The last day of the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League — hell, the last two days (double hell, maybe even the last three or four days) — is not exactly a hot ticket. Yes, there’s ostensibly a championship game going on (between the Kings and Celtics this year), but the other contests tend to be rather thin affairs. To wit: the Raptors did indeed compete against the Brooklyn Nets for their final game on Tuesday evening. But they were without many of their core (re: exciting) players — including Malachi Flynn, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, and Yuta Watanabe.
Nevertheless, the Raptors did what they do: they competed and pulled out another victory, beating the Nets by a score of 86-72. Now, did the game offer much in the way of consistent entertainment value? No. Was it informative, as in a potential indicator of future success for some of these Raptors players? Also, for the most part, no. Was commentator Channing Frye enjoying himself? Sure, we can say yes to that one. Still, the Raptors won, finishing their 2021 NBA Summer League run with a 4-1 record. Not bad!
Except, yes, the first half of this game was indeed quite bad. While one could argue the first quarter, which saw the Raptors pull ahead 22-17 on 53 percent shooting (including a neat 3-of-6 from three), was solid enough, the second quarter was... well, there’s no nice way to say this: it was an abomination offset only by how hard these players were trying to play. At one point Toronto’s Jalen Adams got five point-blank chances at a bucket, with the Nets swarming and unable to corral the defensive board, yet he couldn’t score. In all, while the broadcast said it was 10-8, the official box confirms an 8-8 tie. That’s right, these two teams scored a combined 16 points in the frame — the Nets went 2-for-23, the Raptors 3-for-17 from the field. Toronto also had 17 turnovers at the half, which added to the overall sloppiness.
After those first 20 minutes, hometown hero Dalano Banton had yet to record an assist (to go against his four turnovers) and it looked like it was going to continue to be a rough evening for the whole squad. Fortunately, Banton did find his stride in the second half, finishing the game with nine points, nine rebounds, and four assists (with, yes, five turnovers). His day was ultimately better than fellow almost-Raptors Freddie Gillespie, who had another abysmal outing, and Ish Wainwright, who tried to do the right things, yet finished with a mere three points in his 11 minutes. Meanwhile, it’s decidedly easy to feel good about what Banton may be able to do given time. He’s raw of course, but there are flashes of a wild, versatile game.
The combination of a resurgent Banton, a forceful Adams, and the all-around play of Raptors 905 veteran Matt Morgan made it all work for Toronto. I hope this doesn’t come off as burying the lede, but it was actually Morgan who got the Raptors back on track, scoring eight of his game-leading 24 points (on a sharp 9-of-12 from the field) in the fourth quarter. All told, he played just shy of 21 minutes in this one, but Morgan seemed to have an answer every time the Nets put together anything that looked like a collective effort. As a result, Toronto mostly cruised in the fourth with a 13 to 15-point cushion.
I’ll add: Adams finished the day with a 14-point, 13-rebound line, which was almost matched by two-way Raptor Justin Champagnie and his 11-point, 11-rebound effort. That said, it should not be a surprise to see some massive rebounding numbers in this one. To repeat: the Raptors and Nets shot a combined 12.5 percent in the second quarter. There were a lot of balls up for grabs.
OK, let’s end this on a high note. The Raptors did indeed finish their Summer League run with a 4-1 record. We got to see the tantalizing skills of Scottie Barnes, the growth of Malachi Flynn, and the potential of Precious Achiuwa. We’ll see how many players from this latest iteration of Toronto’s summer squad make it onto the Raptors’ full-time squad or find themselves on the 905 in Mississauga. And then we’ll prepare for whatever is next — which feels, for the first time in a little while, like something that could be brand new.