One word to describe this season. Go.
I’ll try. What about ‘misery’ or ‘adversity’?
Perhaps misery is a tad bit strong when describing the taxing season Toronto experienced at the hands of a literal global pandemic. Not only did Toronto move its entire operations to a new country, but also became a tenant in the home (Amalie Arena) of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. New country, new state, new city, new arena, new
practice arena. Scratch that. New hotel-ballroom-transformed-into-a-practice-court.
All in all, a new place Toronto was temporarily forced to call home.
It was the bubble all over again for Toronto — arguably with stricter COVID-19 prevention rules — except this time around it was an entire NBA season (shortened to 72 games) being played away from home. The players took their lumps, the staff was quite literally down to a single coach in the middle of the season (thank you for your service, Sergio Scariolo) and the ‘fans’ in Tampa regularly rooted against the home team. It was a wash. This entire season was a wash. But to be fair, it wasn’t all bad. This is why you likely don’t see writers and fans describing the year as a complete and utter disaster. To start, we’ve never seen player development emphasized at a level of this magnitude in quite some time. Players like Yuta Watanabe, Malachi Flynn, Freddie Gillespie and recently, Jalen Harris have been given ample chances to showcase their talent in high-usage opportunities. It’s a symbiotic relationship with Toronto not having the same end-season goals that they’ve grown so accustomed to. There came a time late in the season where Toronto knew a deep playoff run was likely out of the question. Not long ago, there came a time when the postseason itself was totally out of the question. Throughout the trying season —players went down, losses piled up, organizational visions changed and in result of these uncontrollable variables, opportunity came knocking.
And in this particular game versus the Indiana Pacers, opportunity didn’t politely knock — it came barging in.
Six (6!) players stepped on the floor for Toronto in what was supposed to be as close to a forfeit as an NBA exhibition game could reach. Good thing was Toronto’s ‘six’ didn’t allow for that to happen. Would anyone have been shocked if Toronto was obliterated by 40 in this game? Not myself. Probably not you either. Not only was the ‘Core Four’ out in Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. Toronto also missed their newly-found rising star in Jalen Harris (who would have came off a 31-point outing in his hometown of Dallas) to injury. Gary Trent Jr. and Chris Boucher were both technically active, but reading Toronto’s non-usage of both players in past games — the assumption stood that both GTJ and Boucher would sit for the entirety of the finale (and they did).
Raptors start Flynn Bembry Johnson Birch Gillespie
The bench is Baynes, plus Trent/Boucher available but same deal as last two games.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) May 16, 2021
The game itself started off unusually competitive. The first quarter ended with Toronto only down a single point, 31-30. Bembry and Baynes (yes, Baynes) paced Toronto with some fun slashing and Stephen Curry-esque bombs from 3PT land, respectively.
baynes is coming off curls like klay omg
— William Lou (@william_lou) May 16, 2021
On Indiana’s side, Toronto couldn’t do much to stop Caris LeVert, former-Raptor Oshae Brissett and noted ‘Raptor killer’ Doug McDermott. In the 2nd quarter is when it all got messy. The Pacers outscored a visibly gassed and talent-depleted Toronto team 37-25. The Raptors couldn’t buy a shot for long stretches. Indiana couldn’t miss a shot for long stretches. Put those two together and you get a 13-point deficit heading into halftime. Near the end of the game — with Malachi Flynn leading all starters in minutes — the vibe in watching the game changed completely. It went from the desire of wanting one last miraculous run by the Raptors to win the game to absorbing the defeat in all of its glory and watching the drained starters use the final minutes as a scrimmage run. To put things in perspective, Flynn lead both teams in minutes played with a whopping 46 minutes. The rest of Toronto’s starters all logged 40+ minutes, with Baynes as the lone bench warrior with 26 minutes played. The team percentages from the field weren’t dazzling (40% FG, 31% 3PT), but a storyline that did dominate the game was Canada’s own, Oshae Brissett.
Poetically, Oshae first made his mark in the league with his hometown Raptors, but before that with the G-League affiliate being Mississauga’s Raptors 905 team. Oshae quickly built a fanbase in Toronto, being one of the more likeable players on the roster (and again the status of being a hometown kid, of course). Brissett finished the night with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists on 10/16 shooting from the field, 5/8 from 3PT. This caps off a regular season for Oshae where he has proved he belongs at this level of basketball. Oshae Brissett is not just an NBA player, but a good one at that.
Another great Canadian story.
Oshae Brissett still has a lot of respect for the Raptors, even after they waived him in December: "Everything that I'm going through now, I give them full credit. From the day I stepped on (the floor) in training camp with them, they've been nothing but helpful."#AlwaysGame pic.twitter.com/jxMlexIM0K
— Bally Sports Indiana (@BallySportsIN) May 16, 2021
And since we’re mentioning great Canadian stories, Toronto Raptors renown superfan – Nav Bhatia was inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame. The first-ever achievement for a fan.
A true icon.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 17, 2021
Nav Bhatia came to Canada in the 70s.
Because of his turban, the only job he could get was selling cars.
He outsold everyone, bought the dealership, got Raptors tickets, and never missed a game.
He's now the first fan in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
His turban is on display. pic.twitter.com/jKZ686qwRP
— Goodable (@Goodable) May 16, 2021
Congratulations to Nav Bhatia on a well-deserved induction.
With this loss, Toronto sits exactly where they were prior to this game in the lottery standings — at 7th overall. On the other side of the coin, the Indiana Pacers officially clinched the 9th seed and will take part in the NBA’s new Play-In Tournament. They face the Charlotte Hornets (10th seed) and eventually, the winner would go on to play the loser of the Celtics-Wizards matchup.
That’s it, season’s over.
This is my personal opportunity to SINCERELY thank every Raptors Republic reader, watcher and listener for their constant support in what has been a rollercoaster of a season. This website and our content creators cannot function and do what they love without your backing. This cannot be emphasized enough. The thousands of comments on our daily RR posts, the tons of views and likes on our YouTube channel, the countless interactions from our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts, plus any extra support beyond these mediums are genuinely appreciated by our Raptors Republic team.
Individually this season, myself and Oren Weisfeld began hosting ‘The Rap Up’ – Raptors Republic’s first-ever Postgame Live Show. Even with the Raptors not performing up to par this season, the show has been a great success all season long. We hope to see our little TRU family stick with us into the offseason (we have some cool things planned!) and ultimately into the 2021-2022 NBA season.
On another very personal note, I’ve been trying out this whole ‘manifesting’ thing on my free time.
So naturally, I’ll speak for the entire Raptors organization when I say:
We’re going, going… Back, back to Toronto!