Nick Nurse threw us a changeup in the starting five! Scottie Barnes was out with injury. This meant we got the usual four in the starting lineup (VanVleet, Trent Jr., Anunoby, Siakam) with a new challenger (in my best Super Smash Bro’s voice impression)!
Welcome to the starting five, Christian Koloko!
This would become the first time in NBA history two players of Cameroonian descent would start at the same time, for the same team in an NBA game.
I know, I know. It seems like a wildly selective statistic — something a very particularly large broadcast network is notoriously famous for — but considering there have been 127308 games played thus far (according to StatMuse) in the National Basketball Association — this piece of history is pretty darn cool. Especially for any and all Cameroonian basketball fans.
Cool tidbit before we get started?
The game took place barely a day after Drake (Aubrey Graham) reportedly had a “birthday celebration” in Miami. I’ll let the readers speculate on who was present (from either team) and why it allegedly had such a profound effect on their respective Monday night performance. No names, I swear.
Leading up to this game, I had a weight on my chest that I just had to release. Not health-related, but still.
I confessed to my Rap Up Live pals something controversial, yet crystal-clear to me — my absolute disdain for Heat-Raptors matchups. Why, you might ask? Simple answer — the incredibly defensive, grind-it-out, snail-paced, injury (or suspension)-prone nature of the game between both teams. Like come on, some dude tried to fight our rookie barely three games into the season. An NBA game briefly turned into Wrestlemania (You wish you were Edge, Caleb Martin) and we’re not even in November yet! Every Miami-Toronto regular season game feels like a playoff game. But, like, not in a good way. A mental chess match between two prolific coaching minds in Nick Nurse and Erik Spoelstra, both who quite literally just faced off less than 48 hours prior. I mean, writing it sounds fine — but at 9:00 pm, deep into the 3rd quarter, alone in your living room? It’s tough to stay 100 percent ‘there’, you know?
The game began like any other Raptors-Heat exhibition — a back-and-forth, gritty affair. It wasn’t until Chris Boucher walked in and became an immediate spark plug off the bench that any juice entered the building. The only problem was it didn’t last long. The whistle wasn’t particularly kind to Slim Duck during his season debut, as his night was absolutely riddled with fouls — forcing him to sit for long portions of the game. He finished with only 12 minutes played.
Toronto as a whole performed very well during the 2nd quarter, particularly during a white-hot 8-0 run with five minutes left to go before halftime. At the half, there were issues across the board for Miami. The Heat were getting crushed on the glass, suffered tons of turnovers at the hands of the disruptive Raptors, had next to no second chance opportunities (while Toronto had seven, might I add), and were shooting a putrid 35 percent from the field.
Miami was outrebounded, outran, and frankly outworked by Toronto.
Late in the game, Toronto took control with timely shots from their bonafide, All-NBA level superstar Pascal Siakam (yes, I confidently said superstar), hired gunner Gary Trent Jr., and the man who quietly made history, Fred VanVleet.
The diminutive guard passed Raptors folk hero, Morris Peterson for second all-time in 3-pointers made (802). VanVleet now sits behind the GROAT, Kyle Lowry who (as of now) holds a sizable lead at 1518 3-pointers made. What an accomplishment for Fred — adding to the storybook journey of the Rockford, Illinois hero.
The game ended 98-90, but it was truly a nailbiter until the final moments. Fred VanVleet made it clear that it won’t be all roses and daisies for Toronto to start the season.
“I think until we smooth the ship out a little bit, we’re going to be in a lot of close games,” VanVleet said. “Coming down the stretch, you’ve got to be able to execute.”
And execute they did.
GTJ racked up 18 points, with a timely 3-point dagger that put Toronto up by six with just over 22 seconds left. On the other end of the spectrum, Precious Achiuwa snatched 22 rebounds for the away side. What was that? You want more history?
Achiuwa’s 22 rebounds is the most ever by a reserve in franchise history. What a night for the young big.
Scottie Barnes remains day-to-day with an ankle injury. Heat swingman Caleb Martin was suspended during this game due to his questionable antics during Saturday night’s Raptors-Heat exhibition. Martin has since released an apology to Christian Koloko.
He revealed that he called Koloko to apologize and promised him a future dinner. He also vehemently disagreed with Koloko’s in-game punishment by the referee crew during Saturday’s contest.
“I don’t think that Christian should have gotten thrown out or ejected anyways. He did what he had to do,” Martin said.
All in all, from start to finish — Monday night’s win turned out to be a bold victory that elevated Toronto back to .500. As the team identity begins to shape itself before our eyes, Toronto put on a defensive masterclass – holding Miami to 34.9-percent shooting, and just 23.5 percent from 3-point range. Toronto now sits at 2-2 in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, which is fairly impressive considering the quality of opponents to this point. It doesn’t get any easier.
What’s next? Toronto hosts Philadelphia on Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena, then will again on Friday host the Sixers a second time.
In fact, Nick Nurse put it perfectly during the post-game presser:
“The East is not for the faint-hearted.”
I concur, sir Nicholas.