Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

Raptors find semblance of normality in 130-114 over the Hawks

Contextualizing Lowry setting the franchise assist record as players still mourn Kobe Bryant.

Leonard Cohen was at times a singer, but it was in the guise of a recitation, a hymn, that he used to chant, “there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

What Cohen meant, of course, is that no matter the context there’s always good inside of bad.

For the Toronto Raptors, it’s not easy to play basketball only two days after Kobe Bryant’s death. The constant reminders of Bryant’s pervasive importance — a moving video tribute before the game, continued conversation with media about Bryant’s loss, even the game-ops’ classy decision to tint the Atlanta Hawks’ score purple when they were at 81 points — provide no relief. One would think that the act of basketball itself may be a distraction, but that’s not always the case.

It’s one of those things, you feel like you go out there to take your mind off it, but you can’t because every step you take is a step that you probably watched that man take, and you took something from him,” said Fred VanVleet of the San Antonio game. “We all idolized him.”

Once we got on the court, we were like, ‘damn, nobody really wants to be out here. But here we are.'”

At the same time, the tragedy of Bryant’s passing, along with the passing of every person in the helicopter, is a morbid reminder that life is precious. For all the difficulty that the Raptors face in continuing to do their jobs after losing a shared idol and myth, each Raptor shares that burden. It’s not just the players representing Toronto. Those across the league face the same situation. So many teams, including the Raptors on Sunday evening, have decided to honour Bryant by subordinating the game itself to his memory, by committing 24-second or eight-second violations in honour of Bryant’s twin numbers, 24 and 8. The loss has brought players together because that’s the only way they can grieve.

“You remember to be grateful for what we do have. You remember to be loving, especially to the people that are close to you, and appreciate what you have there as well,” said Nick Nurse before Toronto’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, the team’s first home game following Bryant’s death. 

The Raptors won, by the way, 130-114. The result was secondary. There were a variety of events in the game that overshadowed the actual score. Serge Ibaka played excellently. Fred VanVleet won his minutes against Trae Young after the latter nutmegged VanVleet in their previous matchup. By far the most important outcome of the game was that Lowry passed Jose Calderon as the franchise leader in assists. Lowry stands alone as Toronto’s assist leader, with 3772 assists as a Raptor.

VanVleet acknowledged after the game that the tragic context does bring one closer to one’s family, just as Nurse said before the game. For NBA players, family includes teammates.

I think we all should be in the mood of giving people their flowers while we can,” said VanVleet.

And Lowry’s teammates happily gave Lowry his flowers for setting the franchise assist record. When Lowry tied Calderon’s record, on a pass to Chris Boucher for a transition dunk, Toronto’s bench stood in unison and cheered. When the announcer informed the entire stadium of Lowry’s setting a new record, the crowd, including Lowry’s teammates, stood and applauded. After being mobbed in joy, Lowry walked to half-court and acknowledged the crowd before embracing Vince Carter.

It is perhaps meaningful that Lowry set the record as Toronto mourned the loss of a long-time franchise tormentor in Bryant. It is certainly meaningful that Lowry set the record at home, in front of Atlanta’s Carter.

“He didn’t start the organization, but he kind of put it on the map and continued to make this thing grow,” Lowry said of Carter after the game. “He’s always been a big supporter of mine and the Raptors. He’s just one of the greats, and a guy who helped put this thing out there, and to do it in front of him made it even more special.”

Life is bigger than basketball, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Eventually, the tides, both on and off the court in the NBA, will drift back to normality, as they always do. That hasn’t happened yet. Players remain in a pall, rightfully grieving over the loss of Kobe Bryant.

As the NBA mourns the loss of one of the most culturally embedded, influential, and idolized icons, there shone a shard of light for the Raptors in Lowry’s new record. Lowry was dominant when playing in the game and graceful after exiting. To celebrate his achievement, Lowry shared several moments of joy with his teammates and then a special moment in front of an adoring crowd with his predecessor as greatest Raptor of all time, Vince Carter. The light certainly snuck into Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday evening. There’s a crack in everything, even dark shrouds of mourning. That’s how the light gets in.