Same story as it’s been all season long.

The Toronto Raptors are 29-14 since the Rudy Gay trade (A.G). Let that sink in. The Raptors have a 67% winning percentage over their last 43 games. That’s more than half of an entire season.

Perhaps I’m the only one looking through this lonely window to the team, but I’m still reluctant to fully trust in what’s readily apparent. In a way, I’m the spurned lover who isn’t quite ready to embrace the same suitor. The years of hype and hoopla, when I full-throatily cheered on false prophets — Linas Kleiza, Hedo Turkoglu, Jermaine O’Neal come to mind — left me cautious and jaded. I can’t help but feel hesitant.

[You know who isn’t hesitant? Andrew Thompson. Go read his quick reaction!]

Yet, all the signs are plain as day. The Raptors have the 10th-ranked offense and the 6th-ranked defense (per off/def-rating), and their A.G rankings shine even brighter. DeRozan has developed into an All-Star overnight, and Kyle Lowry finally found steady consistency and a bill of clean health. Terrence Ross has become an extremely serviceable 3-and-D guy, and his athletic potential is bursting at the seams. Jonas Valanciunas has been inconsistent, but the flashing beacon of potential is signaling to us that the shore is nearby. Amir Johnson remains as productive as ever, covering acres defensively and Patrick Patterson has been nothing short of a revelation. Why am I still doubting this team?

In truth, I have no rational answer to give, especially after performances likes last night’s 111-104 victory over the Wolves. Minnesota’s record is deceiving, as their peripheral statistics indicate that they’re a far better team than their record would suggest, and they had won 7 of their last 9 contests. They have one of the league’s 10-best players in Kevin Love, a bruising bear manning the middle in Nikola Pekovic, and a cadre of lengthy wing defenders. Aside from Ronny Turiaf and Ronnie Price, they were fully healthy, and they had a full head of steam. With Patterson out due to a right ulnar collateral sprain, I thought the Raptors were in for a long night.

Dwane Casey on the performance of his team: "I can't say enough good things about those guys cause it's going to take all of us, especially with Patrick being out"

Dwane Casey on the performance of his team: “I can’t say enough good things about those guys cause it’s going to take all of us, especially with Patrick being out”

And in most part, they were. The Wolves were ready and alert from the get-go. Rubio and Brewer’s pesky perimeter defense forced the Raptors into committing a litany of turnovers in the first quarter, and Amir Johnson failed to contain Kevin Love sans a double team. The Wolves made a concerted effort to run their offense through Love, and he managed 12 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists by end of the quarter. Johnson was too weak to hold his position in the post, and he was exhausted from having to close-out on Love on the perimeter. Amir’s fatigue, combined with Pekovic’s sheer bulk, led to the Wolves nabbing 6 offensive rebounds in the first quarter.

However, despite conceding the edge in both offensive rebounding and turnovers, the Raptors managed to keep the game tied at 32 apiece by shooting nearly 70% from the field.

The Raptors were firing on all cylinders. Amir Johnson attacked Love in the post and scored 9 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Terrence Ross sank all three of his field goal attempts — including two three pointers — and netted 10 points. Jonas dropped a silky-smooth jumper over Pek, Derozan sank his usual assortment of jumpshots and Lowry chipped in with four points and four assists.

The second frame featured a string of runs. The quarter started with a battle of the benches, and Toronto’s reserves thoroughly dominated their counterparts, outscoring them 10-0 over the first few minutes. Steve Novak played the role of small-ball four, and promptly drained a pair of triples.

Wolves head coach Rick Aldeman quickly reinserted his starters back into the game, which sparked a 17-2 run by Minnesota. Corey Brewer’s pesky defense smothered DeRozan, and he plucked a pair of steals. Pekovic and Love feasted on their diminutive opposition (Hansbrough played center) and JJ Barea flopped his way into being a decent NBA player. The Raptors squeaked into the half with a narrow 53-52 point lead.

The Raptors jumped ahead early in the third quarter. Terrence Ross sank yet another triple, and the Raptors found success by pushing the tempo. Credit goes to Kyle Lowry, who managed to rush ahead on the break, forcing the defense to collapse, and spotting open shooters on the perimeter with pin-point passes. He also skied for 5 rebounds in the quarter, and helped the Raptors even out the rebounding disparity. Greivis Vasquez was also very productive in the quarter, netting 7 points on four free-throws and a three pointer. He played alongside Lowry in a two-PG lineup, and he was able to capitalize on his height advantage over Barea. Toronto held a 7-point edge going into the fourth.

Dwane Casey rolled the dice and elected to start the final frame with his bench unit. Luckily, Novak sank his fourth and fifth triples of the game, and Vasquez managed to decidedly win the battle at back-up point. By keeping pace with the Wolves’ starters, Casey managed to keep DeRozan, Lowry and Johnson fresh.

