The Bizarro World Tampa Raptors upside-down season continues. Just when you thought the Toronto Raptors were embracing their fate as a lottery team, they beat the pants off the Golden State Warriors and then dispatched the Washington Wizards at the buzzer, courtesy of a Gary Trent Jr. three-point bomb.
The Raptors are now only one game back of the play-in spot.
What a time to be alive.
1. It’s About Damn Time
For much of this season, it’s sure seemed like the Raptors just can’t catch a break. The Tampa move, untimely injuries and COVID health and safety protocols have robbed the team of any momentum. And they’ve suffered from terrible luck in close games.
So it was nice to see one go down, and it was incredibly fortunate that the officials swallowed their whistles on a pretty obvious offensive foul, too.
(Raul Neto definitely exaggerated the contact, but a forearm to the upper chest is usually an automatic call.)
There’s a possibility this hurts the Raptors draft chances, as they’re now 2.5 games up on the Wizards in the standings. But you gotta be able to enjoy a walk-off buzzer beater! It’s the best thing in basketball.
2. Gimme More of This
Malachi Flynn delivered a superb performance off the bench, rescuing an anemic offensive performance from the starters in both halves. It was the best he’s played this season, and, hopefully, a good sign of what the future has in store for him.
Flynn was aggressive on both ends, getting into the paint and looking for his shot on offesne and digging in and forcing turnovers on D.
He hit a Kyle Lowry-esque pull-up three in the second quarter, but more impressively, got in the paint consistently; he finished through contact for three and-1s over the course of the night. I was legitimately concerned about his inability to turn the corner and keep his feet earlier in the season, but that part of his game is definitely coming around.
Sure, the competition here wasn’t exactly top-notch. But consistent minutes and game experience are going to do wonders for Flynn over the next month-and-a-half.
3. OG Taking Flight
I can’t get enough of “comfortable creating my own stuff on offense” OG Anunoby. I mean, look at this crossover:
Anunoby continues to impress with the way he’s using his strength and size get into the paint and get the ball up on to the rim. His footwork still needs work — he very nearly travels or looses his balance on most drives. (He needs to spend a summer with DeMar DeRozan!) But I look at the strides he’s made in other areas of his offensive game, and I’m confident the footwork isn’t far behind.
He also gave us this rim-rocker in transition:
And a one-hander in the fourth:
4. Take the Good with the Bad
Chris Boucher isn’t playing up to his early season promise any more, on either end of the floor. He’s been forced into a role — starting centre on a nine-man team — that isn’t his, as opposed to backup 4/5 on a fully healthy team. His three-point shooting has dropped off, and, despite his shot-blocking ability (he blocked another three last night) he’s consistently out of position on defense.
But you know what, no one else on the team, and very few people in the league, can do this to Russell Westbrook:
Of course, naturally, Boucher proceeded to foul Alex Len on a fadeaway with the shot clock winding down a minute later, to prove my point above. But still! A Boucher playing in the right role and making plays like that is something I don’t have a problem with.
5. Sometimes you Just Gotta Laugh
I don’t know what kind of metaphor this is for Baynes’ season so far, but it’s something:
Iron Dome pic.twitter.com/JHaIvPLpuR— Unofficial tAronto Baynes Fan Club (@BaynesFanClub) April 5, 2021
Baynes was pretty decent last night; he had a huge three-pointer in the fourth to bring the Raptors within three, and then — after a defensive stand against Alex Len, a missed heat-check-triple and a missed reverse layup — hit a layup to give the Raptors their first lead since 1-0. Despite turning the ball over three times in the fourth, he finished the frame +13 and was a game-high +20.
Yep, last night was the full Aron Baynes experience.
The two Raptors wins in April — twice as many as the team had in March — probably don’t change things for the Raptors. They’ve got some tough games to come. But as I wrote the other day, wins like this can do wonders for the vibes and the mood of the team, and especially the guys returning, going into the offseason.