Raptors thrash Hawks | Lowry all-time Raptor assists leader; should be all-star | VC in the wake of Kobe
Nurse on Lowry-"If that guy isn't on an all-star ballot considering the last 18 months & where our team is, that's unfathomable to me. If anybody that has a decent knowledge of the game would keep him off then, well, it doesn't make sense to me. It wouldn't make any sense at all"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 28, 2020
Two — Milestone: Kyle Lowry finished with 11 assists to surpass Jose Calderon as the franchise leader in assists. His teammates went nuts when Lowry broke the record on a lob pass to Terence Davis, as Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet did jumping jacks in celebration. The entire bench was on their feet waiting for Lowry to check out (he was in the hunt for a triple-double, but finished two rebounds short) and mobbed him as Lowry was featured on the jumbotron. Leading the franchise in assists gets you lots of love, and it was clear just how much the team admires Lowry for his generosity.
Whether votes have already been collected or Davis had it on his mind is immaterial. On Tuesday night, he made another striking case for inclusion in the Raptors’ 130-114 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Davis finished the game with 15 points on 11 used possessions, pulled in six rebounds, dished an assist to Serge Ibaka and helped drive successful hybrid starter-bench units with a +6 marker. His night was punctuated by being on the receiving end of a Kyle Lowry outlet pass, netting Lowry his franchise-record 3,771st assist. Davis had other moments, too, banking in a tough finish through contact, delivering a second-chance bucket with a great offensive rebound in transition and playing solid, if handsy, defence, especially as the Hawks’ offensive gameplan devolved into failed one-on-one attacks when Trae Young sat. It wasn’t Davis’ fullest box score line in 23 minutes, but it was exactly the kind of spark a team can use from its eighth man, the role Davis is currently occupying with Patrick McCaw and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sidelined.
That his spot in the pecking order is temporarily certain offers some reprieve for Davis. It was his second strong showing in a row, which sounds like faint praise, yet stands out at least over the past month. Davis has spent the better part of the season riding the waves of rookie inconsistency, starting strong and then needing to adjust as teams scouted him, thriving once again and then trying to navigate playing-time uncertainty. On nights Davis’ shot isn’t falling or his off-ball defence grows unaware, head coach Nick Nurse has given him a short leash. When McCaw is available, he tends to get the larger share of the fourth-guard split, to the chagrin of some. When Davis is playing well, though, he is a perfect fit for what the Raptors’ bench needs: Someone who isn’t afraid to take shots in a sometimes-disjointed offensive environment and someone with enough playmaking skill to function as a unit’s secondary ballhandler.
If Davis could improve that playmaking base, his role could expand even further. Nurse has been experimenting with different bench combinations despite not changing his starters much at all, which has the effect of slightly altering Davis’ role. There are times when he’s a natural fit, spacing out and attacking closeouts and scrambled defences, and there are others — usually when only one of Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are on the floor with him — when an ideal structure might see Davis operating as the de facto point guard to get one of the team’s elite-shooting guards off the ball more. Right now, Nurse is comfortable with McCaw playing that role and less so with Davis or Norman Powell handling it. Davis has shown intermittent growth running pick-and-roll with Serge Ibaka and has a knack for finding a dump-off pass to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Chris Boucher when he drives, but he’s still more slasher and shooter than facilitator.
In their most recent matchup, Trae Young gave the Raptors fits en route to a 42 point performance. In the first half, they bottled him up effectively, limiting him to only six points. If not for a hot start for Hawks centre John Collins, who had 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting and 6-of-6 from the free throw line, the Raptors’ lead would be even larger. Still, at halftime, the Raptors were up 68-56. Although Collins would cool off, tacking on only eight more for the rest of the game, he still led the Hawks in scoring with 28.
