Sometimes we need to be reminded that basketball is just a sport and that there is so much that happens off the court that affects how we digest the game. Earlier in the day, the NBA community was saddened by the sudden news that Golden State Warriors assistant coach, Dejan Milojevic, had passed away after a heart attack.
Toronto Raptors head coach, Darko Rajakovic, was a close friend of Milojevic, one of very few Serbians in the NBA coaching circle, and had some thoughtful words to share before the game.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of Coach Dejan Milojević. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and the entire Warriors organization. pic.twitter.com/5wQd6gdb5P— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 18, 2024
In addition to the sad news about Milojevic — and on a much different scale of sadness — the Raptors announced the trade of Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers. It was a long time coming but foreshadowed the night before by Shams Charania. Many many words will be written about one of the greatest Raptors in franchise history in the coming days / weeks / months.
As if that wasn’t enough to weigh on the minds of Raptors fans, the officiating crew was led by Ben Taylor!
Have I mentioned yet that the Raptors were playing against Kyle Lowry and the Miami Heat? Oh right, there was an actual basketball game!
It would surprise no one if the emotions of the day’s events would lead to an unfocused effort by the Raptors. Instead, the Raptors put together their best first quarter and first half of the season on their way to a wire-to-wire 121-97 victory over the visiting Heat.
Gary Trent Jr. led the Raptors with 28 points and a blistering 8-for-9 from beyond the arc. RJ Barrett led the charge in the first half and finished with 26 points and 8 rebounds. With the keys to the team officially handed over to him, Scottie Barnes took over as Toronto’s closer in the 4th, finishing with 20 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block.
Miami, who was playing without Kevin Love and rookie sensation, Jaime Jaquez Jr., were led by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro, who each scored 16 points.
The Raptors showed no ill effects from all the news surrounding the league and the team. Immanuel Quickley hit a pair of threes, Trent Jr. added another, and Jontay Porter collected a pair of offensive rebounds and blocked a driving layup attempt by Tyler Herro. By the time Erik Spoelstra called his first timeout, Toronto had built a 13-2 lead.
Miami looked like the team that was shaken by a franchise-altering trade as they shot 33% from the field and only hit 1 of their 7 three-point attempts. On the other end, Toronto couldn’t miss, shooting 63/70/100 and drilling 7 three-pointers. The Raptors ended the first quarter with a 41-18 lead (not a typo).
The Raptors entered the game with a franchise-record 23 consecutive games with at least 25 assists. They accumulated 14 assists in the first quarter (ended with 34 on the night).
Toronto kept their foot on the gas pedal in the second quarter, growing the lead to 47-18 before Spoelstra called another timeout.
Before the game, Erik Spoelstra had this to say:— Adam Laskaris (@adam_la2karis) January 18, 2024
"Teams that make trades that can be extremely dangerous right away."
Raptors up 41-18 over the Heat after Q1.
The Raptors’ offensive execution was absolutely stellar. Jontay hit a pair of threes to grow the lead to 56-20. Barrett, GTJ (x 2), Dennis Schroder, and yes, even Gradey Dick would also add triples in the quarter. Miami tried trapping Toronto but the Raptors were quick with their passes, in tune with their spacing, and, at least for one night, solid from beyond the arc to make Miami pay.
One play, in particular, epitomized everything Darko preached about before the season: 0.5 basketball.
The Raptors have TWENTY ONE assists already in this game.— Esfandiar Baraheni (@JustEsBaraheni) January 18, 2024
There's 6 minutes left in the 1st half.
0.5 BASKETBALL BABY! pic.twitter.com/FHRviXX89f
At the half, Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 10 points. To put the first-half domination in perspective, there were FOUR Raptors with more points than Butler — RJ Barrett (17 points), Gary Trent Jr. (16), Immanuel Quickley (12), and Scottie Barnes (11). The Raptors absolutely dominated the first half and led 78-43.
Toronto came into this game averaging a paltry 11.7 made threes per game (26th in the league). They tallied 14 threes during their white-hot shooting in the first half.
Miami came out of halftime looking like the Heat team that made the NBA Finals in two of the last four seasons. Their defensive intensity picked up while the offense ran with more purpose. A 12-4 run over the first four minutes incited, not one, but two timeouts from Rajakovic.
Even with an 18-4 run, Miami still found themselves down 82-61.
While Miami was able to cut the giant halftime deficit in half during the third quarter, Toronto made some key shots to stem the tide and take a 94-73 lead into the fourth.
The departure of Siakam also left a giant hole in the closer role. He had become a release valve whenever the Raptors needed a bucket or when the game entered clutch time. Barnes has typically risen to the occasion in the final frame and took that responsibility to heart tonight.
Here’s a list of all the key offensive plays he engineered in the 4th quarter:
- Drives hard in the lane for a layup
- Gets a steal off Adebayo
- Another hard drive leads to an open three from Trent Jr. that stopped a 10-2 Miami run
- Barnes fadeaway bucket as the shot clock expired
- Another aggressive drive leads to an open three from Schroder
- Fadeaway bucket over Adebayo
- Yet another fadeaway basket — and and-one — over Adebayo
- Offensive rebound to keep a possession alive that eventually leads to Scottie assisting Trent Jr. on an open three
- No-look assist to Thaddeus Young
- One final drive-and-kick to Trent Jr. for a three
When all was said and done, Scottie Barnes accounted for 24 of Toronto’s first 25 points in the fourth quarter, after which Erik Spoelstra waved the white flag and emptied his bench.
There’s no rest for the weary as the Raptors welcome
Diar DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls tomorrow night. Just as this post was about to be published, the Raptors finalized the trade with Indiana and New Orleans by waiving Christian Koloko. Since 3 players were coming in and only 1 was going out (plus Toronto only had 1 open roster spot), the Raptors had to waive someone or make a subsequent trade.
To recap, the Raptors started the day with 2 Cameroonians but ended with zero on the roster.