The Raptors’ lead dwindled to as little as three with four minutes remaining in the game, but the Raptors were to execute effectively down the stretch. Jonas Valanciunas found Amir for a layup with a slick high-low feed from the elbow. On their next possession, Lowry and Valanciunas both grabbed an offensive rebound and managed to net extra looks for the Raptors. On their third attempt, Lowry penetrated into the lane, drew help defenders, and kicked it out to a wide open DeRozan spotting up from 17-feet. DeRozan followed up the next two possessions with a pair of free-throws, and a tough three-point dagger over Brewer. This effectively sealed the fate of the Wolves, who couldn’t stop turning the ball over on the other end.

Most impressively, the Raptors withstood the Wolves’ best punch. Kevin Love scored with a game high 26 points, and finished one assist shy of a triple double. Corey Brewer snagged 6 steals and dropped 17 points. Nikola Pekovic bullied his way to 17 points and Kevin Martin chipped in with 20 of his own, but it was not enough.

demar

Demar Derozan on the victory: “We try to keep everybody’s spirits high even if it’s not going well on the basketball court and we don’t let nothing get down on us. That’s the cool thing about our team. We continue to keep it going.” (photo courtesy of The Associated Press)

It wasn’t enough to overcome a balanced attack led by Lowry and DeRozan. Kyle finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. DeRozan scored 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds. Ross, Amir and Novak all finished with 15 points apiece, and Jonas did his part by grabbing 9 rebounds.

The Wolves played to the best of their abilities, but the better team simply pulled away down the stretch. For the first time in many years, the Toronto Raptors are more than just the respectable darlings of the East — they’re a legitimately good team, and a threat to make some serious noise in the playoffs.

The success of this team — however serendipitous and unintentional as it may be — is real, and it’s time for this bitter bah-humbug, and any others out there, to love again.

They deserve it.

  • MoPeteRules

    Watching the Raptors win fairly consistently this year is fairly satisfying. But reading an incredibly optimistic post about them on RR is equally as satisfying. So thanks for the satisfaction. Let’s go Raptors! Duh duh duh-duh-duh.

  • Lawrence C

    Perhaps I’m mistaken here but I think the Raptors were 6-12 pre-trade, and have 21 games remaining in the season as of today. If the Raptors are in fact 29-12 since the trade, that only equals 80 total games. So I’m thinking that 29-12 record is not quite accurate.

    • j bean

      They’ve lost 14 since the trade.

      • DDayLewis

        True. Fixed it in the article. Thanks!

    • Rapchat

      Re read the first sentence of this article….29-14

  • BagOfBalls

    Watch the game highlights on nba.com. Every rap segment is a 3 ball lol

  • Paul

    This is already my favorite Raptors team of all time. Not even in the Carter years or in 07 did the team play with this level of consistency. Can’t wait for the playoffs. I think we can take the Pacers in a 7 game series.

    • illpalazo

      Whoa whoa whoa whoa. This is an awesome team, having a blast watching them. But they are not beating the Pacers in a 7 game series. Remember when we faced the Nets as the home team in the playoffs, and we got taken to the cleaners? The playoffs are a different animal. Indiana has been there before and know what they are doing, we’d be lucky to even get to 7 against them, although we tend to play them very well.

      • morgan c

        First round win at this point would be cause for huge celebration. First round win and a tight 6 or 7 game series against Indiana, ideally, would be awesome.

    • afrocarter

      We need to get out of the first round before anything else. I love this team (probably my favourite iteration of the Raptors as well) but all possible first-round match-ups promise to be an arduous, nerve-racking 6 games at best.

    • DandB

      People seem to forget that in the Carter years, we never once hit 50 wins and we weren’t even close. We were pretty good, we were entertaining but we were definitely not great. I’m not saying this team is great either, but it’s definitely come close to the Carter years – much closer than people think, but mainly because the Carter years were not THAT great. Nostalgia and desperation for something as entertaining as those years have just amplified our memories of those years.

  • Colonel_Hapablapp

    I felt the same way. I kept expecting this team to fall apart at the seams (Bosh’s last season ring any bells??), but this season just has a different feel. I started to believe we could achieve greatness this year when we beat Indy on New Year’s Day, and since then I’ve been constantly building confidence. The game that sold me on this team being for real, was actually the loss to Portland in February. A few years ago, we woulda gotten chased out of the building. This year, we fought so goddamn hard and almost pulled off the upset.

    All I want from this team is a 1st round series win (never been to a playoff game [was too young for 2000s, and too poor for 2007]), and to take either MIA or IND to 7. That’s mission accomplished in my book. Anything else is gravy on my poutine.

