Let’s talk about Seinfeld.
Better yet, let’s talk about one of the greatest episodes of the greatest television show, ‘The Bizarro Jerry’. Elaine stumbles into a new friend group, one that weirdly mirrors the trifecta of Jerry, George, and Kramer, but in inverse fashion. She enters a bizarro world in which everything is familiar yet entirely different.
“He is reliable. He is considerate. He’s like your, exact opposite… Up is down, down is up. He says ‘Hello’ when he leaves, ‘Good bye’ when he arrives.”
I often watch an episode of Seinfeld after disappointing performances. It is a great way to pick up one’s mood following a devastating loss. But this damned episode reminded me all too much of the last two Raptors games I had just witnessed. At face value, the Toronto Raptors looked to be the same team on Thursday, but in actuality they could not have been more different.
Nick Nurse must have an eerie sense of empathy for Elaine’s situation.
Game five between Toronto and Philadelphia was a bizarro version of the game four blowout. The teams switched roles and followed the script that was laid out for them just two days prior.
On Tuesday night Philadelphia’s point guard and centre, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, were horrific in every facet of the game combining for 13 turnovers and only eight made shots. This time Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol tried to outdo their counterparts’ game five mishaps with an infuriating level of passivity, seemingly ready to pack their bags and head home right from the opening tip.
Embiid stole Lowry’s ‘non-statable’ powers from him, posting an obscene plus-40 despite modest individual numbers. His mere presence alone at the rim is a deterrent and his newfound willingness as a screener in the pick-and-roll has resuscitated the Sixers offence. Much like Jerry’s girlfriend Jillian ‘man hands’, Simmons was part man part horrible beast, hauling down offensive rebounds at will with his meaty paws. The Australian point guard has rightfully been under fire for his offensive play in this series, but Simmons’ virtuoso performance in an elimination game displayed some of his superstar potential. He corralled four of his team’s 16 offensive boards, none bigger than his thunderous putback slam that stunted Toronto’s brief comeback in the third quarter.
Much of the Sixers’ work on the offensive glass was due to their dribble penetration and ability to draw a secondary defender towards the initial point of attack. Early in game four the Raptors were the ones aggressively attacking the rim and drawing fouls to take ownership of the game. On Thursday, the Sixers first five baskets all came from close range and they finished the evening with a dominant 56 points within the paint. Jimmy Butler stole Lowry’s doggedness from him and asserted himself immediately. It cannot be understated how well Butler has performed throughout this matchup.
This series has been flipped, turned upside down, and shaken about so drastically over the past few days that it is near impossible to get a clear idea as to what to expect next. One moment Embiid is trudging around the court lifelessly, the next he is soaring like an airplane. One moment Pascal Siakam is taking advantage of mismatches and putting on a show with his silky footwork, the next he is taking with boneheaded shots under duress in Kramer-esque fashion.
The Raptors went from tearing Philadelphia apart in transition with 33 points on Tuesday, to only scoring a measly 11 points. Their rediscovered outside shooting plummeted once more, regressing back towards their torrid 30.8 per cent average on the series.
The Sixers backups turned around their abysmal showing in game four and accompanied the starters exquisitely. Mike Scott returned to his Raptor Killer form of old and James Ennis III produced annoying momentum-shifting plays at the most inopportune of times. Conversely, the Raptors resurgent bench fell back into their playoff swoon. Serge Ibaka bricked every mid-range attempt he was given and hacked at opponents when they drove to the rim. Powell has been rendered useless.
As horrible as Fred Van Vleet has been all series, can you really chastise him if he isn’t even really playing? The man has seen his role shrink drastically, outside of garbage time. Nevertheless, Van Vleet’s brief appearances often produce cringeworthy moments. His conversation with Nick Nurse prior to game seven will be incredibly similar to the interaction between Kramer and his boss.
Nurse: “I’ve been reviewing your work, quite frankly it stinks. There’s simply no way we can keep you on.”
FVV: “But, I don’t even really work here.”
Nurse: “That’s what makes this so difficult.”
Ah, who will provoke the ire of Raptors fans if Van Vleet doesn’t make an appearance at all on Sunday?
Danny Green seemingly broke out of his slump on Tuesday and nailed shots across the arc, yet he fell apart once more despite several opportunities from his favourite spots in transition. Looks that were oh so similar netted entirely different results. Bizarro.
It is comedy at this point to watch how many wide open shots Toronto missed – except it is more like one of those terrible comedies when you know every punchline is going to suck, yet you still watch each joke fall flat in painstaking fashion. If the Raptors in game four resembled ‘Anchorman’, then their follow-up performance was equally as bad as Ron Burgundy’s sequel.
So if Raptors fans are struggling to deal with the deflating loss as much as I have, follow my lead and re-watch a Seinfeld classic of your choosing to ease away the pain.
Alas, in the words of that Kawhi-injuring bastard Zaza…