The Raptors played little-to-no defense, but the Sixers are historically bad.

All roads lead to Rome

I tend to get sentimental on account of the Raptors. It’s a weakness of mine.

For most of my life, the Raptors were little more than the laughing stock of the NBA. It’s sad, but it’s true. I experienced every season like a lucid dream. I bought into the hype, and I willingly suspended my rightful cynicism, but ultimately come April, I’d inevitably wake up, and find myself cheering for the likes of Sonny Weems and Solomon Alabi. It’s an all-too familiar routine.

In an desperate attempt to break the habit, many fans turned to the strategy of tanking. The idea of yet another season of hoping in hope was repulsive. Sometimes, things are so bad, change for the sake of change onto itself is good.

That’s the very same position that the Sixers found themselves in last off-season. Philadelphia’s distended run of treadmill trudging wasn’t nearly as long as ours, but they faced the same predicament. Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes all held promise, but as a collective, that team wasn’t going anywhere. When New Orleans offered a pair of picks, and a ticket off the carousel, GM Sam Hinkie happily forked over Holiday, and settled into a holding pattern for a tank-job of epic proportion.

As we know, Masai Ujiri chose a different direction for the Raptors. Rather than tearing down the walls, and strip-mining his team, he opted for optimality instead. He capitalized on a CAA-pimped Knicks, and shipped off Bargnani. He pulled a similar trick on the Kings.

Altogether, the moves paved the way for DeRozan and Lowry to take the reins, which has allowed the team to flourish. Instead of precious possessions wasted on line-drive bricks from Bargnani, or long-two iso-heaves from Gay, the Raptors ran pin-downs and pick-and-rolls. The difference has bore fruit on both sides of the ball.

But along the way, a sneaky side-effect reared its head — the absence of Gay and Bargnani freed up swaths of playing time for sophomores Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, and both players blossomed. Much like Hinkie, Ujiri managed to till the soil and sow the seeds, only Ross and Valanciunas were given veteran stakes upon which to guide their growth.

Rather than letting Ross running wild on the perimeter without a leash — similar to that of MCW — he was taught the subtle skill of curling around screens, and finding opponents’ blind-spots for open spot-ups. Rather than having Jonas run aimlessly, crashing the board at random like that of the Sixers’ Henry Sims, Valanciunas learned the principle of verticality, and developed a post-game.

And although the Sixers’ process is less father along, the difference in results is already apparent.

Take last night for example. Yes, the Raptors’ defense was bad, but the game was never in question. For the most part, the Raptors led from start to finish. The Raptors couldn’t resist the temptation of playing up-tempo, which played right into the hands of the Sixers, but even though they were out of their element, the Raptors were still able to out-execute the opponent.

Consider the differences in their play. What’s the difference in the Suns ‘7 Seconds or Less’ offense, and the Spurs’ meticulously orchestrated present-day attack? Randomness. Sometimes, NBA teams prioritize randomness, especially if they’re up against a superior opponent. More randomness means less place for order, of which favors the favored. The Raptors elected to run specific plays to get Jonas Valanciunas in the post, or have Lowry drive into the paint, draw extra defenders, and kick-out to find the open man on the perimeter. Conversely, the Sixers simply pushed the ball whenever they had the chance, and let the chips fall where they may.

And that’s not to say that Philadelphia’s play style was inferior. The results speak for themselves. When the benches matched up against each other, the Sixers ran circles around the Raptors’ snail-paced squad. My point is that eventually, when the Sixers intend to actually win NBA games, what purpose did this exercise serve for Carter-Williams? How did it serve Thaddeus Young, a disciplined defender in previous years, who was forced to repeatedly bail out his teammates on defensive miscues.

