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Raptors get a career night (the good + the bad) from Fred VanVleet, but, again, can’t close the comeback.

Goodness gracious, these young Raptors are a big bowl of fun.

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Photo via Raptors Twitter

It’s entirely irresponsible of TSN and Sportsnet to not preface each Toronto Raptors’ game with the following caution:

This program contains extreme rallies at end of games which may be too intense for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

Like, really. I had a coffee in the third quarter and by the middle of the fourth, I was in a defensive stance at my computer yelling at Gary to trap Lonzo in the corner.

I suppose that is what one opts into when choosing to cheer for a team amidst its growing pains. The ugly moments betwixt the scintillating ones.

This isn’t like watching the Orlando Magic or the Oklahoma City Thunder, though. The Raptors’ journeys to self-discovery are well on the way; some, already nearing Nirvana. A shocking notion considering we’re including a rookie and a second-year player here.

The Bulls-Raptors clash last night was, indeed, the latest in the Raptors’ path to individual and collective growth. Fitting, seeing as they were playing against the Original Gangster of Toronto-Raptors-success-story, DeMar DeRozan, who honed his goddamn magical scoring prowess through years of self-discovery in Toronto.

The Individual Journeys

OG and Wisdom

OG’s so, so close. So close. He’s a fucking demon on defence. Of Raptors who played more than 20 minutes last night, he had the lowest opponent effective field goal percentage and lowest opponent free throw rate. Incredible.

On offence, it looked like it was another regression. He shot 1/5 in the first quarter. The difference this time, though, was his spicy passing. He had three assists in the quarter. Before you ask me, what’s the big deal? He’s only had 1, 3, and 0 assists in the last three games.

OG’s trying to establish himself as a number one scorer. You can tell he knows that everyone’s waiting for him to pop. That knowledge has caused him to force the issue. Part of that is nerves, part of that is eagerness, and part of that is naïveté. Last night, though, he settled.

On his first assist, OG posted DDR, drew two defenders, and found a cutting Scottie (man, he’s so good at finding open space in the paint) for the floater. The second was an easy peasy pass. The third, though, was true playmaking. He drove baseline and Alize Johnson came from the weakside to stifle the drive. Normally, OG would power up and muscle his way to the rim. Instead, he wrapped a drop pass by Alize’s hip to a diving Khem for the lay-up.

OG also let the scoring come to him more organically. Rather than force contested shots in isolation or stumble his way through a defence towards the rim, he got his 22 points by crashing the offensive glass, spotting up, and using curls and cuts to find open shots.

Gary and Patience

Gary Trent Jr. is realizing he doesn’t have to get his by getting his.

Every now and then he’ll indulge himself, but Gary’s really buying into the Raptors’ system, trusting that his teammates will find him at the opportune moments. Moments that Gary skillfully creates for himself.

All night, Gary was putting himself in positions to score. He spotted up on the weakside for drive + kicks or swing-swing-pops, and he flew off screens and filled gaps, receiving the pass, and making decisive moves into a pull-up – 3 of which were step-backs.

This is the good stuff. None of the dilly-dallying, whirling around baloney that Gary’s prone to do. Straight to the point, taking advantage of an unset defender and firing.

Like so:

One could argue 15 shots is a tad too much for Gary, but when the team desperately needed buckets, it was Gary that answered the call with 18 in the game.

Fred VanVleet and Leading

Fred VanVleet set career highs in assists (17) and turnovers (8) last night. A perfect symbol of the Raptors’ yin and yang of success and failure, in the path to meeting their potential.

Fred’s vastly underrated – even, at times, by his own fans – and underappreciated for how much he does for this team, at both ends, frankly. He works so hard and does so much to find the crevice and crack that he can leverage to force the defence to shift. Like when he snaked his way through three Bulls:

Or sliced the whole of the team coast-to-coast:

He’s still learning, of course. Hence, the mound of turnovers. But he’s never had this kind of attention on him, ever. Lowry and Siakam allowed for space and time. No longer.

Some mistakes were inexcusable. Fred knew it. You could tell by the way he castigated himself immediately following the turnover. He has a tendency to get much too deep in the paint and force a pass. The defence reads it and swipes it. That accounted for nearly half of his turnovers.

