The Toronto Raptors have made the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons. During that seven-year span, the Raptors had five 50+ win seasons and won their first-ever championship in 2019. However, at 17-23, several games behind teams that we are used to seeing in the lottery such as the Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, and Atlanta Hawks, the Raptors no longer run the East.
That was clear on Wednesday night against the bottom-ranked Detroit Pistons, who led the entire night and won 116-112. It didn’t matter that Norman Powell had a career-high 43-point performance (on just 18 shots) because, as anyone who has watched a lot of Raptors’ basketball this season will tell you, the lack of depth is too big of an issue for any one player to overcome. The Raptors’ margin for error has been small all season, and unless several of the core guys play almost perfectly, the Raptors usually fail to pull out wins.
And the lack of depth can be directly tied to all the winning the Raptors did in the past seven seasons, because when you win, you don’t worry too much about the year 2021. You do everything you can to win in the now, which is why Masai Ujiri traded Delon Wright (along with Jonas Valencunus, CJ Miles, and a first-round pick) to the Memphis Grizzlies for Marc Gasol in 2019, who ultimately helped them win a championship that very season. But with every player and draft pick the Raptors traded away or let walk in free agency, their future depth took a hit. That has been noticeable all season, and it was especially noticeable midway through the fourth quarter on Wednesday.
That was when the Pistons took a timeout — with 7:06 remaining after a Kyle Lowry jumper cut the lead to six — and, coming out of the timeout, ex-Raptor Delon Wright made back-to-back layups to give his team a comfortable 10-point lead; one they would not squander due to a buffet of execution mistakes by the Raptors.
Wright himself made some mistakes down the stretch, but his 18/10/8 line on the night would end up the best of any backcourt player on either team. Despite many casual NBA fans not knowing Wright’s game, he is exactly the type of player the Raptors can now only dream of having come off their bench this season to provide a steadying presence on both ends. He is having a career-year in his first season with the Pistons, averaging 11/5/5 on 47/38/77 shooting, thriving in his first year as a starter with the opportunity to run an offence.
Instead, the Raptors played five different players off the bench and not one of them scored more than 9 points. The team was fully healthy outside of OG Anunoby being held out, but they simply couldn’t string together enough good minutes from their role players to succeed.
That has been the story of the season, but only once in a while are the ghosts of Raptors’ past there that serve as a reminder that winning comes with a cost.
Sahal and I go deeper into the game and general Raptors: