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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 135-111 win over the Denver Nuggets.
One — What if: If this will be the last hurrah for this generation of the Raptors, then it was a triumphant one that gave one last peak at how special this group is. The Raptors broke their nine-game losing streak in emphatic fashion, walloping one of the best teams in the league from start to finish while playing their most complete game of the season. Any sense of dread or finality with franchise icons moving on stopped short of the court, where the Raptors drained 24 threes while the starting five combined for 99 points even though they sat for most of the fourth quarter. It's too little too late and won't change much about the changes in the coming hours, but for what it was, the Raptors went out in style and with their heads held high.
Two — Final: Nothing is set in stone and no final decisions have been made, but it really felt like the last ride with Lowry and Powell. For the two longest serving Raptors on the roster, who have served as crucial parts of nothing but success over the past decade, it felt surreal to watch them leave. Even the post-game interviews were longer, with Lowry and Powell both taking the time to answer each question even though it ran over an hour. When you first sense the end, you're just focused on what's next and there's an impatience to reach it. But when you're standing on that ledge, and the players are literally walking off the court with Lowry waving to the camera with a pained look on his face, all you can think about is the journey. Lowry and Powell aren't just two players who would logically be moved because they're impending free agents and because the Raptors' season has been cursed to the point where playoffs are unlikely, but they are like two family members waving goodbye in the rearview mirror as you drive to the next stop. It feels almost impossible that they may no longer be there.
Three — Peace: For Lowry himself, it was a fitting end for the Raptors franchise leader in assists and the second all-time scorer behind his best friend DeMar DeRozan. Lowry took five shots and had nine assists, but it was the best plus-minus of his illustrious career as the Raptors outscored Denver by 42 points in his 33 minutes. With Lowry as their compass and his competitive fire fuelling the engine, the Raptors have been one of the most successful teams in the NBA by every measure, with the 2019 championship as its crowning achievement. Over that time, Lowry is plus-2,561 while the Raptors are only plus-40 stretching back to 2012. There can be no overstating how important Lowry has been to the Raptors, because the only goal in sports is to win, and Lowry has brought more winning to Toronto than anybody. Lowry is the greatest player in franchise history, and if this was his last moment, he went out on his terms in the most Lowry way possible.
Four — Courteous: Lowry's birthday happens to fall tomorrow (he prefers you to say he's turned 30 for the fifth time) on the deadline, and with each passing of the calendar, it presents an opportunity to reflect. Lowry came to the Raptors at the age of 26 with a reputation for being selfish, for being hard to deal with, for being brash with coaches, and perhaps most scathing, it was thought that he was immature. A lot changed for him as a player, but Lowry also matured before our eyes into an outstanding citizen. He is every rookie's dream as a veteran, because look at how many players got paid through playing with Lowry. He is a natural leader, someone that represented Toronto with class in every city from Rio to London and every town in between. His oldest son had just turned one when he first got traded, and now that boy is a teenager, and Lowry has become a man, a caretaker, a provider, and an example to all Raptors both current and future.
Five — Overlooked: There's some bitter irony in Powell being overshadowed in what could be his last game as a Raptor, because in some respects that was always his story on this team. Powell has as many clutch moments for this team than anyone outside of Lowry and Kawhi Leonard, but he's never the priority. Even now after a career year where Powell is averaging 20 points for the first time, while showing steady growth over the last three seasons, he is reportedly being ushered out. And this comes despite Powell saying that he gave everything to this organization and that he wants to stay and re-sign. You can look at it in economic terms, with the demand for Powell being too great to turn down, but just don't ignore or dismiss the legacy he led. Powell won't have his jersey retired or anything, but every true Raptors fan will have a soft spot in their heart for Playoff Powell, and will respect him for grinding his way into the player that he is today.
Six — Redemption: As for the game itself, the storyline of Pascal Siakam beefing with Nick Nurse somehow became a minor headline. Siakam chalked it up to being frustrated with losing, and Nurse said the same, but that's as much true as it was a clever piece of media training. Whatever happened between the two, it seemed to have lit a fire under Siakam and that is what really matters on the floor. Siakam came out like a man possessed, attacking the Nuggets relentlessly both inside and out, while playing with the defensive intensity that first earned him a maximum contract. And quite honestly, aside from jumpers rimming in or out, there's no reason why Siakam can't be this aggressive every game. He's the rare athlete who can rip down the rebound and take it coast-to-coast through traffic before finishing at the basket, and that was the most impressive part of his performance tonight. There would be no arguments, no benching, and very little losing if Siakam played with this type of intensity on a nightly basis.
Seven — Wow: It's not the first time that OG Anunoby has matched up with and outplayed Nikola Jokic. Anunoby drew the impossible task of checking an MVP candidate while playing out of position at center, and while Anunoby had plenty of help with teammates being diligent and decisive with their double teams, Anunoby himself also deserves most of the credit. Not only was Anunoby holding his own in the post, but he took it to Jokic on the other end, making a point to attack him. Anunoby had the best stretch of the game where he flew in for a tip-in despite three Nuggets being in prime rebounding position, then raced back in transition to swipe Jokic on the dribble, and then blocked the Nuggets at the rim for a spectacular block to spark a fast break. Similar to Siakam, if Anunoby can play with this much force and confidence on a regular basis, the Raptors would be right back in the playoff mix.
Eight — Tiki-taka: This was the play of the season for the Raptors. It shows the invaluable quality of having five players who can shoot and make plays at once, which hasn't been possible with this team due to injuries. It shows the unselfishness by Lowry, Siakam, Anunoby and Fred VanVleet to all turn down good shots so that they could get the best one for Powell. And most of all, it shows the chemistry that comes only through putting the time in, through detailed practices over summer runs in Los Angeles and Finals runs through Oakland, that all led to those three points. Hopefully the Raptors can get back to this level with the next group, and all else that follow.
Nine — Productive: The Raptors also finally got something from their bench which allowed the game to finish as a blowout. DeAndre' Bembry made two opportunistic drives for five points to start the fourth quarter and just that little bit of breathing room allowed for a huge sigh of relief. The inability of the second unit to hold leads, or even approach competency with any regularity, is what doomed this team from the start. There's just not enough scoring talent to sustain pressure on opposing teams, and that is an area the front office needs to address, staring tomorrow.
Ten — Historic: Finally, it was a pleasure to take in the first all-women broadcast in NBA history. For too long has sports media been an all-boys club and as with most institutions, there is change that is necessary so that those in the broadcast reflect those who are watching. This broadcast was refreshing in that sense, but also because it was just incredibly informative. Kia Nurse brought so much expertise and talked so much game that it lived up to the title of colour commentator, and it delivered a level of intelligence that respected the knowledge of the audience. It may seem banal to hear about minutiae like "split cuts" or "zone coverages" but it's really not. There is a huge audience in sports that wants to understand on every level what goes into the product they see, not just if the ball went through the net or not, and Nurse answered those questions with insight and clarity.
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