The Toronto Raptors are undefeated in 2024.
It’s a small sample size of course, but the Raptors are 2-0 since we rang in the new year, with both wins coming in part by the contributions of our two newest Raptors, RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley.
RJ Barrett gets a warm welcome as he makes his first start with his hometown Toronto Raptors pic.twitter.com/ycmdYuYXOJ— chelsea leite (@chelsealeite) January 2, 2024
That 124-121 win on New Years’ Day against Cleveland was fun of course, but also showed a lot that this roster can work towards as we progress into the new year.
After that short stint at home, the team hit the road for their annual west coast road trip, with tonight’s stop being in Memphis to face the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies came into this game 11-22 on their season and 5-2 since the return of Ja Morant after he served his 25-game suspension to start the season. While it was certainly rough without their star on the court, they are certainly a completely different team now.
For tonight’s game, the Raptors went with the same starting lineup of Immanuel Quickley, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, RJ Barrett and Jakob Poeltl.
Toronto got off to a much slower start than they did in the Cavaliers game though. On Monday they scored a season-high 41 points in the first quarter, but tonight scored 30 points in the opening minutes. They led by one despite trailing for most of the quarter, ending on a 13-4 run from Toronto.
RJ Barrett led all scorers with eight points after the first quarter shooting with 100% accuracy from the field — unfortunately Immanuel Quickley scored 0 points. Spoiler Alert: he improved greatly after that.
Siakam was close behind with seven, and it was Gary Trent Jr. who scored the three pointer in the final seconds give Toronto the lead.
Jakob Poeltl played excellent defense in the first quarter, making three blocks to go with five points and two rebounds. He would go on to make a season high five blocks in the game.
That good finish in the first carried into the second as the Raptors continued to lead in the second. RJ Barrett played with intensity, finding his teammates for assists while also forcing turnovers on defence.
I have really, really enjoyed the RJ Barrett Bully-Ball experience so far— Esfandiar Baraheni (@JustEsBaraheni) January 4, 2024
Leading the Raptors with 8 points, They lead by 1 after 1 pic.twitter.com/DJt1FnONvm
The Raptors outscored Memphis 32-19 in the second quarter to get up big going into the half, and that continued into the third quarter as the Raptors built a 20 point lead.
While Memphis were able to make up some of that in the third, the Raptors played great offence AND defence to keep themselves and their lead afloat.
While Immanuel Quickley started the game a little slow, going scoreless in the first, he had 21 points going into the fourth as the Raptors led 93-76 going into the final stretch.
Couple things:— Esfandiar Baraheni (@JustEsBaraheni) January 4, 2024
1) Amazing skip celebration from IQ
2) 5 made threes for IQ -- matching season-high for him pic.twitter.com/plbcNFk9FC
Yet, what was a 20 point game AGAIN was cut to just 10 points by Memphis with a little over half of the fourth quarter still to go. Pascal Siakam also had to sit for a few minutes with four fouls.
Memphis kept themselves in the game, making it as close as a five point game with two minutes to go in the fourth.
Yet, the Raptors were able to hold off Morant and the Grizz, winning 116-111. This was their first back-to-back win since the end of November.
Immanuel Quickley Leads Scorers
After that quiet first quarter, Immanuel Quickley made up for lost time.
He ended up being the team’s highest scorer for the night with 26 points on 5-8 shooting from three.
Immanuel Quickley scores a team high 26 points on 5-8 3pt shooting tonight -- after scoring 0 points in the first quarter.— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) January 4, 2024
One of the best parts of the night was seeing Quickley do his signature skip celebration as he heated up. He seems to be easing into his new role as a starter well.
He commented after the game that his teammates and coaching staff kept encouraging him to shoot despite his 0 point first quarter, giving credit to them for re-igniting his confidence.
Quickley has scored a combined 40 points in his first two starts for Toronto, which are also his first two starts of the season.
He primarily played backup to Jalen Brunson in New York.
Quickley is a back-up point guard no more.
Pizza Party Soon Come?
A few weeks ago, head coach Darko Rajaković pledged to pay for a team dinner the next time his squad wins three games in a row.
While that became a joke pretty fast, it seems the Raptors have a better chance than ever to test if he will be good on his word.
Tonight marks the first time the Raptors have won two games in a row since November 24th.
the raptors fighting the urge at halftime to look ahead to a potential pizza party on the road this week: pic.twitter.com/3FTVAVzAOB— alex (@steven_lebron) January 4, 2024
More than the excitement of a potential pizza party, the Raptors are showing cohesion for the first time in what feels like a while.
In previous games when the Raptors folded their large leads, resulting in losses (cough, Utah, cough), this was not the case tonight.
They trusted their defence even when the Grizzlies came close to tying up the game, and held strong to win. They didn’t gas out in the fourth. They did not hang their heads before the game was even over.
It was incredibly fun to watch, a cherry on top.
California Here We Come
The Toronto Raptors, those lucky ducks, are heading to sunny Cali for a week.
While nice for them, as they will get some sunshine and heat — something Torontonians are severely lacking — it kinda sucks for fans here.
For the next week, games will start as late as 10:30p.m. as the Raptors his Sacramento, Golden State, LA (two nights in a row), and then Utah before coming home.
On the plus side, there is a ton of potential for some really fun games ahead.
Fans will get to see some old friends like Norm Powell and Kawhi Leonard, and Raptors like Dennis Schröder will play against previous teams.
The Toronto Raptors’ next match is Friday night against the Sacramento Kings.