What a time to be a sports fan right now. The ridiculous NFL trade-deadline, the fresh start of the NHL and NBA seasons, and as I write this article, game 7 of Astros @ Dodgers is only a few looming hours away. I could go on, but it’s quite clear that sports fans have more than enough to sink their teeth into at the moment.
The NBA season itself is off to a hot start, with as much drama, and as many storylines as expected. Bledsoe’s barbershop and gruesome season-ending injuries to Hayward and Lin (I can’t speak for Lin, but for all Hayward fantasy owners such as myself, I feel your pain) hit home hard. The super team's’ slow starts (yes, they’ll be fine), the Lonzo/Lavar/Lakers reality show on a court and so much more. It goes on and on.
We’re currently in that fun stage of the beginning of an NBA season that serves as the “feeling out” process. “Are the Magic/Grizzlies/Clippers actually really good?”, “How good are the Rockets/Thunder/Wolves/Celtics going to be with their new editions?”, and so on.
If you haven’t been keeping up to speed with the NBA, and feel as if you’re not on the ball (ha.), don’t worry, there’s still 76 guaranteed games to see our Raptors perform.
Here is the story through six games.
Chicago Bulls 100 @ 117 Toronto Raptors
The Bulls came ripping and roaring into the 2017/2018 season. They shipped out a franchise player in Jimmy Butler to trade up from 16 to 7 in the draft (taking Lauri Markkanen), Zach Lavine with a torn ACL and Kris Dunn. Bobby Portis threw a haymaker at Nikola Mirotic and fractured his face, and now the Bulls face an ultimatum between keeping Portis or Mirotic. Bobby has been suspended 8 games and Mirotic will miss many more with a broken face.
The Bulls are a bad basketball team, which can sometimes lead to a trap game in a season opener. Thankfully, the Raptors handled their business.
Jonas led the team with 23 points on 9-17 shooting and 15 rebounds and CJ Miles poured in 22. The bench ultimately won the Raptors this game. Here’s a fun stat:
The starters combined for a grand total +/- of -8. The six guys off the bench combined for +93.
There’s no way the bench should be winning you the game against a starting five of Jerian Grant, Justin Holiday, Paul Zipser, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez. Their bench is abysmal, and the Raptors took advantage of that. An off-night for DeRozan (2-9 shooting), but he was later diagnosed with the flu two days later, so let’s chalk it up to him battling an early onset of the flu.
A really fun story-line for the Raptors right now is their bench. It’s young, it’s hungry and they are running amok against other bench units.
Delon Wright is lanky and so crafty. He’s playing like a guy who had a great summer.
CJ Miles is a sharpshooter. The go-to scorer for this bench unit and the only one out of the others older than 25. He’s a journeyman wing scorer who is carving out yet another niche for himself off the Raps’ bench.
The rook, OG Anunoby has been impressive, to say the least. Already a plus defender, a much better feel for the game than expected and a noticeably high basketball IQ. We clamored all summer about what a steal this guy is going to be, and with every game, he’s proving that right.
Siakam only logged 8 minutes in this game, but he is the designated backup four. Still figuring a lot of things out at the NBA level, but a solid defender and his shooting is improving. His hustle tends to brush off onto others.
Lastly, the centre position. Still a toss-up in my eyes. Casey went with Poeltl for this game, but the next game he may go with Bebe. It’s really more of a matchup situation. Poeltl is a strong, traditional 7-footer. He sets hard screens and his finishing is improving. He’s a tough centre, who has made big strides since entering the league. At 25, Bebe is the second oldest member of the bench unit. Since acquiring him from the Hawks four years ago, he’s inched himself closer and closer to a spot with significant minutes. His wingspan allows him to alter and block shots most centre’s can’t, and finish lobs that very few can. His game is still very raw, but it’s improving. When he’s playing well, he makes a huge difference in the success of this bench unit.
Thankfully, long-gone are the days of Butler and the Bulls being seemingly unbeatable to us.
Philadelphia 76ers 94 @ 128 Toronto Raptors
After a big summer for the Sixers, there’s a lot to be excited for as a fan. Ben Simmons official rookie season (my vote for ROTY by the way, no doubt about it), a healthy Embiid (we hope), and the debut of first overall pick Markelle Fultz! Along with the young guns, they inked JJ Redick to a 1-year deal, along with good old Amir Johnson.
This game was a thrashing. Even Caboclo logged minutes (six, to be exact). That’s when you know it’s bad.
