If there’s one, single crowd that this game brought excitement for this season, it was likely the #FadeForCade crowd.
Or in other words, the ‘every loss is a win’ crowd.
With Toronto’s latest collapse versus Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers in what has politely been a whirlwind of an NBA season — the rhetoric surrounding this team has begun to change. For the first time in what feels like centuries — or eight years, to be exact — the Toronto Raptors have fallen short of the NBA playoffs, while missing out on a positive-record season. On Monday, May 10th after an Indiana Pacers 111-102 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto was mathematically eliminated from contention of the NBA’s postseason play-in tournament.
I mean, font size 12 woulda done just fine lol https://t.co/kQTOWT0ng9
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 11, 2021
Good tweet, Toronto.
If anything, this unwelcome (or welcome, depending on your view) news of mathematical elimination has shifted the attention for fans and writers alike. Tuesday night’s game itself versus LA was one that many fans would have naturally loved to watch.
One minor problem — you had the apple, but no core.
After the exhaustive mental pacing that Toronto fans went through in the waiting game that was the Raptors starting lineup, they were presented with this cryptic news on Monday evening (the day prior to the Clippers game):
Lowry, Siakam, Anunoby, Watson, VanVleet are out tomorrow. Boucher is questionable.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) May 10, 2021
And then to make matters worse, this:
So you're looking at something like this:
Flynn, Trent, Watanabe, Johnson, Birch
Harris, Bembry, Gillespie
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) May 11, 2021
Essentially what Nick Nurse and the Raptors were rolling with was quite literally an ‘NBA G-League-esque’ Raptors 905 iteration of Toronto, with a sprinkle of Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch added. Meanwhile, for the Los Angeles Clippers? Well, they had everyone healthy minus Serge Ibaka and the lesser-known Amir Coffey. Now, fine — seeing multiple Raptors out for Toronto was all cool and dandy. I mean at this point, you weren’t truly classified as a Raptors fan if you didn’t remotely notice that they’ve been dealing with a surplus of injuries for the better part of this season. Toronto’s fans have grown accustomed to this dreadful injury (and COVID-19) luck. The unusual feeling of having almost an entirely healthy roster just hasn’t really grown on fans this season. The oft-mentioned “Toronto was 4th in the East before half of their team was out with COVID-19 protocols!” rings in heads like that one battery-drained smoke detector everyone’s cousin had at one point. With the utmost respect given to the players, the roster placed in front of Nick Nurse was akin to what NFL teams throw out on the field on the fourth and final week of preseason in hopes of evaluating what you have at the end of the roster AND to minimize further injury risk with star players.
Malachi Flynn, Gary Trent Jr., Yuta Watanabe, Stanley Johnson and Khem Birch.
With a fully-healthy team? You could probably argue all five individuals listed above would be coming off the bench for Toronto, save for Khem Birch. But to put things in perspective, good friend of Raptors Republic – Blake Murphy put it perfectly in his latest article for The Athletic:
“You can’t sit everyone and the Raptors have clearly started to focus on developing their young players for the future.”
That quote stood true up until Tuesday night’s exhibition game versus the Clippers. The game began for Toronto with a light dose of comedy — a Stanley Johnson elbow isolation resulting in a pull-up midrange jumper.
Yep, it was going to be that kind of game for Toronto. On the other side of the coin, Kawhi Leonard seemed to be getting everything he desired on the court. With persistent trips to the free-throw line, aggressive drives to the hoop and his patented line drive, pull-up 16-foot jumper that Raptors fans know all too well. Leonard was cooking on all cylinders for LA, looking starkly different from the Kawhi the Raptors saw just a week prior who attempted a season-low 6 field goals. As Kawhi subbed off, Paul George looked to keep the momentum on LA’s side, but Toronto honed in defensively on the star swingman. He finished the game 5/15 from the field with 16 total points, but a season-high +27 on the hardwood. At halftime, the Raptors predictably trailed to LAC and to make it clear — the numbers were ugly.
To be fair, Toronto was shooting poorly but the game was still in hand. They trailed by a measly eight points after 24 minutes of play. It didn’t help that the return of Chris Boucher was plagued by poor shooting from the Montréal native (stemming from what looked like ‘heavy’ legs after a long injury absence). If we’re throwing blame around, Gary Trent Jr. deserves quite a bit as well, putting up a 3/16 shooting performance with the majority of shot attempts falling under the questionable category. With GTJ specifically, this was my take:
GTJ will continue to shoot at a wild variance if his game revolves around a ton of isolation + minimal offensive structure surrounding him. People will do it, but I'm not sure it's fair to evaluate his performances without Lowry, FVV, Anunoby or Siakam there to make life easier.
— Sahal Abdi (@sahaIabdi) May 12, 2021
In terms of bright spots? Gillespie defended the rim at an elite level all game long. Two monstrous blocks on both DeMarcus Cousins and Ivica Zubac highlighted a solid night for Gilly in a game that lacked team enthusiasm, offensive structure and any sort of rhythm at all. Jalen Harris showed some sparks of promise, but was left invisible for large portions of time. With the rest of the Raptors, it was unfortunately more of the same. Not one Raptor scored over 16 points. Stanley Johnson, DeAndre Bembry and Jalen Harris combined for 11 of the Raptors’ 13 team turnovers.
But with all the discouraging game notes — something much more important was at stake organizationally — the Toronto Raptors were afforded two opportunities:
- To analyze and evaluate the roster while looking ahead to the future
- Another chance to see Fred VanVleet sport the latest Raptors coaching outfit!
On to Chicago!