Fred VanVleet joined the TSN broadcast for the third quarter, engaging in some fun conversation with Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong. What can’t he do? It’s no secret he’s a very open and insightful quote, and he added a special element to the finale broadcast.
Some notes from VanVleet’s appearance:
- He spoke very openly about some lingering effects of COVID-19. He said he was fortunate to not have breathing issues, but there were several unfamiliar symptoms well after his return.
- If Kawhi Leonard was The (K)Claw, “Gilly’s the Lobster Claw,” VanVleet said. Sure.
- VanVleet had very kind words for Flynn and Harris and their recent performances, saying it reminded him of some other young Raptors guards from a few years ago.
- His energy picked up when the broadcast showed clips of his franchise-record 54-point game. “About time, man, I was waiting on my highlights.”
- VanVleet sounded excited about the extended offseason. This will be the Raptors’ longest break since VanVleet joined the team, and that should allow for a mental break before everyone gets back in the lab.
- The brief moments VanVleet actually called the game were really entertaining, as well, though he stayed firmly in teammate mode. A Baynes 3-point attempt, a Gillespie dunk and Flynn heating up from 3 got the biggest rises out of him.
- VanVleet also took credit for Flynn moving off the ball in the second half to avoid T.J. McConnell’s defence and get more open looks. During Flynn’s brief first-half rest, he went straight for VanVleet and assistant Mark Tyndale for feedback.
One — Final: The Raptors ended the year with six players available, making it abundantly clear as to their desire to end this dreaded season as quickly as possible. It was the same story as much of the season — they competed, suffered a few stretches of inconsistency, didn’t quite have enough talent which left obvious weaknesses on the floor, and they never closed the gap in the end. The best way to celebrate this season in Tampa is to forget it and to enjoy the summertime.
Though there were some defensive stretches that weren’t great, the Pacers did hold the Raptors to 40.2% shooting and just 50 paint points, though they did allow 16 offensive rebounds and 29 free throw attempts. The Pacers outscored the Raptors 20-9 in points off turnovers and had 23 fast break points to counter it, proving enough for the victory.
The win wraps up a 34-38 regular season for the Pacers, securing them a 9th place finish in the East heading into the play-in games this week. The Pacers finish 21-15 on the road, their 5th best road record in franchise history, of course offset entirely by their abysmal 13-23 home record.
That home record may come into play this week as the Pacers shift in the play-in games that start on Tuseday. An absolute thriller in DC saw the Washington Wizards comeback against the Charlotte Hornets in the fourth, outscoring them 36-20 in the final period to finish 8th.
That means the Pacers will host the Hornets on Tuesday on TNT, entering on a five-game losing streak. The Pacers lost the season series 1-2, though neither team has much in common with even who they were back on April 2 when the Hornets rolled to a 17-point win. For more reading on this upcoming game, check out Caitlin Cooper’s preview.
A basketball game did happen around Fred’s broadcast debut, though. Similar to the last few games, the Raptors played hard and did some nice things, but didn’t have the bodies or talent to compete with an opponent that had real stakes on the table. Aron Baynes was the team’s only available body off the bench with Chris Boucher and Gary Trent Jr. earning another DNP (coach’s decision) — the result of this being a rotation half made up of centres.
Nick Nurse played his hand appropriately given the circumstances. Toronto found some advantages on the glass — edging the Pacers 48-47 in that category — and looked their best when Baynes, Khem Birch, and Freddie Gillespie all shared the court at the same time (recalling another three-centre lineup that… happened in Toronto).
In the first quarter alone, those three combined for 17 points and helped Toronto immensely — the Raptors trailed by just one after 12 minutes. With the bigs cooking and DeAndre’ Bembry scoring ten points, it even looked there might be enough of a recipe to make the whole game competitive, especially with how sloppy both teams were playing; they combined for five turnovers before we even had a timeout.
Alas, Indiana found their form in the second quarter. Needing to get his team a win to secure the number nine seed and a home play in game, Pacers’ star Domantas Sabonis played excellently before halftime — dishing for assists, scoring in close, and taking advantage of the inexperience on the Raptors side. Sabonis would finish the game 25 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Indiana won the frame 37-25, went up double digits, and never really looked back.
While Sabonis was the focal point, Oshae Brissett led the Pacers in scoring and helped keep the Raptors at bay in the second half. Amassing a career-high 31 points and ten rebounds in 36 minutes, Brissett had his revenge game from everywhere — making five of his ten field goals from outside and punishing Toronto for missed rotations.
