With eight players out due to injury and two more a healthy scratch, the Toronto Raptors and their six man rotation couldn’t find enough to beat the Indiana Pacers on Sunday afternoon, losing 125-113 to finish their 2020-21 season.
The game puts one of the Raptors’ toughest seasons — circumstance and basketball-wise — behind them, and that fact was laid bare throughout proceedings.
Players, executives, and coaches alike looked downright giddy on the sideline during the fourth quarter, with most packing up to leave Tampa tomorrow for a well-deserved break from this season’s compacted, ruthless NBA schedule. The highlight of this game wasn’t even on the court, as Fred VanVleet joined the TSN broadcast for the third quarter and talked about everything: his COVID-19 experience, Kyle Lowry’s mentorship, OG Anunoby’s improvement, and even some “looking in the mirror” exposition on Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris.
VanVleet on Flynn & Harris the other night: "They looked like a couple young guys we had a few years ago."— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) May 16, 2021
A basketball game did happen around Fred’s broadcast debut, though. Similar to the last few games, the Raptors played hard and did some nice things, but didn’t have the bodies or talent to compete with an opponent that had real stakes on the table. Aron Baynes was the team’s only available body off the bench with Chris Boucher and Gary Trent Jr. earning another DNP (coach’s decision) — the result of this being a rotation half made up of centres.
Nick Nurse played his hand appropriately given the circumstances. Toronto found some advantages on the glass — edging the Pacers 48-47 in that category — and looked their best when Baynes, Khem Birch, and Freddie Gillespie all shared the court at the same time (recalling another three-centre lineup that... happened in Toronto).
Gillespie / Birch / Baynes starting together in the fall pic.twitter.com/sKb991yHcU— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) May 16, 2021
In the first quarter alone, those three combined for 17 points and helped Toronto immensely — the Raptors trailed by just one after 12 minutes. With the bigs cooking and DeAndre’ Bembry scoring ten points, it even looked there might be enough of a recipe to make the whole game competitive, especially with how sloppy both teams were playing; they combined for five turnovers before we even had a timeout.
Alas, Indiana found their form in the second quarter. Needing to get his team a win to secure the number nine seed and a home play in game, Pacers’ star Domantas Sabonis played excellently before halftime — dishing for assists, scoring in close, and taking advantage of the inexperience on the Raptors side. Sabonis would finish the game 25 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Indiana won the frame 37-25, went up double digits, and never really looked back.
While Sabonis was the focal point, Oshae Brissett led the Pacers in scoring and helped keep the Raptors at bay in the second half. Amassing a career-high 31 points and ten rebounds in 36 minutes, Brissett had his revenge game from everywhere — making five of his ten field goals from outside and punishing Toronto for missed rotations.
The Raptors, who finish their season with a record of 27-45, were led by 27 points from Malachi Flynn. Stanley Johnson had 24 points and seven assists, Bembry finished with 23 points (9-for-22), and Khem Birch had a double double with 18 points and 14 rebounds. The team shot just 40.2 percent to the Pacers’ 50.5 percent — a classic end-of-season “it’s a make or miss league” outcome that really doesn’t benefit from more extrapolation.
Besides getting the hell out of Tampa, the Raptors have more to look forward to in the off-season. The NBA Draft Lottery, where the Raptors hold the seventh-best odds, will take place on June 22.