Look, sometimes the Raptors are going to lose games. You can be bitter about it, stewing in the juices of every unfortunate call or disappointing performance. Or you can embrace it as a necessary bump in the arduous 82-game road that will both build your character as a fan, and act as learning experience for the team going forward. Every loss, on some level, is good.
For the remainder of the season, in the aftermath of each Raptors loss, we’ll highlight the good vibes that were overshadowed by the superficial and unrepresentative final score. Even in the defeat, the Raptors can learn something about themselves, or take you on your own personal journey of self-realization and growth. A stand-out stat line or unheralded performance should never go unrecognized, despite the stench of defeat that the loathsome “RINGZ” faction might attach to it. Sometimes the Raptors’ll just have someone throw down a cool dunk. All of it is worthy of documentation.
Welcome to the corner of Raptors Internet where there are no losers. This is What Didn’t Suck for the Raptors’ 95-94 loss to Boston.
Somewhere along the line, Raptors fandom became toxic.
Maybe it was the sweep against the Wizards, or Game 1 against the Pacers … or Heat … or Bucks. Kyle Lowry’s strange wrist injury sure pissed a lot of people off. It might have turned sour when LeBron threw down an off-glass alley-oop and ended last year’s Conference Finals before the Q was even full.
It may not have even been a singular touchstone event. Maybe it’s been a slow poisoning of the well brought on by raised expectations, or annual letdowns when the Raptors don’t make the leap we all probably know they’re incapable of anyway. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly why, but it’s real. At some point the conversation around DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry stopped being about how awesome it was that they became stars, and pivoted into sulking about how they aren’t super. Something happened, and the Raptors went from being good to not good enough. Like clockwork, the cycle of reaction after every Raptors loss these days acts as a referendum on everything the organization has been built on.
I’m not here to tell anyone how or how not to be a fan. But all of that noise is bullshit.
There’s a time and place for takes about Dwane Casey’s job security and the status of the Raptors’ “culture reset.” A loss on November 12th to a team playing harder in the first month than most teams play in April is probably not that, as gut-punchy as it was. In the time since DeRozan’s would-be winner rimmed out, there’s been plenty of criticism of the Raptors’ crunch time offense, or lack thereof. Those closing moments, in which DeRozan rediscovered his love of ISO ball, Lowry stood aside passively and Casey presumably let it all happen, reawakened the existential conundrum that Raptors fans and Masai Ujiri have contemplated for at least three years: is this core good enough to bring the Raptors to a higher tier than the one they’ve come to rest within?
I mean, who gives a damn about the team’s vastly improved ball-sharing numbers this season? Or the fact that the two most outrage-fueling fourth quarters of the young season have come against the Warriors and Celtics, arguably the two best defenses in basketball — defenses that jump passing lanes and switch every action, leaving hero-ball as the most turnover-proof and reliable late game strategy? Logic says it takes more than four weeks to buck half-decade old habits. Those looking to shoot down the very possibility that the Raptors will ever change say “BUT THE ISO BALL! WAAAAHHH!”
Amid the questioning of the core that has brought Raptors fans most of the basketball-related joy they’ve ever experienced, a key detail from Sunday’s game is being overlooked. A wormhole to a higher level of existence revealed itself as the Raptors fell in Boston.
That portal is OG Anunoby. What he represents is vastly more important than a single game on the schedule.
It may seem unfair to foist the burden of raising the Raptors’ ceiling upon a rookie drafted in the lower third of the first round — let alone a rookie who wasn’t supposed to play until December after knee surgery. Realistically speaking, the odds are so overwhelmingly against OG being the guy who finally makes the Raptors good enough to satiate the masses that it feels silly to discuss him in such terms.
But like, did you see him last night? More specifically, did you see him attempt to avenge the injuries of Norman Powell and Kyrie Irving by nearly wiping Aron Baynes from the face of the earth?
This is the contemplative silence of a man who knows he’s just cheated death.
OG’s ambition reflects the thinking that led the Raptors to draft him back in June. Reservations, be damned. Why not shoot the moon when the rest of the world is hoping to merely get into orbit? Anunoby is a spring-loaded beacon of hope for the Raptors. Of the wide array of youthful lottery tickets on the roster, Anunoby’s jackpot payout will be the most life-changing.
Well ahead of schedule, OG is becoming one of Casey’s trusted crunch time options. P.J. Tucker’s void as small-ball front court partner for Serge Ibaka was supposed to be gaping; Anunoby already looks like the remedy, even with very little to speak of in terms of offensive utility. That’ll come though. He’s too cerebral a player to not find himself picking up buckets like this …
— Sam Holako (@rapsfan) November 12, 2017
And too bouncy to not be a regular thrower-downer of leak out jams like this …
— Sam Holako (@rapsfan) November 12, 2017
He’s a modern, switch-friendly defender who’s currently shooting threes at a 36.7 percent clip — about 10 points higher than his slightly hitchy release might lead you to believe he’s hit. Through 12 games, no Raptors regular has a more gaudy on-court efficiency slash line than his 112.0 / 98.6 / +13.4. Anunoby is good a month before he was supposed to be wearing the jersey. This is pie-in-the-sky stuff — objective goodness that you simply can’t expect from a rookie, robust draft class or not. Hyperbolic as it may sound, Anunoby already holds the keys to the mystery box that is the Raptors’ future.
That brings us back to Sunday. A trivial loss to a collection of try-hards during the month in which sane players and teams don’t give a shit is irrelevant to the season-long goals of the Raptors, or the limitless potential of its most tantalizing young player. It may actually be better that Toronto lost, better that Anunoby didn’t quite complete the crowning of Baynes. While Boston’s cute little winning streak could very well be the apex of its Gordon Hayward-less 2017-18 campaign, the Raptors now have a carrot to chase; the desire to erase Sunday’s one-point disparity can now drive the Raptors on their quest to become something greater than they are now.
OG has a carrot now, too. It’s shaped like a 7-foot Aussie’s head top. Once he inevitably gobbles it up, the whole goddamned league may well be the next thing on the menu.
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