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It has only been a week since the Raptors last took the court but it feels like much, much longer. Certainly the all-star break didn’t feel this long even if it was.
With no basketball on the immediate horizon and sports appetites needing to be fed we bring you the five most memorable games the Raptors played this season.
The picks are totally subjective and totally mine, so without further ado:
1. Raptors vs. Dallas, Dec. 22
RESULT: Raptors 110, Mavericks 107
SYNOPSIS: Nearing the Christmas break and on the start of a back-to-back without three key players, the Raptors were in need of a pick-me-up.
Granted the Mavs were without Luka Doncic for this one but the Raptors were missing their leading scorer in Pascal Siakam, their defensive backbone in Marc Gasol and Norm Powell who had been the Raptors top bench player. Oh and Matt Thomas was also not dressed. Nurse played just nine guys and with the injuries dressed just 10. There was nothing regular about this game from the very beginning.
Toronto was down by as many as 30 with 2:32 to go in the third quarter and looked dead.
They were still down 18 with just 9:12 to go in the game but hope was still hard to find.
Then Kyle Lowry went to work. Lowry has made this kind of run more than a handful of times this season but his 20 points over the final 8:12 of the game was something to behold.
The Mavs had no answer. He had four triples, he scored at the rim and he scored from the line. Inside, outside it didn’t matter. Lowry put the team on his back and carried them to victory.
Dallas scored just 14 points in the final quarter. Lowry alone had 20.
The final four points of the night were scored by Chris Boucher who dunked on an assist from Lowry with 25 seconds left and then went to the line with that one-point lead after a personal foul by Dorian Finney-Smith and made both free throws with a second left. A last-second heave by Kristaps Porzingas from 66 feet failed to find the mark and the Raptors had pulled off their biggest comeback of the season.
2. Raptors @ Lakers Nov. 10
RESULT : Raptors 113, Lakers 104
SYNOPSIS : Still early days for the Raptors who are once again undermanned with both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka out of the lineup for what would amount to month-long absences. Both had been lost two nights earlier in a win over New Orleans. Waiting for them in L.A. were the best two-man lineup in the NBA in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Nick Nurse started the only five returnees he had from a year ago (Malcolm Miller who did not play was the lone exception) and rode that quintet of Fred VanVleet, Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Gasol to the win. But what made this game so important in this stunningly good Raptors’ run was the first real emergence of the bench. Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Terence Davis II would combine for 38 points between them. Boucher, standing in against a driving Anthony Davis and then a driving LeBron James convinced a ton of people that night that he could play big despite the 50 and 60 pounds he gave up to most bigs he was up against. Hollis-Jefferson convinced his head coach that night that he could provide the defence necessary to play in this Raptors lineup. The game was further proof that Davis had no fear whatsoever. More than anything the defensive approach Nurse had been looking for since training camp arrived. The team held James to just 13 points. That game and a Dec. 29th game against Dallas are the least productive scoring nights of James’ season.
3. Raptors @ Utah Mar. 9
RESULT: Raptors 101, Jazz 92
SYNOPSIS : This one might have made the list regardless just because it was their final game before the league shut down for Coronavirus, but it’s here on merit as well. The Raptors had absolutely no reason to win this game. They were playing on the second night of a back to back at the end of a five-game road trip and looking at (what was going to be) a four-day break before they took the court again. They were without VanVleet and Gasol and playing a Jazz team that had won six in a row and was coming in both red hot and rested. This no-excuse team playing a defensive gem of a game holding Rudy Gobert to just six points and Donovan Mitchell to just 11. This may have been the finest game of a great season to date for Ibaka. Ibaka gives up three inches to Gobert but held the French big man and NBA all-star to just four rebounds. Pat McCaw, with Powell going down in the first two minutes, put his own defensive stamp on this game playing just under 43 minutes making things difficult all night for any would-be Jazz scorer. He would finish a plus-21 on the night behind only Ibaka’s plus-28. If it was the final game of this stellar season for the Raptors it was a fitting night to go out on.
4. Raptors @ Boston Dec. 28
RESULT : Raptors 113, Celtics 97
SYNOPSIS : This one was all about righting wrongs. The Raptors were coming off a demoralizing Christmas Day loss to these same Celtics, at home no less in the first Christmas Day NBA game broadcast outside the U.S. Toronto was never in the Christmas Day game falling 118-102. The team was still a solid 21-10 but had lost two in a row and were headed to Boston on the back-end of a home and home. The Christmas Day loss had taken something out of the fanbase. Doubts were starting to creep in. The absences of Gasol and Siakam and Powell were being felt. The Raptors needed to right the ship. Again it was Lowry leading the charge with 30 points in the win. Again it was Toronto’s full-team defence whether it was the starters behind Lowry, Ibaka and VanVleet or the bench behind Boucher, Davis and on this night an unexpected boost from two-way player Oshae Brissett that proved to be the winning formula. The Raptors are well aware the majority of the NBA projects Boston to be the biggest threat to Milwaukee in the East. The Raptors reminded everyone on this night that they are at the very least as much of a threat in the East as any team.
5. Raptors vs. Pacers, Feb 23
RESULT : Raptors 127, Pacers 81
SYNOPSIS : Probably the most complete game the Raptors played all season. A very good opponent could neither score against nor stop the Raptors from scoring. It was a blowout from the early stages with the Raptors holding Indy to just 12 points in the first quarter while scoring 34 of their own. Everyone took their turn in this one including Thomas who had his best shooting game as a Raptors scoring 17 points in just over 15 minutes. The three-point specialist was on point going 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. Indy somehow won the third quarter by a single point but it was the only period of success they would enjoy all night. This was a beatdown, pure and simple and while the Pacers didn’t have Victor Oladipo for this one, that has been their norm more often than not this year and they still came in with a 33-23 record.
That’s five wins out of 46. Let’s just hope they get a chance to finish this off.
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