Pascal Siakam entered the third quarter in attack-mode, and carried the momentum that he built in the Spurs game into this one. He made a concerted effort to get to the rim, and was successful, with all 12 of his third quarter points coming in shots in the restricted area or on free throws that resulted from his drives. The third was the last we would see of Siakam, though it was enough for him to lead the Raptors with 24 points. Even though Trae Young was able to match Siakam’s 12 in the frame, the Raptors grew their lead to 14 by the end of the third.
Unfortunately, it was this quarter where Marc Gasol left, aggravating the hamstring injury that he sustained back in December against the Pistons. The Raptors have not lost since Gasol’s return, and the statistics suggest this is no coincidence. The Raptors are vastly better with Gasol on the floor, and another extended absence would sting a Raptors team that was finally healthy.
The Raptors went on a dominant run to start the fourth quarter. That run included Lowry’s record-breaking assist, and it virtually put the game away for good. This time, the Hawks would not mount enough of a comeback to make this one close, and the Raptors were able to coast to the finish.
It was great to see Lowry get hold of a prestigious record, and we wish Marc Gasol a speedy recovery. Here’s to hoping the Raptors can maintain this momentum into their next one against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Hawks turned the ball over nine times in the first half and shot just 25% from three point land (on 24 attempts). Toronto did not shoot much better, but only turned the ball over twice and, as a result, took a comfortable lead into the break.
The second half began pretty sluggish as neither team was able to score until nearly the 10 minute mark of the third quarter. Once again, the Raptors expanded their lead to open the quarter, but did not run away with the game at any point.
The Hawks actually got back within 12 points with just under eight minutes to go, but Toronto put their foot back on the gas to get back to an 18 point advantage.
Atlanta got some strong push late in the quarter thanks to an outburst by Young who dropped in 12 points during the third period alone. However, the Raptors closed the quarter well and recovered with ease to take a 14 point lead into the final frame.
Quite literally everything fell apart for the Hawks in the final quarter. Atlanta did not even score until nearly the eight minute mark when Huerter hit a three pointer, but by that point the game was already over.
Toronto went on a 20-2 overall run from the end of the third quarter into the beginning of the fourth quarter to finally quash the Hawks’ chances at stealing a win this evening. Every starter aside from Reddish was pulled around the midway point of the fourth quarter as the Hawks began to wave the white flag.
Carter will end up in the Hall of Fame, but it was Bryant – Carter’s AAU teammate when he was 16 and Bryant 15 – that died an NBA icon.
“He was a star, he was elite, he was one of the best,” said Carter. “So regardless if he played for your favourite team or not you had an appreciation for him… you respected him for his drive and for his willingness to be the best and to try to win by any means.”
Carter experienced it firsthand many times. He went head-to-head with the Lakers star 31 times in his career, 19 as a starter, but it was the early matchups that carried the most punch.
Bryant had already been in the league for two seasons when Carter – having played three seasons at the University of North Carolina – made his NBA debut. They didn’t meet in Carter’s rookie year due to a compressed 50-game schedule. The next season – Carter’s breakout 1999-2000 year – Bryant was injured when the Raptors upset the Lakers on the road. They finally met at what was then the Air Canada Centre on Dec. 20, 1999.
Carter knew he had his hands full.
“[You] respected him for his drive and for his willingness to be the best and to try to win by any means. I can recall games here where we’re just going back and forth with him. Especially in the early years where we were, I guess, three years removed from being teammates in AAU basketball,” said Carter. “So competing against him — and his Laker teams were dominant — it was a challenge for us to even compete. So it was something special and, obviously, to battle him head [on] was what it was all about, man. He was one of the elite players, and, obviously, his drive… he wanted to go [against] the best competition and dominate. And I knew that coming in.”
