Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

,

Raptors climb to second seed on a somber Sunday

Sunday felt like an everlasting blur. The basketball world was rocked by the news that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others passed away in a fatal helicopter crash. The Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs were preparing for warm-ups as word trickled in to their respective locker rooms. Everyone involved, from the…

Sunday felt like an everlasting blur. The basketball world was rocked by the news that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others passed away in a fatal helicopter crash. The Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs were preparing for warm-ups as word trickled in to their respective locker rooms. Everyone involved, from the coaching staffs and players, to the broadcast team, to all in attendance at the AT&T Center shared similar sentiments of shock, grief, and confusion. It was a struggle to compute what had just happened.

“You don’t know what to say,” said Nick Nurse. “It was rough, a really rough locker room prior to the game, there were a lot of guys that it hit pretty close to home.”

Once Marc Gasol won the opening tip and batted the ball back towards Fred VanVleet, everything froze. VanVleet dribbled the ball out for the entirety of the 24 second shot clock, the number that Bryant wore during the latter stages of his career, and then the Spurs followed suit. It was one of the most powerful, yet simultaneously deflating moments I have ever witnessed in sport.

There was an eerie irony to the personnel that took part in the match-up that offered a small glimpse into the overwhelming sphere of influence that Kobe has had.

There were younger players that viewed Bryant as an icon, such as VanVleet and California native Norman Powell, who attended the Lakers star’s elite camps and wears the #24 jersey because of his idol. There were older players, like Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan, who had a personal relationship with Kobe, the former sharing the same Philly hometown roots and the latter famously being a mentee of Bryant’s since his high school days. Then there were was Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich, two of the most prominent figures in the NBA over the past twenty years alongside Kobe, who were the cornerstones of the fierce Spurs-Lakers rivalry that dominated the turn of the twenty-first century.

The dazed looks of each player during the opening shot-clock violations was gravity-educing in which the reality of the moment finally sunk in, and then the images of Duncan struggling to contain his emotions on the bench and eventually heading back into the locker room served as a dagger into a freshly opened wound.

Any time the Raptors go against the returning DeRozan, emotions amongst viewers and the players alike bubble to the surface. It was a cruel twist that this tragedy coincided with the teams linking up once again.

“Everything I learned came from Kobe. Everything,” DeRozan said after the game. “Take Kobe away and I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have love, I wouldn’t have passion and the drive. Everything. Everything came from him.”

“It made it worse,” Fred VanVleet said on facing DeRozan amidst the news of Bryant’s death. “I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I know how much I was affected and I never got a chance to meet Kobe or share that space with him… but I know how much he meant to me, so multiply that by a million for DeMar.”

Players and coaches across the league noted that they tried to lose themselves in the game in order to cope with the sudden, solemn news. But basketball feels beyond secondary to what occurred on Sunday morning. Here are a few notes from a game that we will all remember, yet not for basketball-related reasons (forgive me for being a little scrambled as it was a game that was extremely difficult to solely pay attention to.)

  • It seemed as if Pascal Siakam was aiming to score 82 points, going bezerk in the first quarter for a franchise-record 25 points. Siakam was fairly quiet for the rest of the game but it was positive to see he and VanVleet’s two-man game secure the victory.
  • No lead is safe. Toronto have had some second half struggles and Sunday was no different, squandering a 19-point first half lead as the Spurs caught fire from deep. Like their last encounter, DeRozan penetrated the interior of the Raptors defence which led to kick-outs wide open shooters.
  • After falling into a hole late, Marc Gasol went off on a personal 8-0 run in the fourth quarter to bring the scores level. It was another indicator that Gasol is rejuvenated since his return from injury. His resurgent scoring from two-point range has been one of the pleasant surprises of the winning streak thus far.
  • Let’s hope that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ugly ankle injury isn’t as bad as it looked. Reports quickly noted that he suffered a right ankle sprain, however the recovery time for such an injury can significantly vary. Toronto shouldn’t struggle replacing RHJ’s minutes, but it is a bummer nonetheless.
  • Lowry’s late-game grifting sealed the win for Toronto. After DeJounte Murray secured the rebound off of a VanVleet miss with just 18 seconds left, Lowry used his gnat-like annoyance to pry the ball from Murray’s hands and then deflect it off of him out of bounds.
  • Toronto snapped a 12-game winless drought in San Antonio with Sunday evening’s victory and extended their current winning streak to seven games. They now sit in second in the Eastern Conference standings.

Plenty has, and will, be written about Bryant’s complicated legacy. Sunday was a stark reminder that Kobe possesses a unique gravitational force in the basketball world. True sporting icons have the ability to conjure moments that forge themselves into forefront of fan’s most vivid memories, and Kobe did so repeatedly, and unapologetically. Now in the wake of his untimely death, it is a sober reminder of the fragility of each of these precious moments that we do get in this world. Rest in peace to the nine people whose lives have been lost far too soon.