Last night was one of the stranger basketball viewing experiences you’re likely to get. It was fitting that it went to 3 OT periods, because this felt like 3 completely different games in one. After a good opening series of possessions, the next 30 minutes of gameplay looked mostly like a game that the Raptors were on pace to lose. That was followed by 20 minutes of game-time that was dynamic on both ends, getting the fans completely into an exciting game that the Raptors looked poised to win. Then that was then somehow followed by another 9 minutes of game-time (somehow taking over half an hour of real time) that ended with a late-night, punch-drunk feel to it.
For me, last night’s game was an eye-opening experience. Unable to start the game in real time, I DVR’d the game, and steered clear of texts, twitter and anything that might spoil the outcome of the game for me. Turning the television on well after I thought it safe to assume the game was over; my screen came to life in the midst of a timeout, the Raptors down 116-118 in 2OT. So much for that plan.
So of course I watched out the overtime before starting the game. The first play I saw was DeMar’s game-tying bucket against a Washington defense that would have any reasonable head coach Boeheiming. “Wow,” I thought, “that is some of the sloppiest defense I’ve ever seen!” With 2.7 seconds left on the clock, and not to be outdone, the Raptors did everything they could to give up a good shot to Bradley Beal, which he dropped as time expired. But before I could even start writing the first word of another sarcastic, run-on rant about Casey’s curious rotations and the Raptors undisciplined defense breakdowns that nobody would have enjoyed, something crazy happened. It was the very end of a game and the Raptors actually got a call: the basket was waived off. For a moment, the grouchy writer in me was subdued, and the celebrating fan returned.
Triple overtime started, and the grouchy writer in me jumped right back out, complaining out loud about DeMar’s lazy defense on consecutive possessions. Normally my angry yelling at the TV is unable to garner a direct response from the broadcast crew, much less affect the game. But as if hearing my complaints, Matt Devlin immediately put me in my place by announcing that DeMar was currently at 56 minutes played. OK, my bad. 56 minutes into an NBA game where you’re the primary cog on offense, I can understand reaching in instead of shuffling your feet on defense. I would be on the ground hooked up to an oxygen tank at that point.
It was then that I realized something important. It was like a voice spoke to me, teaching me something obvious that’s been bogging me down all season. “This is 3OT!” Jiminy Cricket whispered into my ear, slapping me across the face, “Quit being such a wiener and ENJOY IT!”
Lowry fouled out, and reality pointed to a final conclusion. The Hansbrough-DeRozan-Vasquez-Novak-Fields 5-man unit would probably challenge for the worst defensive numbers in basketball-reference history if they played a full game together; they weren’t going to get stops. Yes, the defense was bad. REALLY bad. The Raptors lost. But so what? It was triple overtime, the Raptors had rolled 3 ankles, were without their two best defensive big men and their two best defensive perimeter players, DeMar had played almost 5 complete quarters of basketball and John Wall is really good with cheat code speed. Who could complain about this? Look, if you were at the game, then I get it. Raptors fans care about nothing else in the world the way they care about getting free pizza in a 100+ point win. For the Raptors to cross the hallowed 100 point pizza-chant mark, only to have that dream of free ‘za ripped from your fingers is devastating. Just devastating. But you know who probably isn’t that upset about losing that game? Everyone who was there: because they had an awesome time! I hate the argument that wanting your team to full-on tank during a re-build somehow questions the quality of your ‘fandom’. It’s idiotic. But man, if you weren’t entertained last night…
Things I enjoyed about the rest of the game:
1. Watching a Washington professional basketball team move the ball around smoothly and selflessly to produce good baskets on offense is really unsettling to watch. There’s a groundhog-day vibe to it that makes me question whether or not I’m experiencing reality.
2. Amir Johnson. His ankle buckled on him on two consecutive offensive possessions when he tried to drive to the basket. It clearly isn’t right. But that hardly kept him from being effective. The Raps were +9 with Amir on the court. Normally I’m suspect of single game +/- stats, but when you play 43 minutes and your team gets scored on at will without you in OT, I’m inclined to say that there’s something to it.
3. Professor Andre Miller, PhD. He is one of those players you can’t help but subtly root for and enjoy, even when he’s playing against you.
4. Watching Al Harrington get a flagrant with the Cobra-Kai, sweep the leg move on Hansbrough.
Aside: Kyle Lowry and Tyler Hansbrough both have to be starters on the NBA ‘rubs guys the wrong way’ All-Stars. But who’s the captain? Hansbrough and Lowry are both sitting on dunk tank chairs over a pool of cold water at an imaginary NBA circus. There’s only one throw, and all of the NBA players, coaches and referees have to collectively decide whom to dunk. Who do you think they go for?
5. Terrence Ross becoming a key player on the team. He’s put up occasional stats (ahem, 50 point game) and highlights that are impossible to ignore. But his absence from last night’s game made it clear how valuable he has become to the Raptor’s rotation. General Greivis was a pivotal scorer in extended minutes off the bench, but Ross was clearly missed. That’s a good thing. I mean, it was a bad thing, but… you get the point.
6. Why couldn’t Valanciunas get back in this game when Casey was asking the swifter kids to put a jersey on and the Raptors couldn’t even pretend to guard the rim?
More on Valanciunas in a minute, I need to get to something important here. Last night I noticed that Vim is no longer the official sweatmop sponsor of the Toronto Raptors. We had a good run Vim. Staying on top of the sweat-mop game as long as you did is tough. There’s always someone gunning for your spot. Veterans like Mr. Clean and Pine Sol, up and comers like Tilex and the next generation with Mr. Clean-Mr. Net. Ultimately, Swiffer took the title. There’s no shame in that; the Swiffer line of floor-cleaning products is a powerhouse. Hell of a run, Vim, hell of a run.
Getting back to Valanciunas, I feel like it’s important to build some context around the increasingly hostile mood surrounding the man. Big men take time to develop. At Val’s age, Roy Hibbert was losing in the tournament to Davidson and being passed over in the draft, Marc Gasol was still 2 years away from the NBA, Tyson Chandler was barely getting 20 minutes a game and Amir Johnson was still averaging almost 7 personal fouls per 32 minutes played. Let’s give this some time to play out. Besides:
7. This season is turning out to be an awful lot of fun. How about we all try and enjoy it?