You saw him get on himself about it. We know that he knows that the Raptors cannot afford him making those kinds of errors.

He should look to the Steve Nash solution. When it’s not there, instead of elevating or delving deep into the forest of men, he can curl back out or across the paint, keep his dribble, and reset.

Whatever, he knows better. He’ll be better.

All the same, it was Fred that dragged this team back and caused me to sweat and scream and jump with anticipation for the last several minutes of the fourth quarter. He had 8 points and 3 assists in the frame, bringing the Raptors back from the dead. A positive sidenote: all three buckets were at the rim, where Fred’s always struggled.

Sadly, he couldn’t do it all, FVV missed the game-tying three on a groin-tearing crossover of Nikola Vučević at the buzzer.

Scottie and Aggression

At some point, this offence is going to need to be a whole lot more Scottie. In the paint, he’s nearly flawless. His first three buckets were piece-o-cake: a floater, an aircraft-landing lay-up, and an elbow jumper.

Getting Scottie into those positions to score is a bit more challenging. His half court creation is limited…orrrrrrr is it:

But that play is my point.

Once in the elbow or the post, Scottie’s making all the right decisions. In previous games, he’s found the right pass, be it the diving cutter or cross-court corner. When the Raptors languish in the half-court, getting Scottie touches in dribble-hand-offs and in the low and high posts will grease the wheels some. Shorter guys can’t challenge his – so far, so good – jumpers or back downs or overhead passes. Larger guys who play too close get a taste of what Patrick Williams just ate for dinner above.

Lastly, Scottie’s defence continues to amaze me. He was on Lonzo Ball, then on DDR, then on Vooch. He’s the epitome of versatile.

DDR struggled with Barnes length (kryptonite to DeRozan’s game we know all too well). Other than the first bite on DeRozan’s infamous pump-fake, Scottie stayed down with his arms up. Even when DeMar was getting to the rim, Scottie dosey-doed, keeping his arms up in the air alongside DDR like he was claiming his innocence to the teacher assessing why the kid lying on the playground floor is crying.

Scottie’s going to get so many of these over the course of his career because he’s a Goddamn pest the entirety of the court. And every single one is going to make whoever my neighbours are hate me

Other Journeys:
  • Prince Achiuwa is still learning, like the rest, to choose his spots. He has moments. Fred dumped him a pass early in the first quarter. Of recent, Prince has gone up with that and had his shot blocked. Instead, seeing Vooch come over, Prince one dribbled backwards and floated it. He and FVV continue to miss each other on the alley-oops – they were 1/3 on those. When they finally connected, it was off of a Prince decision to forego a three-pointer (a moment of wisdom) and hand it off to Fred. He made a couple of other passes that made you go, ohhh he’s getting it.

  • Svi Mykhailiuk had a stronger showing. I love his auto-drive to the rim aggression. Sometimes, he should maybe shoot it, but he’s doing what few Raptors do, putting pressure on the middle of the defence. He did it twice in this possession that, ultimately, ended up as an OG three.

  • Dalano Banton played all of five minutes, but they were a hot 300 seconds. He got a steal and two free throws, but most importantly he breathed life into a deflating team morale.

Th3 Dawg Hau5

Malachi Flynn

Another DNP.

Goran Dragić continues to struggle shooting the ball but did get to the line six times. I’m not sure the plan. Maybe this is to showcase Goran to get him out the door. Maybe it’s well-deserved respect to the veteran. Maybe Malachi’s got a tood. But when this offence goes Molson Cold Shot cold, you’d think Mr. P&R could go work some magic with Birch to get something going.

Apparently not.

Chris Boucher

I am not surprised TBH.

His shot selection has been horrific. It’s like he’s making up for the lost time that I think he thinks he deserves. He’s been chucking the worst chucks all season: 3/10, 4/11, 0/5, and, against Chicago, 1/3 in four minutes.

When he wasn’t catapulting contested threes, he was trying to ballhandle on the perimeter. All it accomplished was killing what little flow they had to begin with. Nurse plunked him down pretty quickly.

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