Don’t look now, but the Raptors just put in 48 minutes of solid basketball, and they did it in a single game. That may not seem like much, but for a team currently missing their team leader and best player that is a big accomplishment.
A 116-91 win over the Pacers was perhaps their most complete effort on the season, with everyone chipping in. PJ Tucker mostly turned Paul George into a non-factor with his defense; Serge Ibaka not only turned away several shots (and altered many more), he also chipped in 16 points and hit 2-of-3 from long range; DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson shot a combined 6-of-8 from long range, as both broke out of recent shooting slumps (Carroll has been shooting 7 percent from 3 for March prior to last night); DeMar DeRozan scored a team high 22 points while showing better effort on defense (thanks, PJ!); Cory Joseph tied a career high with 9 assists; and Jakob Poeltl showed glimpses of his immense potential (his understanding of the game is so far ahead of his age and experience).
That paragraph is too long, but it doesn’t even begin to cover the contributions provided. To top it all off, Casey managed to keep manageable minutes for everyone considering Cory led the team with 31 minutes.
When it was announced that Lowry would be getting surgery to clean up a troublesome wrist, many (myself included) though that staying in contention for a top 3 seed was anything but a conclusion. Now, with an 8-5 record without Lowry, the Raptors sit just 1.5 games out of third, have the tiebreaker in hand over Washington, and see the Wizards entering soon into one of the toughest stretches you can get in the NBA (their next 8 games includes Boston, Atlanta, Cleveland, LA Clippers, Utah, and Golden State).
The three seed is still shockingly in reach for Toronto, and the Raptors are showing life without Lowry at the helm.
Prior to the All Star break the Raptors had the league’s 16th best defensive rating (106.0), which if you’re keeping track at homes puts them in the league’s bottom half. They have since climbed into a tie with Oklahoma City for the league’s 10th best defensive rating (105.2) on the season.
This means that since acquiring PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka the Raptors have the third best defensive rating in the league, allowing just 101.7 points per 100 possessions. The top two teams since the All Star break? The San Antonio Spurs at 100.6 and the Golden State Warriors at 100.1.
At the same time their offense is ranked just 17th since All Star weekend, which is to be expected without Lowry.
To be considered a contender one normally has to be rated in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive efficiency, which the Raptors may have a real chance at once Lowry returns. The good news for Toronto is that Kyle Lowry’s most recent check-up puts him on track for his initial recovery period, of which we still know very little.
The most optimistic forecast was provided by Woj, stating that Lowry was targeting to return in four weeks, while the general consensus was closer to 6 to 8 weeks. Either way, today marks three weeks since Lowry went in for surgery, and the Raptors have survived admirably to date.
Until he returns, we’ll simply have to imagine what it will look like adding Kyle Lowry to a team with a top three defense. There will likely be an adjustment period, but as the team adapts the Raptors are will be closer to being a legitimate contender then they have ever been.
Now, as it has been for the last 21 days, it’s about continuing to survive while counting down the days until Lowry can once again take the floor.