TORONTO – It took the Toronto Raptors two decades to stage their 50-game debut season.
On Sunday, well dressed in their retro striped uniforms, they reached this plateau for the fifth consecutive campaign.
For context, no other NBA team has an active streak of more than two consecutive 50-game seasons. It’s yet another reminder of how far the Raptors organization has come and how remarkably stable it has been during the most successful run in franchise history.
“It’s a consistency,” said head coach Nick Nurse after his team’s 108-99 victory over Memphis, securing them a second place finish in the Eastern Conference standings.
“Where do you want to start? Let’s start with Kyle [Lowry], he’s been here the entire race. We hooked up some new guys here and there who probably exceeded most people’s expectations, from Pascal [Siakam] to Fred [VanVleet] at[[[[Norman Powell]to Serge [Ibaka]. Marc [Gasol] was also a nice addition. This is where I would start. I think Kyle’s tenacity and leadership really set the tone for this organization for this kind of race.
“Obviously, Masai [Ujiri], Bobby [Webster] and their guys made some big decisions on the roster. And this year, I think it’s impressive with all the injuries we’ve had, guys that we weren’t sure we would step in and really contribute. Give them credit [but] I think part of that is growing and winning, and you kind of have to fill up big shoes and they do it with a lot of energy and effort.
This time around, they didn’t even need a full 82-game season to accomplish that feat. Without the hiatus and the condensed restart schedule, this could have been the year they finally got 60 wins.
Yet their 50th victory was remarkable. This officially locked them in the second seed in the East, allowing them to use the last three games of the regular season to tighten up some things and manage the minutes while waiting to see if they will open the first round of the playoffs. playoffs – starting August 17 – against Brooklyn or Orlando.
It was also a nice rebound effort after one of their worst losses of the season – a 122-100 blowout at the hands of the Boston Celtics on Friday.
The nurse was not interested in talking about it until Sunday’s game. He said he hadn’t even watched the movie. The defending champions were unrecognizable that night – lacking in energy and focus, and completely out of sync on both sides of the pitch. It was their first loss in the NBA bubble and a rare blip in an impressive campaign.
In recent years, the Raptors have almost always bounced back quickly from heavy losses, which is why Nurse wasn’t too concerned about Friday. It’s the same reason for their continued success, another by-product on their consistency, and we reviewed it against Memphis.
“Obviously we’re competitors and we’re pros,” said Siakam, who enjoyed his own rebound performance, scoring a high of 26 points and hitting some big three in the fourth quarter. “At the end of the day, you lose games. I don’t even care how much we lost. It’s just a loss. Whenever we lose we always have this chip on our shoulder and we know what to do. As a team, everyone is a professional and we understand that we cannot take these kinds of losses. And then the next day, we have nothing to say. We’re just going over there and getting it and trying to win the next game.
Siakam, who was held by 11 points on 5 of 15 shots, got off to a slow start in the bubble but had his best performance in five league games on Sunday. He was an efficient 9-for-16 on the court. He looked more engaged defensively and was more patient with the ball in his hands. For the most part, he didn’t rely on the jumper. He tackled mismatches and found ways to use his length and athleticism to score around the rim.
“Obviously there were a few games there where you felt like you didn’t play as well as you could have, but I just felt like it was planned for me and I had to have a rhythm and keep understanding that is what I do and keep improving, ”Siakam said. “I can’t put you down, especially when you did that [before]. I always feel like there will be times when things don’t go your way, but you have to keep playing, keep doing what you’re doing and understand. I’ve always been able to do this.
Like the Boston game, the Raptors couldn’t get a shot to drop early, despite looking good. They were 1 in 10 on a three-point range in the first quarter and most of those attempts were wide open. However, unlike Friday’s loss, when they let their shot crumble affect other facets of their game such as moving the ball and defending themselves, they respected it.
Matt Thomas came off the bench and knocked down a three to start the second quarter. Then he emptied another. Both primary reserves, Powell and Ibaka, also had rebound performances and gave the team a boost. Suddenly the same shots that were hitting earlier started to fall and the Raptors looked like the Raptors again. They went 7-for-12 from long distance within a second.
Desperately trying to hang on to the eighth and final playoff seed in the West, the Grizzlies stuck around and had a run in the end of the fourth, reducing Toronto’s lead to three to three. three and a half minutes from the end. But, thanks to a few clutch shots from Siakam and Lowry and another timely robbery from VanVleet, the Raptors were able to hold them back.
With the win, they fell to 4-1 in the bubble – an encouraging record given how difficult their schedule is. However, there are areas of concern. A recurring problem has been their turnover. They had 26 against Memphis and are averaging 19.6 at Disney – best of any team in the restart and up from their regular season mark of 14.4.
It’s just one of the things they can use the next three games to point out and try to fix.
“To be honest, I think that’s a lot of unforced turnovers,” Siakam said. “This is something we need to fix and I feel like we will do it as a team. It’s not us and we all know it. Everyone is trying to rectify it. “