The truth, it doesn’t, at least not in a meaningful sense. Perhaps I’m wrong, and the Sixers — armed with a highly-touted prospect borne as the lone prize of a miserable and humiliating season — tread in the footsteps of the Thunder, and the Raptors’ bubble eventually bursts. If and when that day happens, I’ll gladly eat my words, and hope for the Raptors embark on a similar strip-down process of rebuilding. But until that day comes, I’m more than thrilled with the results of the present-day Raptors, who currently sit third in the East, in-line for a new franchise-high in wins.

It seems, at last, that the Raptors finally stepped off the treadmill, and they didn’t need to become the Sixers to do it. I, for one, am thankful for it.

jonasAP Photo/The Canadian Press, Peter Power

Jonas Valanciunas’ redemption

As you’re undoubtedly aware, Jonas has been mired in a controversy surrounding a DUI charge. While I’m happy the Raptors have finally arisen to the top of the Canadian sports story-stack, I’m disappointed that it was Jonas’ legal troubles, rather than his team’s success, that captivated audiences across the Great White North.

Valanciunas' teammates on his performance

Lowry on Jonas: “Much more aggressive. Much more hungry. He wants the ball. Tonight he was literally yelling at me to give him the ball. And I’ve got to do nothing but give him the ball, because he’s our big fella”.

DeRozan: “I hope everybody leave him alone. He understands we need him. We all go through things, especially at a young age and we all learn from them”

Personally, I think Jonas made a stupid and irresponsible decision, but by no means should it define his character, nor his career. Perhaps we’re ashamed to admit it, or to be fully truthful, but the incidence of driving under the influence is far more prevalent than that on legal censuses. As long as people understand the irresponsibility of their decisions, and seek to change their practice, they should be rewarded the luxury of forgiveness.

And, let’s be real here — Jonas is 21 years old. He and I were born in the same year, and I can personally (ron) attest: 21-year-olds are incredibly irresponsible. Maybe we don’t all get booked for DUIs, but we’re also not in a foreign country, constantly in the spot-light, and offered an open invitation to every party and opportunity to slip up wherever we go. His age doesn’t excuse him from his decision, but it should afford him some leeway in the matter.

Last night, Jonas made a concerted effort to redeem himself. Of course, succeeding or failing on a basketball court doesn’t tip the scales of morality one way or the other, but it was a relief to see his relief. As explained by Lowry, “basketball is like our space, our secret spot and that’s where guys can release a lot of energy and intensity”. Jonas came to play with a purpose, and thoroughly dominated the Sixers frontline. He executed a litany of beautiful drop-steps, he crashed the boards hard, and threw down a nasty jam over some dude named Jarvis Varnado.

He finished the night with a career high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field, and grabbed 12 rebounds. He also breathed a sigh of relief for the first time in three days. That’s a good thing for both he and the Raptors.

lowryRon Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s as if he were never gone

Matt Devlin, as is his wont, had a hilarious slip-up on the broadcast. As per his “Ask Matt” section, he was asked for his picks for the Raptors’ most-improved, defensive player of the year, MVP, etc etc. He named Lowry as the defensive player of the year, he named Lowry the co-MVP (along with DeRozan), and stopped himself short of an answer for most-improved, presumably because one could connect the dots.

But here’s the thing: he’s right! Lowry is all of the above, and more to this team. He’s the facilitator, he’s the primary ball-handler, he shuts down the pick-and-roll, he takes charges, he fights through injuries, and most of all, he’s the closest thing this team has to a closer. With the game tight down the stretch, Lowry scored on four consecutive possessions to secure the win for his team. That’s what a leader does.