The Raptors, who finish their season with a record of 27-45, were led by 27 points from Malachi Flynn. Stanley Johnson had 24 points and seven assists, Bembry finished with 23 points (9-for-22), and Khem Birch had a double double with 18 points and 14 rebounds. The team shot just 40.2 percent to the Pacers’ 50.5 percent — a classic end-of-season “it’s a make or miss league” outcome that really doesn’t benefit from more extrapolation.
With Sunday’s 125-113 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Toronto’s season came to a merciful end. The Raptors finished with a record of 27-45 – their worst since 2011-12 and the eighth-worst in the franchise’s 26-year history. They’ll miss the playoffs for the first time in eight years, but that reality had already sunk in.
They’ve been playing this thing out for more than a month, long before they were officially eliminated. Kyle Lowry missed 17 of the final 24 games, most of them for rest. VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby were held out with nagging injuries they almost certainly could have played through.
“It’s kinda like a blowout game,” VanVleet explained. “You know when you get blown out by 30 [points] and the fourth quarter’s taking all day? There’s media timeouts, some dumb coach calls a timeout and draws up a play with 30 seconds left. That’s what these last few weeks have felt like.”
At some point, the risks of trying to salvage a lost season seemed to outweigh the potential reward for the organization. They’re more than ready to move on.
So what comes next? A team that is two years removed from being at the pinnacle of the sport and winning an NBA championship, a team that is a year removed from finishing with the second-best record in the league and coming a game short of potentially returning to The Finals, now finds itself counting its lottery balls.
How does a club that has experienced so much success process what most people would call failure, and more importantly, how does this group respond to it?
It starts with something they haven’t had in quite some time: the chance to take a breath, reflect and recharge. Most of these guys are eager to hop on a plane Sunday evening or early Monday morning and bid farewell to Tampa. Some of them will fly home. Others will head to a beach somewhere and take a short but much-needed vacation before getting back in the gym and back to work. In either case, it’s a crucial part of the process.
“I think that we have a lot of players that we’re probably gonna have to hold ’em out of the gym for a little while just to get ’em to rejuvenate rather than asking ’em to get in there,” Nurse said. “We are excited about that.”
“I would say that there’s some hunger and desire for us to get started on next season fairly quickly. I think that the adversity that we faced this year probably fuels a lot of that.”
Trust us, Nurse would much rather have had the opportunity to send out the same lineup for all 72 games this year but that is simply not possible with COVID-19 in charge for more than a calendar year.
The Raptors end the year on a seven-game losing streak, some of it intentional as veterans who would normally play were either rested or left on the injured list out of an extreme sense of caution and clearly with an eye on the draft lottery.
In that sense, the wind down to the season was a success as the team locked into the seventh-best odds for the draft lottery and young players like Malachi Flynn and Freddie Gillespie, and even Khem Birch and Jalen Harris to a lesser degree, got some invaluable experience with consistent minutes.
On the final day of the 2020-21 regular season, Flynn continued his fine run to the off-season with another career-best, scoring 27 points to go along with a five-assist game, while Aron Baynes, likely playing for minutes elsewhere at this point, had his second strong game off the bench with a season-high 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Birch, the guy who came in and solidified that centre spot where Baynes failed, had 16 points and 14 rebounds in his final game of the season.
He’s a free agent, but clearly has a fondness for both the Raptors team and its head coach. Assuming the money is there, it’s a good bet he’s back.
Leading the Pacers was the familiar face of Mississauga native Oshea Brissett who had a career-best 31 points and 10 rebounds.
Brissett appears to have found a home in Indiana which really has to be a little bittersweet for the Raptors, who let him go earlier in the year.
Next up for the team is a whole series of draft workouts as they lock in on the first lottery pick to come Toronto’s way since Jakob Poeltl arrived five years ago.
Farewell to the 2020-21 season. It started on uncertain ground for the Raptors and seemed to get progressively worse with each day. No, it will not be missed, nor will it be remembered.
5. Chris Boucher
As the Toronto Raptors continue their transition out of the We The North era that won them a championship, it’s become abundantly clear that an essential component of the squad in years to come will be one Chris Boucher. The 6’9, St. Lucia-born, Montreal-bred centre has established himself as a clutch bench player with tons of potential as a starter, fitting into coach Nick Nurse’s defensive-minded strategy perfectly and proving deadly in the paint when he’s locked in. Though still young, he’s been one of the standout Raptors of the 2021 season, averaging 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from deep—all career bests. He’s made a case for Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player consideration, slowly showing he can fill the shoes of much-missed centres Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka—and making it clear that he’ll be a fan favourite for a long time to come. —Calum Marsh
On a quick note, this season has been weird, not just from a Raptors perspective, but a life one, and I appreciate you stopping by and starting your morning with me. It’s been a pleasure to do this, and I feel humbled that you guys come through and support us here at RR.