A giant who balances the world on his shoulders, a Titan who holds up the celestial heavens, Atlas, more than most characters fictional or not, understands work load. It is inescapable because of his duty, and that ethic is embodied in these Toronto Raptors. Stacked up against overwhelming odds on the back end of a brutal back-to-back, the Raptors indomitable will drove them towards another classic outcome. Only these are not Titans, they’re men who play basketball. Fatigue comes for everyone, not only those who allow it to find them.
Even though the Raptors were gassed down the stretch and eventually lost, the celestial heavens do not come crashing down on them. The Raptors were able to falter and still come away looking stronger than they entered. Capitalizing on the strength they found at the back end of their roster in the Lakers game, and relying on it against the Clippers. There was no lightning in a bottle, none of “Michael’s Secret Stuff”, only championship DNA.
I’m a very big fan of the Tolkien universe, and as such I’d like to imagine that Nick Nurse gathers the Raptors together before every game and says:
“Sons of Canada!
I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day!
This day we fight!
By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the East!”
And then the Raptors walk onto the court and battle. Taking OG Anunoby’s eye injury in stride. They relentlessly double Kawhi Leonard for all 35 of his minutes. Attacking his escape dribbles so they escape nothing, forcing nine turnovers and as many missed shots.
Chris Boucher might even add: “Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?!” Before launching himself onto the court for sky-scraping blocks, well earned fouls, and break-neck shot contests. Leading the Raptors in made 3-pointers and blocks in the same game.
The Raptors rallied around Boucher’s early entrance into the game, and his needed offensive punch. They defended with fervor and aggression, trying to tip the scales of the game with turnovers and fastbreak points. This game was another glowing endorsement of their heady switch-defense. The rotations were beyond crisp, as they forced Patrick Patterson and JaMychal Green to beat them with their shot-making. There’s an inevitable aspect to the Lou Williams-Montrezl Harrell pick n’ roll, but even that was kept in check for most of the game.
The Raptors were sticking their hands in every cookie jar, swiping at every high dribble, and by proxy of that, they did send the Clippers to the line a fair bit. It was a high effort performance, one that drained a considerable amount of energy from the Raptors.
As the Raptors killed themselves fighting over screens at the top of the defense, and exhausted themselves running from paint to baseline at the bottom, the Clippers finally recognized where to win the game. The Clippers grabbed 16 offensive boards in the second half, and turned all of their attention towards the paint. Pressing the Raptors on their own defensive glass and draining them in their own half of the court was what did it.
By the time the fourth quarter had ended, the Raptors shot 20-percent in the frame. The Clippers were tired of waiting for the likes of Green and Patrick Beverley to hit their semi-open looks, and jammed the paint. They overwhelmed the Raptors and sapped them of all their energy to create on offense. And even though the Raptors still competed admirably on defense, there wasn’t gas in the tank to create good enough looks to win the game. The Clippers earned extra opportunities, and the variance that had been so kind to the Raptors in the third quarter, had flipped around.
As an on-looker you could tell that the Raptors probably weren’t going to close it out. It came to the point where a 5-point deficit seemed like twenty. No amount of Boucher blocks or Hollis-Jefferson (who Louis should have a feature on later today) steals would close the gap. And on 3-days rest, the Clippers were ready to push the Raptors to the final whistle. The 86 minutes and 83 minutes of gameplay in two days for Siakam and VanVleet was too much, and they shot 2-13 in the fourth when the Raptors looked to them to close it out.
Fatigue comes for everyone, even these terrific Raptors, who keep showing us more and more of themselves each game. The cut of their collective jib is something I like.
Next up is the Trailblazers, who have been leaning on Damian Lillard in a similar way to the Raptors and Siakam.
Have a blessed day.