“It’s time to leave this mother f*cker”- Kyle Lowry
Feelings were bittersweet Friday night; the season nobody expected from the Toronto Raptors came to a close following a spectacular seven-game conference semifinal versus the Boston Celtics.
From the very first tip-off of Round two, it was evident that the series was going to be a battle for our defending champions. The Boston Celtics took the first two games in an aggressive fashion and looked poised to rapidly grab a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Og Anunoby had a different plan for the series. If you didn’t watch, let me paint a picture. The champs were down by two points, with half a second left in the fourth quarter. For the final possession, six-foot point guard Kyle Lowry inbounded(passed) the ball over the seven-foot-five Boston big man, Tacko Fall, to an open OG Anunoby in the corner.
Og for three.
When compared to Kawhi Leonard’s 2019 buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers, Anunoby’s shot probably won’t go down in Raptors’ history. That said, lit a fire under his team; exponentially changing the momentum of the series.
Instead of going down to an insurmountable three-game deficit, the Raptors carried on and took game four as well, tying up the eastern conference semifinals at two games apiece. Momentum was suddenly all Toronto’s. It was an emotional rollercoaster of three games; a slugfest of each team trading blows, wins, and losses, until a climactic game seven.
Although the season ended in defeat; the Raptors and their fans have a lot to be proud of, and more to look forward to. Following their 2019 championship season, and the superstar departure of finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors were only projected for the sixth-best regular-season record. Instead, the defending champions won 53 games in the 2019-20 season, securing the second-best record in the NBA across both Eastern and Western conferences. Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
On paper, the Toronto Raptors weren’t supposed to be an elite team. Good thing basketball isn’t played on paper; the Raptors defied expectations night after night. Kawhi Leonard’s absence left a hole to be filled, and multiple Raptors stepped up to the occasion. Lead by a core of Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and even Fred Vanvleet, the Toronto Raptors over-achieved their way deep into the playoffs. Without a single “superstar” player, this team crept closer until analysts and fans alike began to ponder the possibility of a championship repeat.
The Season’s Over, Let’s Take a Look at 2019-2020’s Best Performers for Canada’s NBA team.
Once again the leader of his team, Kyle Lowry handled the departure of Kawhi Leonard exceptionally well; his 19.4 points and 7.5 assists represented an increase in production and efficiency beyond 2019. While not as good as his speak several seasons prior, he’s absolutely still a reassurance for Toronto fans.
Although Pascal had a tough time adjusting to the playoff bubble, that’s not to discount his incredible 2019-20 regular season. It seemed that Siakam had improved his skillset even beyond that of the 2018-19 season, averaging a strong 22.9 points, 3.5 assists, and 7.3 rebounds. Canadians have a lot to look forward to from Siakam; he’s on just the second year of a four-year $130 million contract. Expect even bigger things from this guy.
At 5’11”, Steady Freddy was on a mission this season; to establish himself as a starting-caliber guard in the NBA. His numbers solidified his place; Fred put up 17.6 points per game, hitting three-pointers at a higher rate than ever before. While Fred Vanvleet and Kyle Lowry make up one of the league’s shortest backcourts, they play with grit and resilience that’s second-to-none.
Beyond a jaw-dropping shot in game three, OG Anunoby surprised pleasantly this season, expanding upon his already impressive defensive skill set, and adding more offense to his repertoire. Shooting nearly 40% from the three-point line, Anunoby looked very comfortable under the bright lights this season, and I expect his offensive role to grow next season.
Somewhat similar to Siakiam in this regard, Serge had a slightly disappointing appearance in the playoff bubble. However, his contributions to the team during the regular season cannot be overlooked; Toronto relied on him heavily to command the frontcourt. Averaging 15.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, and shooting nearly 39% from three, Ibaka played a vital role in both offensive and defensive sets.
The Toronto Raptors missed Gasol for long stretches during the regular season, but he returned in good form for the bubble. Sure, his offensive game dwindled a little from prior seasons, but his value is in his defense against premier big men in the league. He’s truly the defensive anchor for Toronto, that can also reliably hit three-pointers. For a seven-footer, Gasol remains a very solid play-maker.
The sixth man in rotation for the Raptors, Powell had a strong season as well. Averaging 16 points per game and 40% from the three-point line is nothing to scoff at; those are better numbers than some starting players. Powell has a fantastic offensive skill set; he can shoot, score in transition, and finish through contact. These tools have molded him into one of Toronto’s best weapons.
While not a player, the final relevant piece of this Toronto team is none other than coach Nick Nurse. Coaching the Raptors to the second-best record in the league, Nurse was named the 2019-2020 NBA Coach of the Year. The accolade marks him as the only head coach in league history to win both the NBA Coach of the Year and NBA G League Coach of the Year.
Always Next Year
While the Toronto Raptors lack a top-five talent in the league(sorry Lowry fans), their strength comes from within; the depth, the locker room chemistry. Night in and night out the Raptors played with heart, grit, and exceptional toughness. They proved analysts and fans wrong, and will absolutely be looking to do so again next season. The only question now is what moves the front office will look to make in the offseason.