Assorted game notes

  • Patrick Patterson’s defense on Thaddeus Young was very impressive. He bodied him in the post, and he shadowed him step-for-step on the perimeter. Young hit a string of difficult shots in the fourth quarter, which inflated his numbers, but that doesn’t detract from Patman’s defensive effort.
  • Hey! John Salmons was a net positive on the court! It couldn’t possibly been because he got sufficient rest in-between games, right?
  • The Raptors’ bench unit coughed up the lead in the second quarter because they physically couldn’t keep up in transition. Also, it made little sense to run Novak out there against a small-ball lineup. He’s effective when he’s pulling bigs out of the paint, not when he’s tasked with closing out on threes, or defending in the post.
  • If you need a late-season boost in points and rebounds for your fantasy team, go pick up Henry Sims. He’s quick, mobile, and looks like he can effectively roll on pick-and-rolls.
  • If you haven’t already seen this turn-around three from Ross, you should. It’s kinda crazy.
  • There goes any hope of Lowry getting back to full health. In his words, one or two weeks won’t make a difference. He needs a full two months off before he’s 100%, which means he’ll be good to go in time for the Finals.

Cover photo credit: AP Photo, The Canadian Press, Peter Power

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  • DryDry

    “For most of my life, the Raptors were little more than the laughing stock of the NBA”

    This is f*cking bullish*t of the highest order, sir.

    • DDayLewis

      I started following the team in 06-07. Over that time, unfortunately, they we’re one of the laughingstocks of the NBA.

      • Matt52

        You are 100% correct regardless of when you started following the team. They had 3 competitive years with Carter; 2 competitive years with Bosh; and this season.

        Maybe that is why Toronto is a laughingstock most of its existence. Fans thinking, and aggressively so, that 7 of 19 years makes them credible.

    • john

      Yes, for three years out of 18 we were respectable. Plus 06-08, so five years. Total.

    • DandB

      Why are you so mad?

      The Raps in the Carter years were so overrated. Entertaining but couldn’t get to 50 wins – 5th seed. Feared would definitely be overstating things. They didn’t make the ECF – only the semifinals (i.e. they only got past the first round). The major thing teams feared was a posterization from VC.

      Entertaining as fuck, but definitely not feared. Maybe not even respected. A team isn’t judged based off one season, but from what it can sustain from season to season. We collapsed so fast after that semifinals exit.

      Don’t even bring up the Bosh years – we were soft as fuck, everyone knew that. We surprised a lot of good teams that year, but we couldn’t get out of the first round, again. Not even close.

      That’s a total of 5 “decent” years. Out of 19. I would qualify that as “most”.

    • c_bcm

      Easy dude. Your birth date does not given you absolute morality over the Raptors. There’s no hierarchy in fandom because of time spent. In time we will all have had equal opportunity to support this team. Besides you are over-valuing a brief 2 year period relative to a 20 year-old franchise. I think Willou has a valid point, and if he didn’t betray his age in the article, you would have even less license to argue your point.

    • Rapchat

      Okay, okay, I can clarify this… I’ve been a Raps fan before they were even the Raptors. When we didn’t know which ownership group was going to get the franchise. .. The Raptors HAVE been the laughing stock of this league since day 1. Feared? Maybe because of the cold, and players with criminal records might have a harder time clearing customs…but never on the court. Even with VC on our team we were never truly feared or respected. If anything, a thorn in the side of real clubs. Every star has bolted from this org so far, and we’ve won 1 division title in 18 yrs. This is our first year ever having a winning record on the road. In all honesty I think we need 3-4 more years like this one to even think about not being the laughing stock of the NBA.

      • Haim not Feldman

        That time frame of 3-4 years sounds right. If JV and TRoss develop like DeMar. all the Raps would need is to add a high impact free agent, a go to guy in crunch time who will get them over the top.
        Will, that’s an intriguing comparison to the Sixers. It was just 2 seasons ago the Sixers took the Celtics to 7 games in round 2. That young Sixer team had first time All-Star Jrue Holiday, promising wing in Evan Turner and a solid veteran in Andre Igoudala. During the off-season, the addition of Andrew By-numb had Sixer fans thinking championship, but it all collapsed over the 2013 season. Here’s hoping the Raps indeed do not follow a similar path.

