The Toronto Raptors came back from a 22 point deficit to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 114-109 on Thursday night. It was the second game of a back-to-back and extends their current winning streak to five games. Yes, they played horribly for long stretches and barely managed the win, but this version of the Toronto Raptors, the 2017/2018 version is the best Raptors team in history. There may not have as much talent as previous teams, or might not win as many games as previous teams and they may not even go as deep in the playoffs as they have done before, but none of them can match how this team has played.
Move over 2000/2001 Raptors, with Vince Carter, Charles Oakley et al. They were one basket away from the Eastern Conference Finals in that game 7 loss to, coincidentally, the 76ers. Truth be told.. if Vince Carter makes that shot, I think they beat the Milwaukee Bucks just like Philadelphia did and would have made it to the NBA Finals. But I don’t recall them moving the ball anywhere near as well as this team has this season.
Move over 2015/2016 Raptors who actually did make it to the EC Finals and were (still are) a very good team, but they did struggle with consistency going 7 games in each round of the playoffs before bowing out to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 6 games. There was no shame whatsoever in losing to the Cavs who only lost 5 playoff games that year. Golden State had won the other three. But even that team was not as deep, nor were they as good defensively. The Raptors have improved their perimeter defence with rookie OG Anunoby, and the length of players like Pascal Siakam and Delon Wright. Also, with Serge Ibaka in front of the basket, even DeMar DeRozan’s defence has improved.
But with this year’s Raptors, there is still something… something different about them. Call it a quiet confidence or taking a business like approach to games. They are playing with high levels of skill, basketball IQ and emotional IQ. This is the team I have dreamed about for the past 20+ years. Ok, that dream also includes a championship, but it always starts with the team playing at a very high level.
In the past 10 games they are 9-1 which makes them tied with the Houston Rockets for second overall in the NBA behind the Golden State Warriors. They are a league leading 11-1 at home. 3rd in points scored per game with 111.6 and also 3rd in point differential with 8.8. Those are lofty numbers by any standards, but they are even more impressive when you consider that they have played more games on the road than at home and have already completed most of their western road trip.
The Raptors all-stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are playing like all-stars. DeRozan is scoring more efficiently and not only knocking down 3s to keep defence’s honest, he is dishing out assists more than ever. Their elder statesman Serge Ibaka is playing like a youngster again as coach Dwane Casey has been able to find appropriate times to rest him. Their old school centreman Jonas Valanciunas (who everybody is looking to trade) has been a little bit more mobile this year and has even managed a 50% shooting (3 for 6) from the 3 point line. Yet he can still bang with the big boys like he did against the Charlotte Hornets Dwight Howard. Their second unit is very young and has had a few bumps recently but have once again found their stride and they too are third in the NBA (+3.0)in point differential.
There is still a long ways to go this season and many questions that need to be answered. How well will they do in January when the Cavs and the Warriors visit Toronto. How long can Anunoby and the kids in the second unit keep it up as the season progresses. Can they (knock on wood) go through the season without any serious injury as that gruesome Jorge Garbajosa injury derailed their playoff aspirations in 2007. But even with these questions, this is the first rendition of the Toronto Raptors that I believe has a chance of defeating a Lebron James team. A small chance, yes… but a chance nonetheless.
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