The Toronto Raptors had evacuated Toronto and the ACC not because of the ice storm that rolled through Toronto but because they can’t seem to win there. Realistically though the road trip that was awaiting them had losing streak written all over it. This seemed even more the case after dropping a contest to their unlikely bully the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Raptors would make an amazing comeback in Dallas and surprise the Mavericks earning their first win in overtime in four tries heading into Sunday. The stop on Sunday was in OKC where the Thunder came in on a 9 game winning streak and was a perfect 13-0 on their home floor. The Raptors had about as much hope of winning as some in Toronto had in having power in time to watch the game.
Call it a Christmas miracle or a statement but the Toronto Raptors fought hard for four quarters and by the end of it all had beaten the OKC Thunder. In a strange way the Raptors are the Thunder’s Charlotte Bobcats it seems. Toronto for whatever reason seems to be able to compete with one of the Western Conferences best teams of the past few seasons. Sometimes it was catching the Thunder at the right time with Kevin Durant being injured and other times they just find a way to get it done.
It is not that long ago the Raptors last won at OKC just back in 2011. The Raptors were pretty competitive for the majority of the night. They took a six point lead into halftime scoring 62 points. They would have some turbulence in the third quarter and it looked as if OKC would flex their muscles and put the plucky Raptors away.
However, the Raptors refused to lay down for the 22-4 Western Conference contender. Individually and collectively the Raptors stepped up to the challenge. Kyle Lowry going up against one of the best in Russell Westbrook brought out the best in Kyle. Lowry had one of his best games of the season with 22 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds.
As much as Lowry was the heart of this win he is also the source of debate with this franchise going forward. If he continues to play well he increases his stock around the league and likely have several attractive offers and like others in the past could walk for nothing. Masai Ujiri could face a decision similar to the one that Bryan Colangelo had with Chris Bosh. We all remember how that worked out. It is why as really exciting as the Raptors have been it is hard to get behind this group and think this is any kind of a long term core group.
Lowry has been far better than the other options the Raptors had prior to the Rudy Gay trade. Even since the trade with the Kings he has been on a different level from Vasquez who is reminding people a little of Jose Calderon who Lowry beat out and ultimately was the reason trading Calderon was possible.
As the Raptors keep adding to their win total the choices that Masai Ujiri get tougher to make. The safe bet is any kind of short term success could be short lived if you can’t secure Lowry to a contract. Another player that will definitely draw interest on trade market is likely Amir Johnson who prior to the Gay trade was struggling and had just been sent to bench in favour of Tyler Hansbrough. Since Gay left town Amir Johnson has been a force on both ends of the floor. He has regained his position in the starting line-up and looks unlikely to be giving it up anytime soon. He had 17 points and led the way on the boards with 13 rebounds.
If the Raptors decided to change direction and suddenly become a buyer in the trade market it would be interesting. There is no question it will be a buyers market with so many teams looking to head in the opposite direction. I can’t see a situation where the Raptors don’t move Lowry by the deadline in February.
As for the here and now the Raptors finished the fourth quarter strong out-scoring the Thunder 29-14 to seal the 104-98 upset win. The Raptors only allowed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to get to double digits scoring. The Raptors face another tough Western Conference foe in their house in the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs laid a whooping on the Raptors back at the ACC on December 10th winning the game 116-103. The Spurs had 7 players in double digits scoring including four from off their bench setting a record with 72 bench points against the Raptors. It seems hard to believe but 13 days later the Raptors look like a true contender to win their Division and make the post-season. It is one of just two losses the Raptors have had in the seven games since the Rudy Gay trade.
The trade gave the Raptors some depth that was on display in this unlikely win against OKC. None of the players from the trade were able to suit up for that game with the Spurs they would debut 3 days later in a win over Philadelphia. John Salmons lead the way with 14 as he along with Vasquez and Patterson accounted for 26 of the Raptors 29 bench points against OKC.
The Raptors have a winning record on the road for the first time since 2008 and have a 4 game winning streak on the road for the first time since 2002. You would never expect them to have a chance against the Spurs but you could have said the same for this game tonight in OKC.
The best analogy I can come up with for where the Raptors sit at the moment relates to this time of year. Let’s say you go out and Christmas shop and decide to spend more than you should. It seems worth it when you see the joy you give to people with the gifts you bought. You feel good until the bills come in January. That is what this Raptors season to me is like. Sure we would all like to see Toronto get back in the playoffs. However the fallout of that can be just like those bills that come in the mail when you have an over generous Christmas. Sometimes you need to look to the future and not be caught up in moment. It isn’t easy or fun but it is right thing to do.
Which with as entertaining and fun as the Raptors have been it is hard to say that. It is the harsh reality and truth of situation though. If you want to be a constant and consistent playoff performer you have to think ahead and be smart.
The Raptors as far as the players and Coach Casey they do not want any part of this future talk. For players and coaches the future is always now and it should be. Masai Ujiri has a much different responsibility and his job is not easy based on his squads’ unexpected success. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. I wouldn’t want to be King or G.M of this franchise it is not an easy job at all.
My thoughts go out to any of you being impacted by the power outages and weather issues going on here in Southern Ontario and primarily Toronto. That said if you don’t have power you likely can’t read this at the moment but never the less I hope everyone is able to have a happy holiday despite the challenges Mother Nature provided.