The end of the season for a non-playoff team can be a slog, with the games not mattering and the best players sitting out. But there’s usually a silver lining or two in these games, and it usually centres around the young guys, and seeing what they can do.
Last night, for about a quarter-and-a-half, it looked like the young Toronto Raptors might be able to hang with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Alas, the Clippers are too good, and the current Raptors are too inexperienced (and shorthanded) to put up a fight for 48 minutes, and the Clippers pulled away after halftime. But it wasn’t completely awful to watch! And that’s gotta count as a win.
1. Hi Chris
It was great to see Chris Boucher back in the lineup, but I gotta say, playing him 37.5 minutes, coming off an ankle injury, in a meaningless game is pretty insane! No one else played more than 31!
Anyway, it was cool, as it always is, to see Boucher come out of the gate with one of his signature blocked three pointers — and then take it the other way for the slam. (Although was anyone else as terrified as I was to see Patrick Beverley trailing Chris on D? I thought for sure Boucher was going head-first into the stanchion.)
Plenty of rust from Chris, who shot just 5-for-15, but it’s great to see him healthy.
2. What are we Doing with Stan?
The Stanley Johnson starting minutes continue to confuse. Johnson is a free agent and surely not part of the raptors’ future plans. Surely Yuta Watanabe could benefit from those minutes? Or DeAndre Bembry, who has a team option for next year?
I suppose there’s a chance Nick is doing Stanley a solid, by giving him the opportunity to showcase himself for his next contract. Which I guess is nice? I like Stan, I’m glad he’s had the chance to play this season, and actually contribute something, as opposed to last year. And, obviously, with only nine players available, Stan has to play. But start?
Nah. Give me Yuta!
3. The One That Got Away
It’s still bittersweet watching Kawhi Leonard play. I think part of it is because he’s such a unique player in the way that he moves, that loping, almost-slow-motion run, the high centre of gravity, the broad shoulders. And of course, the sheer level of talent and skill!
I don’t know if it’ll ever go away. When Vince Carter and Chris Bosh left, it was easy to understand why — the Raptors were a poorly-managed, going-nowhere franchise, both times. Kawhi left something special, and that still hurts.
4. Clippers Gonna Do It?
I really can’t decide how I’m feeling about the Clippers. It’s true that they look netter than last year, with Paul George playing at a higher level, and the rest of the pieces seem to fit well.
But they’ve still got some things to figure out, including how to integrate Serge Ibaka, and whether or not they can count on Reggie Jackson in the playoffs. And of course, the competition; assuming the Jazz and Lakers get healthy, the Nuggets still being good despite Jamal Murray’s injury, and with the Suns shining bright (sorry), getting out of the West is still gonna be hard.
I don’t like betting against Kawhi, so if I had to make a pick for a team to come out of the West, I’d go with the Clippers.
5. End of Greatness
It is, as Nick Nurse said, sad and disappointing to see the Raptors’ seven-year playoff run come to an end. But, for a long-timer like me, it’s easy to look back at what came before and see only the positives. Seven years! When I was watching those post-2001 teams fall apart, and Vince and Mourning and Babcock, the future seemed bleak. Even when Chris Bosh was here, and that fun 2007 team, a sustained run of playoff appearances, of being at the top of the standings, seemed impossible. Winning 50 games once, let alone five times in a row, seemed impossible. Only great teams did that, and the Raptors were not a great team.
And now they are. I do believe this year will be an aberration, and the raptors’ playoff streak will begin anew next season — and that down the road we’ll be saying something like, “made the playoffs 12 of the last 13 years, with the only year they missed being that strange year in Tampa…”
I very much look forward to that moment.
Three more to go! And only one more in Tampa. Still no confirmation that we’ll see the team back in Toronto next year, but let’s all keep our fingers crossed.