    Let’s go get Brooklyn tonight, the rest of our games going forward, and the 3 seed in the East. Go Raptors!

  • What the

    KOmar made ’em say ugh woooooooo!! did you hear the little cubies in the stands houling after KOmar swished that three (dagger) .Raps top 10 team in NBA, you gatta love it and we only fear 7 teams in the NBA

  • j bean

    It’s very difficult to predict how they’ll do in the playoffs. They could be the home team and be the underdog because of their lack of star power. The Bulls are all the rage at the moment. The Raps get it done by a tenacious will to win led by Lowry, steady production from DeMar and different guys stepping up and playing their role to a T. Is it enough to win a playoff series? Most would say no but who would have said they’d go 29-14 with this lineup?

    • HQ

      To be honest, compared to other teams in the East (counting mia and indy), we’re not that bad in terms of “star power”. DeMar being an all-star and Lowry getting snubbed, I’d say we have a fair amount of “star power”. Doesn’t mean we have superstars but we do have guys that carry the load when need be.

      • j bean

        Star power is defined in the winning of big games. Playoffs! As much as we appreciate KL and DD they haven’t yet had a chance to really shine on the big stage.

        • what the

          wait for it ,it’s coming soon the Transthingy KOmar an KYle 2014-2015 NBA ALLSTARS

  • jeeves
    • DDayLewis

      A hobbled Amir struggled to guard one of the best players in the game?!?! You dont say…

      • Tanks-a-lot

        Don’t you wish you could embed that jpg here?

      • jeeves

        yeah, i guess we should cut amir some slack, it’s easy to forget you’re guarding the best player on the court when your ankle hurts. especially when love has those lightning quicks, it was really an unfair match up. amir said in the post game he couldnt remember who he was guarding most of the game because his ankle hurt.

        love amir apologists

      • jeeves

        by the way, i thoroughly disagree that “amir struggled”. amir brought his ‘A’ game, he just happened to be unlucky that minnesota throws so many plays to get love open. like that play where love walks back to the 3point land and stands there – that’s tough to guard! i mean, if amir sticks with his guy, kevin love has absolutely zero chance of blowing by him by putting it on the deck, so i thought it was pretty wise amir was letting his have all those open 3’s. or that play where love very sneakily ran past amir for that offensive board…that’s practically unstoppable dude.

        i really think the rest of the team, guys like chuck hayes, showed how much experience they lacked when trying to guard love. they paid attention to where he was, didn’t fall asleep or get caught ball washing. they could really stand to learn a thing or two from our defensive specialist, amir johnson.

    • Steverino

      Atrocious! He held Kevin Love to just under his season average in scoring and 2 fewer rebounds than his season average. And that’s assuming Love didn’t score or rebound in the 8 extra minutes he played when Amir was off. I assume you can find those horrible defensive plays from every player who has to guard Kevin Love.

      • Rapchat

        Atrocious? Okay, by your own account he held one of the best players in this league to under season averages in his top 2 categories? That’s AWESOME to me…I’ll take it. Also, Love’s been scoring like mid 30’s since the all star break…So Amir held Love to about 10 pts less than what he’s been averaging lately..

  • robertparish00

    How do we not have 7 plays specifically designed to get Novak a clean look? Such a great team and great chemistry. We get Novak firing on all cylinders and you can add an extra 9 pts to each game.

    • Will

      We don’t have 7 plays for Novak because although he’s the best shooter on our team, he’s a spot up shooter. All his shots come off of him getting the ball when he’s open. Any time he gets a shot off, it’s because his defender was helping on defense. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him catch a pass while coming off a screen like Ross does. If his man sticks to him, he’s not getting the pass or the shot off. That’s the difference between him and Kyle Korver. Korver can actually use screens to get open.

  • The Red Fury

    I don’t know how it happened or why it happened but it does not matter. For years, leads for this team used to slip away in the 4th quarter. Now they’re making the big shots when it matters. It is a thing of beauty to watch. Demar with that huge corner 3 in Brewer’s face. Lowry hits a big three after using a screen. This team used to play isoball in the 4th quarter, now they are mixing it up and everyone is getting involved. I can’t say enough good things about this squad. Other than keep it up. We love it!

  • Paolo Maquiraya

    Minor error: The Raptors led 53-52 at the half, not 55-54

    • DDayLewis

      Nice catch! Fixed it. Thanks!

  • Pong

    The beauty of this current raptors team is that we’re getting production across our entire rotation. We’re winning games even when we have 1 or 2 of the starters having a bad night. If DD struggles, sometimes Ross or Lowry steps up. There are games where Amir and even JV goes off. It’s hard to create a game plan against such a team.

  • Hassan Mehmood Khan

    I just want us to win a playoff series, We can beat Brooklyn and Washington but if we can avoid these two teams then it will be a walk in the park