A season full of ups and downs reached one of its most unexpected highs on Sunday as the Raptors, short two starters and four rotation players, beat the Los Angeles Lakers 121-114. Just when it looked like the Raptors might be done for the season, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam carried the team with their best performances of the season as they combined for 76 points (the rest of the starters combined for four).
Still, the Raptors sit three games behind the Washington Wizards with only seven games left to play. Simply put: making the play-in is a long shot. But even with the knowledge that the franchise’s seven-year postseason streak is in danger of coming to an end, the team’s tone and demeanour seemed noticeably different on Sunday. A sense of joylessness and sometimes sluggishness has plagued this team as it’s dealt with the difficulties of relocation, injuries, and the spread of COVID-19. But as the Raptors’ stars took over, they displayed an energy and swagger that had been characteristic of this team in years past. Here’s what Kyle Lowry had to say about it:
Kyle Lowry: "I said at halftime, I said no matter what happens in the rest of this game let's have fun. I think that's one of the things that we can always rally around is having fun. This game is a game of joy and fun and when you're having fun good things happen."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 3, 2021
At the end of the day, playing winning basketball makes it easier to have fun during the games. Throughout this west coast road trip, the Raptors have played many minutes of winning basketball — but their lack of depth has also left them gassed and vulnerable to offensive droughts that cost them late in games.
Having defeated one Finals contender, the Raptors will look to keep spirits high against another as they return to Staples Center. In order to pull out a win against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s Clippers, the Raptors’ starters will need the bench unit to stay afloat as they did on Sunday. Can they handle that?
Here are tonight’s details.
Where to Watch:
TSN4, TSN5, TNT
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Stanley Johnson, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch
Los Angeles – Reggie Jackson, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac
Toronto – Chris Boucher (knee – OUT), Paul Watson (knee – OUT), OG Anunoby (calf – doubtful), Gary Trent (lower leg – doubtful), Fred VanVleet (hip – questionable)
Los Angeles – Serge Ibaka (back – OUT), Patrick Beverley (hand – OUT), Amir Coffey (health and safety protocols – OUT)
Don’t Poke the Bear
Don’t do it, folks. 37 points, 11 assists to just one turnover, and 8-of-13 three-point shooting is what Kyle Lowry did to the Lakers. Maybe the jawing fan with whom Lowry exchanged words and glances after a number of big shots wasn’t a factor. Maybe it had nothing to do with the Lakers’ reported decision that Talen Horton-Tucker was simply too steep a price to pay for a six-time All-Star. Or perhaps both provided some fuel for Lowry’s incredible performance.
In any case, Lowry, who the Raptors have rested here and there down the stretch, showed that he is indeed still more than capable of dominating games and erupting on offense. It’s been a treat watching Lowry’s facilitating on full display, especially with the addition of Khem Birch, but watching him impose his will as a scorer on Sunday was something else. Who knows how many games we have left to watch Kyle Lowry as a Raptor? Enjoy every minute of it.
Given that the Raptors have been routinely playing without at least a couple of important rotation players, in addition to their already thin depth, it makes sense that fatigue has been their kryptonite on this road trip. The starters kept it competitive against Denver and Utah, but the bench units struggled, scoring just 19 and 13 in the two games. Not only did this dig a hole for the starters, but it also forced them to play more minutes, leading to hands-on-knees and tired legs on jump-shots.
Sunday was a different story, as the Raptors’ bench combined for 41 points. DeAndre’ Bembry led the way with 14 and eight rebounds while playing important possessions as the ball-handler as Malachi Flynn struggled against a big Lakers team. Freddie Gillespie was also a big factor with 11 points and seven rebounds, while Yuta Watanabe added six points to go with his usual active defense. With potentially both Lowry and VanVleet getting the start, Flynn will look to bounce back in a bench role while the Raptors will hope for some more solid production from whoever their seventh and eighth men end up being. You can’t ask Lowry and Siakam to put up 76 every night — they’re not Mo Pete and Mike James, after all.
After trading Lou Williams at the deadline, the Clippers are down to just three former Raptors in Patrick Patterson and NBA Champions Serge Ibaka and Kawhi Leonard. Ibaka will miss the chance to play his former teammates due to injury and Patterson is a deeper rotation player but, unsurprisingly, Kawhi will be the main focus of the Raptors’ game plan. Last season, the Raptors managed to hold Leonard to 12 points on 2-of-11 shooting with nine turnovers in their first meeting, though the Clippers would still win 98-88. The Raptors will once again look to force the ball out of Leonard’s hands, but with the Clippers as a whole shooting a league-high 41.6 percent from three, this is a team that can really punish the Raptors for over-helping.
Tonight’s game will be broadcast on TNT, and even though they have absolutely no chance at a title this year, the chippy Toronto fan in me just wants the Raptors to shock the American national audience. Yes, keeping an eye on lottery odds is still important, but until the playoff odds officially reach zero I want to see Kyle Lowry and the Raptors play their hearts out. And what Raptors fan wouldn’t want them to remind Kawhi what he’s missing out on?