That’s Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s reward for being appreciative of the Toronto Raptors. Before Friday night’s game in Tampa, he gave thanks to the franchise for the sacrifices made by all involved just to participate in the NBA this season — including their unfortunate temporary re-location. And what did the Raptors do in response? Why, they absolutely obliterated the Warriors. Granted, Golden State was playing without Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and a late-scratched Draymond Green. But still, wow, the Raptors won 130-77, their largest victory in franchise history. And what’s more, they did it without a bevy of their own players, including Kyle Lowry. Hell, at one point Toronto was up by more points (55) than the Warriors had even scored in total (52). Kerr may never say thank you to a Torontonian ever again.
That said, the players that were available for both teams set out to have a competitive, if up-and-down-style game. That included Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby of the Raptors, and Andrew Wiggins of the Warriors, in particular. For their part, the contest was started off by more than a few drives to the rim by Toronto’s pair of forwards, each one finding ways to out-smart, out-quick, or just straight-up out-muscle whomever was in their way — Siakam finished with 10 in the first frame, to OG’s seven points. Poor Warriors centre James Wiseman didn’t know which way to turn (and it got worse for him as the game continued). Meanwhile Wiggins, despite being dogged for not becoming a superstar player, scored with ease, pacing the Warriors with 11 points in the opening frame.
The second quarter exposed the limits of Wiggins’ game though — and that of Golden State’s as well. While nothing can be taken for granted in this season for the Raptors, they slowed Wiggins and quickly got way, way over on the Warriors by way of a 20-1 run, coupled with some other moments of strong team defense. Case in point: rookie Malachi Flynn dug in for a Fred VanVleet-like steal, then ran the floor, and found Gary Trent Jr. for a beautiful three. Later Flynn even hit a shot of his own (he’d been shooting below 30 percent this season) — it was that kind of positive night for the Raptors. Even Aron Baynes made a good decision with the ball (e.g. decided not to shoot it). Sure, they didn’t see a lot from VanVleet (who injured his hip in the third) or Chris Boucher in the first half, but with Siakam dropping 23 points and Trent Jr. cruising to 17, it was an easy 20-point lead for Toronto at the midway point.
In the third, the Raptors were... even better! Run after run, shot after shot went Toronto’s way and the lead reached comical proportions. Once again it was Siakam and Anunoby leading the way for the Raptors (12 and 13 points, respectively), along with continued production from Trent Jr. (7 points), and some spirited play from Flynn off the bench. (Wiggins, meanwhile, was shut out the rest of the way after four points in the second quarter.) It’s worth mentioning here that Trent Jr. also posted a +54 through three quarters, which is good for the second highest ever since the league started keeping the stat in 1996. Siakam almost joined him in the 50 Club, but had to settle with a +49 on the night. Other than VanVleet’s injury, which hopefully isn’t too serious, the mood was spectactular for Toronto. It was one of those nights when you just had to chuckle at everything going their way. In all, Siakam finished with 36-7-5, Trent popped in 24, Anunoby had 21, and Flynn added a neat 16-5-5 line, including a nice to see 7-of-12 line from the field. (Johnson was the only Raptor who managed an 0-for on the evening, finishing at -7.)
Obviously, the fourth quarter was a mere formality — especially with Toronto taking their largest third-quarter lead in franchise history into that final frame (52 points), and getting it up to an eye-popping 61 a few minutes later. We’re not going to count this game for much, as the Warriors minus their troika of Hall-of-Famers are not much of a team. Still, much like Toronto’s last win (vs. the Nuggets), the vibes around the team were suddenly much, much better. The threes were dropping, the lanes were open, the defense was locked in, the ball was zinging around the court — and most importantly, the players were smiling. I know I wrote this team off just the other day, but whenever the Raptors play like this it’s possible to see a better version coming just around the corner. Maybe it only truly arrives next season, maybe we’re just all getting too optimistic after one outlier of a game, but it is there.
One final note: it’s expected that the Raptors won’t carry on with a few of their players in 2021-22 (Baynes, of course, but also Johnson, Patrick McCaw, and even someone like Yuta Watanabe). But the players they so clearly do value — the core trio of Siakam, OG, and Fred — plus now Trent Jr. and Flynn, definitely look like a group in which a franchise would be happy to invest. Sure, 60-point leads make any roster look like world-beaters, but it’s best to consider this as something of a palette cleanser, or a reminder of what Raptors basketball can look like. And if it helps some of the most fatigued Raptors out, if it lightens the mood even one iota and lifts some of the mental fog that has settled over this tough season, well, that’s not so bad either — even if only for a night. For that, I guess we should return the favour and thank coach Kerr and his Warriors.