The Hawks, who were short-handed and lacking some size without centers Alex Len (right hip flexor strain) and Bruno Fernando (left calf strain), trailed by as much as 17 in the first half, and the game quickly got even more out of hand in the second. In the fourth quarter, the Raptors went on a 14-0 run to make it 111-83 as the Hawks were held scoreless until the 8:01 mark. Toronto, which has won eight games in a row, led by double-digits for the entire second half and was led by All-Star Pascal Siakam (24 points) and Serge Ibaka (24 points). “It was just one of those nights,” said Trae Young, who finished with 18 points (5 of 13 field goals, 1-for-7 from 3-point range, 7 of 8 free throws) and 13 assists. “Sometimes your shot doesn’t fall. … Nights like that, sometimes, you’ve got to give them credit. They did a lot of different schemes defensively, but they didn’t want me to score.” John Collins led the Hawks with a game-high 28 points and game-high 12 rebounds.
Nurse couldn’t seem to believe Lowry’s all-star status remains up in the air. The point guard will find out if he will be a six-time all-star when reserves are announced on Thursday. Nurse said if Lowry isn’t there, somebody screwed up.
“If that guy’s not on an all-star ballot considering the last 18 months, the last six months, and where our team is, that’s unfathomable to me, and anybody that has decent knowledge of the game or the NBA would keep him off, it wouldn’t make sense to me, it wouldn’t make any sense to me at all,” Nurse said. “Not even close. Not even close to me, so … why’re we talking about this?”
Because some of the coaches who make the calls might leave Lowry off for some reason.
“If you’re drafting people, picking guys for your team or whatever, guys who compete has got to be up there really high, and he wins, right? He wins. He’s been out there with a lot of different groups of guys over the last seven years and he’s been one of the constants. And the record looks the same almost every year,” Nurse said. Only Golden State has had a better overall record than Toronto over the last half-decade.
Lowry is pound-for-pound one of the NBA’s toughest players and Nurse marvels at how he competes against far bigger opponents.
“We are kind of almost used to it, but we should talk about how incredible that stuff is. I am constantly amazed at the plays this guys makes away from scoring and assisting, all the charges. The ones that I see that nobody ever talks about are I can’t believe how many times he rides a 6-10, 250 (pound) guy out of bounds to grab a rebound, at his size,” Nurse said.
“That’s going on five times a game, it’s unbelievable. And the charges, and the hustle plays, and then the game-winning plays. And I appreciate it, I know that, we do, we see it a lot, but it should be talked about and again I think that’s his greatness.”
Lowry finished with 11 assists and 12 points as Toronto drubbed the Atlanta Hawks 130-114 on Tuesday night, etching himself into the franchise record book again. The basket that elicited the reaction was one that made Lowry the all-time assists leader in franchise history, moving him past Jose Calderon for top spot.
Lowry now has 3,772 career assists in 533 Raptors games; Calderon left Toronto having compiled 3,770 assists in 525 games.
“I didn’t have any idea that was what the heck was going on, when he got to No. 9 or whatever it was,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
Lowry was humble. “Yeah, it’s awesome to be able to get it here tonight, in front of the home crowd, in front of Vince (Carter). The longevity … and to pass a guy like Jose, one of the best point guards in franchise history and one of the greats in European basketball … to be able to pass him means a lot. We got a win, so that’s even better.”
The No. 1 ranking came two days before another likely honour. Lowry is expected to be named to his sixth NBA all-star game when the reserves are announced Thursday. Nurse was incredulous at a suggestion some coaches might leave Lowry off their ballots.
“If that guy’s not on an all-star ballot considering the last 18 months, the last six months, and where our team is, that’s unfathomable to me,” Nurse said before the game. “(If) anybody that has decent knowledge of the game or the NBA would keep him off, it wouldn’t make sense to me, it wouldn’t make any sense to me at all. Not even close.”
On this night, with Toronto in control all the way, Vince caught the ball late in the first quarter and was cheered, and was cheered after his turnaround jumper went in. The Raptors showed a commemorative video, and Vince got a standing ovation. He didn’t get too emotional, he said, because he’s trying to save it for the next, final visit.
