This was supposed to be the easy part of the week. The schedule for the Raptors has given them a lot of easier wins of late, and this week it was going to finally take a step up, with Cleveland and Golden State coming to town Thursday and Sunday after the back-to-back to start the week.
The game started about the way you’d expect as well, with the Raptors going on a quick 12-1 run at the onset that included a Jonas Valanciunas three. However, a scrappy Brooklyn team never really went away, fighting back in the second quarter to go to halftime with just a 1-point deficit. OG Anunoby appeared to hurt his hand in the second quarter as well, on an attempt to take a charge from Tyler Zeller.
The second half brought with it some unusual Raptors rotations, as the team couldn’t really find anything that worked consistently on defense. The Raptors starters found offense easy in this one, with JV having another big game with 21 and 13, DeMar DeRozan finishing with 35 points, and Kyle Lowry scoring 18, and adding 5 rebounds and 11 assists.
But the notable parts of this game mostly happened late, where the Raptors stars remained in the game, playing more minutes than the team would probably like with a game back in Toronto the next day. The bench was struggling to score in their minutes, with both Pascal Siakam and CJ Miles finishing 1-6 from downtown, and although Jonas was contributing offensively, coach Dwane Casey sent him to the bench for the last three minutes after Quincy Acy was able to find himself open to hit a couple of threes to keep the game close.
With the Raptors small lineup in, with Serge Ibaka as the lone big man, the Nets were able to attack the boards relentlessly, grabbing two offensive rebounds and forcing the out of bounds whistle on the Raptors after another of their misses in the closing minute and a half. Toronto has been closing with Ibaka at center consistently, and despite a solid net rating for those groups without another center, the offensive rebounds have been there for opponents with some consistency. Still, the Raptors had a chance with nine seconds to go, calling a timeout to set up a play for the final shot of the game.
To the Raptors credit, I suppose, this wasn’t an isolation call to end this one. It was, instead, an inbounds to Delon Wright, who passed it off to DeMar DeRozan inside the final two seconds behind the three point line, giving DeRozan little choice but to turn and fire a tough, contested, fall-away three point shot that missed. If the urge here was to go away from isolation to get something, it felt like this wasn’t the best shot the team could’ve created, and if the plan was to get a shot for the team’s best scorer to end the game, this wasn’t the shot you’d want from DeRozan and one would have to wonder why you wouldn’t let him try to create something for himself instead, with nine seconds being plenty of time for him to work off the dribble to get a good shot. This felt like settling for a shot the Raptors could get easily because it was one the defense wanted them to have, rather than working for a more preferable shot.
In overtime, well, the Raptors won the game. The better talent won out, and DeMar DeRozan was, as he’s often been this season, fantastic late to ensure that this one didn’t completely get away from them. However, that’s not really the story of the game. The story is that with just over a minute to go, Kyle Lowry went up to grab a rebound, and while he was in the air, two Nets players ended up under him, leading to an awful looking fall and him leaving the game in obvious pain. The team has called it acute back spasms at the end of the night, and hopefully for the Raptors that’s all it is, but it was a tough injury to walk, with Lowry attempting to walk off the court only to collapse again and have to be helped off.
Causality is not causation, and it can’t be assumed that Lowry only got hurt because the game went to overtime. It was an awkward play that could’ve happened at any point during any basketball game, and an unfortunate injury. It is hard though to not look back at this game and the many opportunities the Raptors had to put it away long before the injury happened as contributing to the problem.
Prior to this game, this week was going to about tough tests for a Raptors team that looked to be among the league’s elite, finding out if they could truly compete against the best teams in the league. There haven’t been many of those so far this season, especially since the starting lineup gelled after OG Anunoby replaced Norman Powell at the starting small forward spot. After Monday night though, this week is simply about survival for the Raptors. Finding out how much time their All-Star point guard will miss, and getting through the stretch he’s out for while trying to minimize the damage to their record without him.
The Raptors won this game. That’s what the record says, and that’s how this game will be listed on the schedule. This one, though, felt as much like a loss as a victory can.