    • RobertArchibad

      Vince’s shot clanged off the rim in the EC semi-finals. Not the finals. Franchise has only won 1 series in 20 years. They really have been the laughing stock of the NBA for most of their history.

    • Paul

      People need to stop looking at the Carter years with rose colored glasses. The 01 team was together for a full season and couldn’t crack 50 wins. This team was assembled 18 games in and we’re on the cusp of that feat. In the Carter years, this team was very inconsistent – much like our franchise player. We would drop games to dregs and then stun contenders. Carter was our whole offense, and once he decided he didn’t like contact, the whole thing went south – literally. No one feared that team because of our loan 5 game series win. They were a better story than a team thanks to Vince’s highlights.
      This years team is the BEST in franchise history. Hands down. And we still are not truly a contender. So yes, this franchise has been a joke for almost the entirety of the last 20 years.

      • mountio

        Totally agree. There was no better team to WATCH than the Carter years. Mostly because VC was just disgustingly good. Not just the dunks, but the game winning shots and general flair for the dramatic. We also had the most HOPE (even more than now) as Tmac was coming up and Vince looked like the sky was the limit. But, in terms of actually good performance? Those teams were just slightly above mediocre, and never really contending for a championship (or even a deep run in the playoffs for that matter).
        Not sure our current team is quite at “contender” status either … but they can certainly hang with the best teams out there …

      • themasao

        I’m not sure we can say this team is better than the ’01 team without seeing them play in the playoffs.

        From a pure talent perspective, I don’t think there’s any doubt the ’01 team was better — Vince, still the best player in franchise history, was at the prime of his career and dropped 50+ points more than once in the EC Semis.

        We had Oak and AD; Williams was as good defensively as Lowry; dell Curry was a vet 3-point specialist (who could actually play without harming the team) etc.

        Regular season record aside, I really think that team was more dangerous than our current team. HOWEVER, I do think this team has more upside for the future, since two of our key kogs are in their 2nd year in the league (and because we can trust Masai not to sign Hakeem The Dream this offseason).

  • photoman

    Raps have only lost FIVE (5) games to non-playoff teams so far this season: Denver, Boston, LA Lakers, Sacramento and Cleveland once each. A pretty impressive stat IMHO, they really took care of business beating the teams they should have. Can’t wait for these last 4 games to be done and the play-offs begin!

    • DandB

      That’s a great stat. Shows consistency – every team is going to lose to the Bostons and Lakers of the league occasionally. Also, I think I remember the Cleveland game being close. Ain’t even mad bout the Nuggets and Sacramento – they got legit talent on their teams.

    • jakdripr

      Didn’t even realize that. It’s a good sign since our next 3 games are against non-playoff teams. Let’s hope that number doesn’t change this time next week.

      What’s funny about that is one of my biggest complaints about this team is they play down to their competition(which I still think they do). But in spite of that they still rarely lose to bad teams, very impressive.

    • Rapchat

      Would like to add, according to last nights broadcast- the Raps have the highest scoring guard trio in the NBA, DD, KL, GV…

      • Paul

        Highest scoring trio since March 25th or some shite.. It was a useless, cherry picked stat for Devlin to wag his chin at for a few minutes..

        • Rapchat

          So it’s not true?

          • Paul

            They do have the highest scoring guard trio, but its as of some date (in March I believe), not for the whole season.

            • Paul

              * since, not as of..

            • Rapchat

              Ahhhh, okay yeah if its just the last few weeks still pretty impressive but not what I thought.

  • Zee

    I love how much this team loves this team! 🙂

  • c_bcm

    Is looking good. I recall conversations in years past saying that 50 wins is the true mark of an elite team. Not making the playoffs multiple years in a row, not advancing to the second round. But consistent dominance in the regular season, despite the litany of excuses and bad games that are bound to happen.So are we close to calling the Raps an elite team? How is that possible?!?!?!?! LOL.

