outdone: Lu Dort
Was it Celebrate Montreal night in Tampa or what? Boucher brought the fire for the Raptors, scoring 17 in the first quarter, only for fellow Montrealer Lu Dort to say “anything you can do I can do better” and drop 21 of his own! He was a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor, with five three-pointers, and a couple of boards too.
As Leo Rautins mentioned on the broadcast approximately 27 times, Lu Dort came in the NBA last season with a reputation as a non-shooter — but the reputation is old news. The defensive specialist is now shooting 34% from downtown on the season, and 39% over his last 14 games.
In any event, it was a pretty awesome display of shooting in the first quarter from the Montrealers.
I'm not even going to look this up to see if it's true because it can't not be true: With Dort (21) and Boucher (17) combining for 38 in the first, that's the most combined points by NBA players from Montreal in a quarter in NBA history.— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) April 18, 2021
3. I see Your Tank, and I Raise you... a Tank
Didn’t really think you could outrank the Thunder, did you, Toronto?
Much like their game against Orlando the other day, the Raptors tried their hardest to let this one get away from them, but were “beaten” by a superior loser. I mean, the Raptors, thanks to a healthy dose of Stanley Johnson, turned the ball over five times in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter! Paul Watson missed every shot he took!
Not to be outdone, the Thunder went four minutes without scoring… when there were only five minutes left in the game.
So, yeah. Not exactly scintillating basketball. But, still, it is perversely enjoyable to watch two teams try and figure out how to lose.
4. The Curious Case of the Missing Timeout
The Thunder jumped out to a 5-2 lead last night, and Nick Nurse didn’t like what he saw; he quickly called a Greg Popovich-esque early timeout.
I got a kick out of it, not leastways because that’s kinda what you want to see in this “developmental” phase of the season — opportunities to coach and teach the young players, to tell them what they’re messing up, and send them back out there to fix it.
But then why the heck did Nurse let the Thunder go on a 13-2 run in the second quarter, one in which the Raptors’ defense routinely fell asleep on their defensive rotations?
Oh, wait. I think I know the answer.
5. Masai’s Double Bird
I’m not the only who thinks the Raptors sitting their four main players was a giant middle finger from Masai Ujiri to the league, and Adam Silver, right? A little bit of “revenge is a dish best served cold” for that bullshit fine the league levied against the Raptors for resting players?
And you know what? Even though I’m anti-tank, I’m 100% with Masai on this one. This entire season is a joke, and the NBA has no qualms about risking player health or putting out an inferior product in the name of TV money — otherwise they wouldn’t be playing 72 games in a compressed timeframe. Why should the Raptors, or the Spurs (also fined this past weekend) or any other team, risk their players’ health and possibly their future success for a season that doesn’t matter, just to please Silver and his TV broadcast overlords?
I don’t give a crap whether or not these are “legit” injuries; half the freakin’ team had COVID-19, a disease whose long-term effects we still know next-to-nothing about. They’re playing basketball 3,000 miles from home in the middle of a dang pandemic! They’re allowed to take days off, for physical or mental health, if they want to.
And, besides, we all know the deal: If the Raptors are tanking, they’re only taking advantage of the situation the NBA itself set up and refuses to do anything about.
And it’s not like I want to watch games without Kyle, Fred, Pascal and OG. But if, after everything this team has been through, if the Raptors want or need to rest, they have my support.
As I’ve been saying for a while now, as this goofball season drags on, it’s important to find joy in the little things — like three players from Montreal starting in the same game and combining for 67 points! Or like Yuta Watanabe getting his first standard NBA contract. Or, hell, like the perfect photo at the top of this piece.
Things have gone beyond wins and losses now, but we can still find reasons to celebrate.