Toronto Raptors: Standouts and Storylines from the Season So Far


As opposed to stumbling into the all-star break as we did last year, the Raptors glided into this break on the wings of a seven-game win-streak and atop the Eastern Conference with a record of 41 and 16. It’s been an absolute season to remember (so far) for a variety of reasons.

In this piece, Jordan, Curtis and I will be looking at various standouts and storylines from this half-lived season, along with what to look forward to in these final 25 regular season games. 

Games of the Season

(Oct. 19th) Chicago 100 @ 117 Toronto - Opening Night, and the First Night of the Bench Mob

The first game of your team’s season is exciting for a variety of reasons; you get a look at new faces, you get to see a variation of new tactics, but most of all… basketball is back. The sounds of the game fill your living room or your headphones, lonely nights spent doing nothing are now spent swiping through highlights and absorbing box scores.

For Raptors fans, this was our first look at the bench mob. The starters trod water with DeRozan clocking in at minus-three and Lowry plus-one, while the bench took over with Miles boasting a plus-25 and Delon a plus-21. We won the first quarter 25 to 23, and the full bench rotation was in to start the second. The bench mob went bonkers on Chicago, winning the quarter 33 to 14. This was our first peek at what this bench unit is capable of, and they’ve been absolutely crucial going forward.

(Oct. 30th) Toronto 99 @ 85 Portland - The Almost Perfect Quarter 

A solid win for Toronto, but I highlighted this game for one reason; we almost had a shutout quarter.

The second quarter was won by Toronto 25 to 6.

TWENTY-FIVE TO SIX!

It was the best defensive basketball I’ve seen this team play, ever, and they were able to close this game out with the win.

(Nov. 15th) Toronto 129 @ 113 Houston - OG’s First Start

Norman went down with an injury and OG took his starting spot, but we thought it would be temporary.

OG, at 20 years of age, was tasked with guarding James Harden. Baptism by fire doesn’t even do it justice. OG came out of the flames and never looked back.

This is the starting lineup the Raps have been going to (barring minor injuries) for the majority of the season.

OG finished the game with 16 points on six of eight shooting and was a game-high plus-22. Harden had 38 points, but on eight of 25 shooting and with nine turnovers.

Welcome to the league, OG. 

(Dec.  21st) Toronto 114 @ 109 Philadelphia - DeRozan with a 45 Piece, Six of Nine from Deep

DeRozan lost his mind this game. Straight from tip-off he was pulling everything out of his hat, and was absolutely nailing three after three over an overmatched Covington.

Toronto ended up only winning by five, but DeRozan wasn’t done yet. 

(Jan. 1st) Toronto 131 (OT) @ 127 Milwaukee - New Year, New DeRozan. Fifty. Two

If DD lost his mind against Philly, he was already clinically insane against the Bucks, who they’re looking to sweep this Friday.

Franchise record 52 points for Demar, in what is no doubt the best professional game of basketball he’s ever played. What’s even more ludicrous is the fact that he shot 58.6 percent, and had five rebounds and eight assists.

Truly a game I’ll never forget. 

(Jan. 8th) Toronto 114 (OT) @ 113 Brooklyn - Lowry Injured, but the Team Marches on

Seven days after Demar’s buck-hunt, Toronto is caught in a crazy one with Brooklyn. Late in the game, Lowry snatched a rebound over a Brooklyn big that he had no business getting, in classic Kyle Lowry fashion.

Unfortunately, he came crashing to the floor right on his tailbone. He tried to get up, but you could see his whole body fighting with him as he crumbled back to the floor. JV and Bebe carried him to the locker room, but Toronto fought on, an inspiring, wild OT win in Brooklyn. 

(Jan. 11th) Cleveland 99 @ 133 Toronto - The Thrashing on TNT

I couldn’t tell what was more entertaining, watching us dismantle on an imploding Cavs team, or listening to almost every TNT guy learn and try to pronounce the names of our bench unit. 

Every Raptor ate that night. Life was good, Cleveland and the King were crumbling before our eyes and the TNT crew got a crash-course in Raptor basketball.