He hit a rainbow step-back three after that, and people gasped. He hit another one, and scored again. He scored a quick 10 points in six minutes, and was applauded as he sat down. He didn’t score again; he’s low on gas, at 43. He’s been embraced here before, more over the years. It took time.
Kobe’s death, meanwhile, has shaken a lot of people in the league; it’s a sudden reminder of mortality. Vince said he cried when he found out, but any examination of himself through the Kobe lens is muted, at least publicly. But it allows you to wonder what could have been. Not as a player: Vince was just wired differently from Kobe, and there was no changing that.
Imagine, though, if he had stayed. Kobe’s love affair with L.A. was tumultuous, but lasted more than 20 years; Vince still inspires an incredible reaction here, 14 years after he was traded. He was this city’s first real basketball love, and basketball heartbreak. He was asked if he ever wondered about staying somewhere longer than he did.
“Of course,” said Carter, who played with Dirk Nowitzki, who spent his whole career in Dallas. “I mean, I think of the connection to those six years, and just like, man, 20 years of that? … When I come back here, people say, ‘Well you’re home.’ I’m not from here, but it’s like you’re back home, even though I was born in Daytona Beach, Florida.”
When you watch Lowry often, you tend to get used to all these unlikely events he creates. The rebounds he poaches from taller opponents. The charges he draws stepping in front of locomotives with 50 pounds on him. The relentless defensive possessions he spends ping-ponging around the court, swatting at any ball that comes near him, darting over one screen, under another, crashing to the floor, hustling to his feet, and crashing to the floor again.
“I can’t believe how many times he rides a six-10, 250-pound guy out of bounds to grab a rebound, at his size,” Nurse said. “That’s going on five times a game. It’s unbelievable.”
We really don’t talk about Lowry’s efforts enough. And the flip side of that is those who don’t watch the Raptors regularly don’t talk about it enough, either. Lowry’s best plays aren’t the ones that make highlights. They’re the gritty, tenacious, indispensable ones that help teams win games. But unlike Young, who makes YouTubers money every time he touches the floor, no one’s stitching together compilations of Lowry.
“I am constantly amazed at the plays this guy makes away from scoring and assisting,” Nurse said. “He competes. If you want to list a whole lot of skills that make guys good, or if you’re drafting people, picking guys for your team or whatever, guys who compete has got to be up there really high. And he wins, right? He wins. He’s been out there with a lot of different groups of guys over the last seven years and he’s been one of the constants. And the record looks the same almost every year.”
Which is to say nothing of the fact Lowry’s averaging over 20 points per game — not far off his career-high of 22.4 in 2016-17 — while flirting with the league-lead in minutes per game as a soon-to-be 34-year-old. Tuesday night, he set a franchise assist record and made all those little plays he always does while flirting with a triple-double.
“Kobe’s one of those guys who, like I said, if anybody wants to know about me, I’ll be OK. And I think when you see somebody that young leave us for me having conversations with somebody, talking about how happy he was and doing what he was doing. He was being able to travel around with his daughter get to the game and teaching her and that’s what makes it a little harder,” Carter said.
The former Air Canada said that even though Bryant was younger, when he showed up at AAU that summer, it was obvious he was different.
“Once he got there, I mean the swagger, the confidence at that age, you knew he was going to be something. And obviously when we started playing games and doing what he was doing, he came in and he was one of our point guards. And his ability to shoot, obviously, how tall he was, his ability to pass, make plays. I remember he was shooting half-court shots. He wasn’t making them all, but the confidence to come on an AAU team that was that good and still feel like I could shoot half-court shots in games. And he’d make a few. So you were in awe of his range and his ability, and his confidence was second to none,” he said.
That confidence would never waver. Never. Especially when they would square off in the NBA.
“Like I said, you hated to play against him. We’ve had finger-pointing moments in L.A. I remember we were about to go at it,” Carter said.
