TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors don’t believe in statement games, and why should they? After winning the NBA Championship a year ago, they have more than proven they deserve to defend it this season.
When the campaign came to a screeching halt nearly five months ago, they were the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, the third-best in the entire league, and were ahead of their own pace the year before.
If there was a question about who they were and how good they could be, it certainly wasn’t coming from anyone in their locker room. There aren’t many clubs that have established and adopted a similar identity to the Raptors.
They play hard, don’t give up, defend better than almost anyone else, and they’re there for more than a game or a win. That’s not to say that they can’t recognize and rise to a big time, however. They might not believe in statement games, but they certainly have a flair for the dramatic.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to pay a lot of attention, they never seem to, but it’s OK,” said head coach Nick Nurse, after Toronto’s impressive 107-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, leading the Western Conference, in its reopening of the season on Saturday.
“Seriously man, we love to play games and we love to compete, we know we’re tough to beat, we really do, and I think there’s a cap we can still hit.
The Raptors were driven, as they usually are, by Kyle Lowry – a man on a mission Saturday night, and upon his arrival in the NBA bubble.
As the spotlight shone on Game 1 of the Toronto rerun – it was broadcast nationally in the US on ESPN – Lowry presented a show. Not only did he outperform the Lakers superstar duo of James Lebron and Anthony Davis, he nearly edged them out himself – scoring 33 points and notching a career-high 14 rebounds, against 34 points and 16 James and Davis tables combined.
“Nick says he’s going to make it easier for us to come back and use it as an exhibition, but our competitive spirit, we have too many competitive guys who want to go out and play and win games,” Lowry said. “Especially when playing against a team like the Lakers, a No.1 team in the West. Competitive juices begin. ”
Lowry was awesome. When the Raptors offense sizzled through the first three quarters, he put them on his shoulders – reaching the edge or the line, where he attempted 15 free throws. When he felt the momentum pull away, he took a charge or fought for a loose ball. When the game was in balance, he hit big shots and made winning plays.
“It was vintage Kyle tonight,” Nurse said. “He would score and fly, take loads, compete and bring us critical buckets and keep things running. He was awesome. ”
These resilient 2019-20 Raptors were born in a game against the Lakers almost nine months ago. It was November 10 – the ninth game of the season, but it was the first night we really got to know what this team was made of.
Lowry et Serge Ibaka had just been injured a few days earlier. They were going to fail for a long time and, to make matters worse, the nurse didn’t trust her young bench.
“We didn’t all think we were very deep at all a few weeks ago,” he said just before that game in Los Angeles. “I said we have eight guys that I really like and three guys are missing. [from the rotation]. So, I’m going to have to start liking a few other guys pretty quickly. This is their chance. ”
In what might have been called a statement game at the time, the under-equipped Raptors shocked the Lakers, who were 7-1 and undefeated at home in that contest. It was the night they found out they had more depth than anyone thought. It was a character victory and perhaps the most iconic victory of their season so far. It set the tone for who they would become.
On Saturday, 266 days later, they reinforced him against that same Lakers team. Despite everything that happened in the world during this time, the identity of the Raptors has not changed.
Their second-place defense kept the Lakers at 35 percent shooting, the season low. Davis – who has scored just 14 points, almost half his season average – has attempted just seven shots. Elder Raptor Danny Green was held aimlessly in almost 20 minutes.
“I think they’re a great team,” said James. “They won a championship for a reason, and it wasn’t just about Kawhi [Leonard], and obviously you see that… that’s why they’ve been the team they’ve been all year.
“Great team, no ifs and buts. Well trained. Championship DNA. The media might not give them so much credit because Kawhi is gone, but the players know what kind of team they are. ”
OG Anunoby was excellent as a main defender over James and also contributed 23 important points on 8 of 9 shots. After a slow start, Pascal Siakam (15 points and nine rebounds) made some big plays in the home stretch. Fred VanVleet had a double-double of 13 points and 11 assists. But the night belonged to Lowry.
The 34-year-old not only looks refreshed after the break, but he looks focused. He’s fully determined to bring the Raptors back to the Finals, but his goal in Orlando is bigger than basketball.
In a highlight during the pre-match anthems, the two teams tied their arms and took one knee to peacefully protest against social injustice and anti-black racism, as other clubs have been doing since the resumption. of the season Thursday. The particularity of this demonstration is that it was the first to include the American and Canadian anthems.
Lowry, his teammates, fellow NBA players, and league coaches and staff are united in their goal: to use this platform and the spotlight of the recovery to amplify the message, fight for social justice and inspire. a significant change. More than anything else, this is what powers the Raptors All-Star Leader.
“I just want to win games, have the opportunity to go play for my teammates, have the opportunity to go play basketball and have the opportunity to go here and spread our social messages that we have. , Black Lives Matter, Lowry says. “Go over there and talk about voter suppression. These are the things that keep me moving right now – educational reform, the concern for justice for Breonna Taylor. These are all things that keep me going and make me do my best.