(Feb. 6th) Boston 91 @ 111 Toronto - The Day we Paved our Path to First

Apart from a 20-point victory, this game helped establish ourselves atop the Eastern Conference. It took a few more days for us to gain that seat, but it felt inevitable.

As of now, we comfortably sit in first at 41 and 16 with a two-game advantage on Boston. This win was the third of our seven-game win streak that we’re on right now, with hopefully more to come.

These are just a few of the games that have stuck in my mind throughout this eventful and unforgettable season. The offense has become more fluent, our bench unit is perhaps the best in the game right now, and this is undoubtedly the most enjoyable, and most talented Raptors team ever assembled. I feel like I’ve said that in the past, but this year just feels different. 

Our Favourite Story Lines

JV’s Threes

The storyline this summer was that DeRozan was working on his shot and would develop his three-ball this season. Jonas Valanciunas has quietly become a fantastic shooting big man and it was known he was working on his shot this summer, but nobody believed in him. 

His ability to hit from deep has changed the Raptors offensive dynamic, along with boosting the confidence of our 6th-year center. Going forward, defenses are going to have to stretch out to prevent JV from launching. It isn’t the offenses’ first option, but it’s starting to become a serious threat.

Fred VanVleet

Everybody and their mother thought Delon Wright was the Raptors backup point guard heading into the season. Yes, Delon has gotten some minutes there, but Fred VanVleet’s efficient shooting has been the real story.

The only downside to his wondrous play? He’s going to be a free agent this summer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some big money thrown his way by a ton of teams with space. Fred can flat out play. 

The Bench Mob

Fred, Delon, Miles, Pascal, and Poeltl. These five men are the core of perhaps the best bench in the NBA. Naysayers will be quick to combat this point, but go watch the games. This bench mob is devastating on both ends, and play the game with an unselfish vigor and a contagious joy.

They’ve won the Raptors their fair share of games, and it’s truly a testament to this coaching staff. When I say this team just “feels different”, this phenomenal bench core is a key reason why.

Things to Lookout for Before the Playoffs 

Maintaining the Win Streak

As we mentioned, the Raptors hurled into the all-star break on a seven-game win streak. 

With their last game on Valentines Day and their first game coming up almost 10 days later on February 23rd, it’ll be interesting to see whether the guys maintain their momentum and keep racking up wins.

The Raptors came out of last year’s break on fire with three straight wins off the bat. They ended up finishing the season winning their last 18 of 25.

This year, the Raps will get back into the swing of things with two home games against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Detroit Pistons, then travel to Orlando to take a crack at the 18 and 39 Magic.

A Crazy Busy March

Afterwards, Toronto has a ridiculously busy March. Between March 2nd and March 27th, the Raptors have a game at least every other day, with three back-to-backs in this time period as well. 

Toronto also has matchups against the Washington Wizards, the Houston Rockets, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Boston Celtics.

Talk about a challenging month.

The New-Look Cavaliers

In a 2K-esque series of trade deadline moves the Cavs shipped out nearly half their team for four new players: George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. 

Since February 7th the Cavs have been absolutely destroying teams. The trades they made seem to have completely re-energized their roster. They added youth, athleticism, and shooting, all of which have contributed to a four-game win streak.

Clarkson has been particularly good off the bench.

The Raptors will face the new-look Cavs two times in the coming months. Despite smoking the Cavs 133 to 99 in their last meeting, the Raps will have to approach the next two with caution and be ready to go to battle.

Their previous success isn’t an indicator of things to come against the Cavaliers. This is a new team they’ll be facing and they’ll need to approach the games with that mindset.

Mark your calendars. March 21st and April 3rd.

Battle for the Top of the Eastern Conference

In addition to playing the Cavaliers twice, Toronto will also be playing the Celtics twice in March and April.

Toronto narrowly passed Boston for the first-seed a few weeks ago. The coming months will solidify the top of the Eastern Conference.

Toronto’s matchups with the Celtics on March 31st and April 4th should be at the top of everyone’s must-watch list.

The Raptors are an elite team in the league which has raised expectations. Furthermore, this is the best team the Raptors have ever had. Just try to enjoy the ride.

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