“And we’ve had moments where we were just laughing and joking. It was a friendly battle but you knew he was still going to bring it. And it’s amazing for the people that hated him, that final night when he scored 60 points and he’s walking away, that time he drops the mic and says ‘Mamba out,’ I think he captivated the world and everybody began to love him. I think that’s where that came from. And I feel like it was the same with Michael Jordan (when he retired for the second time). I was there for that too. And for those that hated him, once he walked away it kinda just flipped. It’s the same. It’s just amazing.”
Kobe was the exception, though. He came into the league around the same time as the Raptors did. He wasn’t relatable. Few professional athletes are. He was larger than life, could jump out of the gym and took a helicopter to work. He also wasn’t perfect. But as polarizing as he was – as a player and as a man – people were drawn to him in Toronto, like they were everywhere else.
He is what Michael Jordan was for an entire generation of players and fans. Regardless of what city or country you live in, or what team you root for – even if you’ve never seen a basketball game – you know Kobe Bryant. That’s why you felt the weight of this terrible loss – when, just like that, he was gone. And for him to go just as his life after basketball was taking off, and with his young daughter who wanted to follow in his legendary footsteps, is heart wrenching.
The last time Kobe played in Toronto was on Feb. 14, 2016. It was his final All-Star Game. The day before, he spoke to the media with Gianna by his side. He was asked if he thinks his all-star teammates would try to set him up for a “storybook ending.”
“I hope not,” Bryant responded. “What storybook ending? I’ve had storybook endings. My storybook ending would be to enjoy this experience and help these young guys get there. I’ve had great experiences. I’ve had four [All-Star] MVPs. These opportunities don’t come around that often for the young guys. It’s important for them to take advantage of the moment while it’s here and I’m here to help them.”
That’s what Kobe set out to do in life – to inspire and to pass on his legacy – and he’ll continue to do it, even in death.
Earl Sweatshirt – “Really Doe”
“You’ve been the same [expletive] since 2001/ Well it’s the left-handed shooter, Kyle Lowry the pump”
Fun fact: As Kyle Lowry recovered from a right wrist injury in 2017, the Raptors guard was spotted practising with getting shots off with his left hand.
Now, Siakam has soared to the moon. He was just named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the third time in his young career and the second time already this season. He is set to make his first All-Star game appearance, as a starter alongside players like Kemba Walker, Giannis Antekekounmpo, fellow countrymen Joel Embiid, and Trae Young.
He’s transformed from a raw talent with size and length to a strong, physical presence who can get to the hoop in a hurry or step back and hit a jumper. It’s evident that Siakam has worked tirelessly at becoming a better shooter as well. Last year, He shot 55 percent from the field, a career-high, and 37 percent from downtown. This season, he’s shooting 80 percent from the line, while averaging 47 percent from field goal range. His 3-point percentage is right around the same as last season, but previously, he shot just 22 percent from downtown. Quite the improvement to say the least.
The point I’m trying to make is that there is no substitute for hard work. Siakam has clearly worked at perfecting his craft over the last few seasons, developing from a lanky kid with potential to an NBA star who is arguably one of the best power forwards in the league on both sides of the ball. He’s a versatile scorer who can sink shots from all over the court or rise above and put defenders on a poster.
Pascal Siakam is the perfect example for kids in Africa that have aspirations to one day play a professional sport, whether it’s basketball or soccer, that anything is possible if you put the work in. If you’re willing to learn and consistently grind day in and day out, there are no limits.
If you asked Siakam right now if he thought he’d be in this position, there is no doubt he would say absolutely. While others may have questioned that he would turn into an NBA star, the 25-year-old continued to believe that he would one day, experience NBA stardom.
He continues to live out his late father’s dream, who passed away in his freshman season at New Mexico State. Siakam’s dad always wanted to see one of his four sons play in the NBA. He’s definitely smiling from above watching Pascal show out on a nightly basis.
Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images
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