DeRozan played through the flu and played like a man possessed. 30/3/3 on 8/12 shooting. Lowry had a nice 17/5/5, Ibaka put up a 21/5, and the bench all got a good run in. The only downside of this game was JV, who sprained his ankle and hasn’t played since.
Toronto took the win from the get-go, taking the first quarter 36 to 19. It was a good night for Raps’ fans. Oh yeah, and Drake came back. Guess he got bored of Oakland.
Toronto Raptors 97 @ 101 San Antonio Spurs
A Reddit user summarized this game nicely; Spurs are gonna Spur.
Even without Kawhi, the Spurs started out 3-0. How? Nobody actually knows. You get the sense that the Spurs could take any given lineup and coach them to at least 48 wins.
From the Raptors perspective, this isn’t an acceptable loss. With JV out, Bebe took the starting spot. The team got outrebounded by 65 to 43, and gave up 18 offensive rebounds, and only secured 5 themselves. To be clear, I’m not pinning this on the lack of JV. Rebounding is a team effort. If a team is grabbing 18 offensive rebound against you, and grabbing 22 more than you, that speaks to your team's’ mentality and lack of effort on that night.
Toronto Raptors 112 @ 117 Golden State
The Dubs are a matchup nightmare for every team in the NBA. When they trot out the Curry/Thompson/Iggy/KD/Draymond lineup, there’s a solid chance they’re going to go on a 17-4 run.
Overall, the Raptors played an alright game of basketball. I mean, Golden State shot 46% on 26 threes, and 56% total. For any team, I’d argue that this is simply awful defense. But the Warriors are the kind of team that just leaves you shaking your head asking yourself, “What are you going to do?”
On the bright side, the Raptors have the means to keep pace with the Warriors, literally. The Raps’ can run and gun with the Warriors ultra fast-paced tempo, and honestly, should’ve/could’ve won this game. To be fair, they were up 5 with a little over a minute left, right before Curry hit a falling, spinning, acrobatic layup, followed by a heavily contested pull-up transition three from Durant to tie it up.
Toronto Raptors 101 @ 92 Los Angeles Lakers
After a two-game skid, the Raptors pulled out a much-needed win against a buzzing Lakers squad. This was much in thanks to 24/5/5 from DeRozan and a great night from Lowry with a hefty split of 11/10/12 and 2 steals. Instead of Bebe, Casey moved Ibaka to the 5 and slotted in Siakam, who played brilliantly. Serge and Pascal both had 18 and brought fantastic energy.
After being bombarded by Golden State who shot 46% on 26 threes, the Lakers shot an abysmal 3-23 from deep and turned it over 21 times to the Raptors 14. You can argue that the Raps’ should’ve won by more, but breaking the two-game losing streak is something we’ll take.
As I mentioned, Siakam played a fabulous game of basketball, and surely earned some more trust from coach Casey for this performance.
Toronto Raptors 99 @ 85 Portland Trailblazers
This was without a doubt, the Raptors finest defensive performance thus far. They outscored Portland 25-6 in the second quarter, and held them to ONE FIELD GOAL, which was a scrappy put back from Evan Turner with seven seconds left!
This is the kind of performance that surely makes the Raptors coaching staff proud. Casey has always been known as a defensive-minded coach and this kind of performance that he dreams of.
They kept Portland down at 39% field-goal shooting, 30% from deep, and outrebounded them 59 to 48.
On top of that, Ibaka sat out with knee-swelling (along with JV from the previous ankle injury), so Siakam and Bebe teamed up in the frontcourt.
Dame kept Portland relatively close with 36 on 12-23 shooting. McCollum had 16 and that was about it. The rest of the Portland cast put up small single digits.
With all eyes on game-7 of the World Series, the Raps’ will be playing a quiet game tonight against an underperforming Nuggets team. Jonas will be making his return, and Ibaka will be back in the lineup after his one game off.
Following the matchup with Denver, Toronto will travel to Utah on Friday for a game with the Jazz, concluding their 6-game road trip.
Sitting at 4-2, the Raptors will look to improve on this record in the coming weeks. A tough game Sunday evening with the Wizards will be a solid test for both teams, who will be fighting one another for a playoff spot in the upper echelon of the eastern conference.
The story through six games has been a little bumpy, but it’s all about the “feeling-out” process. Different lineups, combinations, fresh scouting reports, improvements, and regressions … it’s all part of the NBA season, which is evidently shaping up to be a great one.