    • armchairqb14

      Don’t forget that the Raps were 6-12 when the Gay trade happened. That makes them 40-20 since, behind the Spurs, Thunder, Clips, Pacers, and Heat, and tied with Houston. You could make a compelling argument that the Raps, over the last month, have actually been a considerably superior team to the Pacers. They’re certainly a big step down from the other 4 teams ahead of them, but they’re clearly in Houston’s neighbourhood. I think that might make them elite…I’m hoping it is legit and doesn’t fall apart in the playoffs. Also would love to see them win 50 games in a year where the 8th seed in the east is at least within shouting distance of .500.

  • elkabong

    i think JV is getting cut a lot more slack than he deserves in this situation myself…. this is a *IN SEASON* incident….. this is a team battling for a #3 playoff seed that was given a day off and he’s off partying and out and about in the wee hours of the morning! you throw in the booze and driving on top and this becomes a totally unexplainable situation to me. i don’t care that he’s only 21 he shouldn’t be doing this even if he’s still in high school let alone as a professional athlete.thank goodness there wasn’t an accident or anything else that could have made this even worse than it was but even as is if i’m his coach i’m coming down hard …. this is way beyond the slap on wrist he’s been given as i see it

    • Rapchat

      Fair enough, I guess. Now, I can only hope you are imparting that wisdom on the kids in your neighbourhood, who I can tell you, are driving impaired on a weekly basis, and not just coming on a basketball board to rip into a player, because forget it being a *LIFE* incident, which tends to happen, you’re worried about the affect on the team. Well apparently, he got 26/12, and the team won the next day. Sooo what are you saying? He should party more often? This even has become a positive for the whole team, while NOONE is condoning it, lets focus on learning the important lessons here and not the punishment. That will rightfully be determined by the team, league, and the courts. You need not worry. Enjoy the W’s.

      • elkabong

        so the W’s make it ok? if you were coaching or chaperoning a basketball team at CWOSSA or all Ontario and your 2 best players come staggering in well after curfew are you gonna look the other way? have a quiet chat on the side? or are you gonna lay down the law? where is the life lesson if you don’t bench them? when you are a star you can get away with whatever as long as we win! just don’t do it again and make sure you learn a lesson from this…. ya right

        now i don’t know what rules were set down for the team on this day off but i would suspect he broke everyone of them.if being publicly embarassed is enough of a deterrent and punishment than the job is done. is there a life lesson for him in that? let’s hope so

        • GetLicks

          This isn’t school athletics though. These are grown men who are professionals at what they do. Who are you to say what he should or shouldn’t be doing on his days off? And it was on a Sunday night, didn’t have a game again til Wednesday. Just because he was drinking beer, doesn’t mean he was at some crazy ass party. It’s people like you that always blow shit out out of proportion and make things sound worse than they actually are.

  • crazycello


    Nobody would guess your age from your writing. You’re doing great. Please keep it up.

    • DDayLewis


      • jjdynomite

        Seriously, Will, for a 21/22 year old you are a quality writer and deserve the Score gig. You are also lucky that you are almost half my age so you have not been witness to the true laughingstock-ness that is the franchise we know and love. I think I actually attended 10 games in the SkyDome over the early years… and the Raps won 3 of them.

        • DDayLewis

          Thanks man, it means a lot.

          Please tell me you were in attendance for the win over the 72-win MJ-led Bulls

          • jjdynomite

            Yup. I was at the win over the Bulls with my late father, ah the memories. Unfortunately that was the lone big game highlight of my live Raptors attendance — since I was also there live for *both* the Chris Childs (in Detroit) and Jose Calderon (“pass” to Richard Jefferson) playoff fuckups, sigh. Let’s hope a better history is created this post-season!

            • DDayLewis

              I hope so too. I’ll be in attendance for my first playoff game this year.

  • Dr. Scooby

    Anybody else catch Matt Devlin blurt out “Goddam…” on Anderson’s 4th 3pt shot.