At about 6:30 PM yesterday, one could almost feel a collective sigh around Toronto. Part of it was the fact that the city was covered in ice tundra in the middle of April, but more of it was because the Raptors were playing right into the hands of every doubter that Sportsnet likes to run ads about. A four-point halftime deficit wasn’t the end of the world, but it was disappointing given several Wizards runs where the Raptors, especially late in the 2nd quarter, seemed to have no answer to John Wall and his full head of steam. It wasn’t that the series was lost, but it was that the team, a number one seed, was giving the home fans a lackluster performance against a team that they should beat handily.
But something’s different this time around.
In 2017, against the Bucks, the three-seeded Raps led by 5 going into the second half, but nothing felt as solid as it should have. Giannis and co. began to beat up Toronto in the third frame on their way to a 14-point win.
In 2016 against the Pacers, the two-seeded Raps played an even first half against a team they should’ve handled easily. They followed that up with an incredibly uninspiring third quarter, eventually losing by 10.
In 2015 against the Wizards, the four-seeded Raps were blown out of the water coming back out of the tunnel, being outscored 36-20 in a disaster of a third quarter.
But, really, something’s different this time around.
Right out of the gate after halftime on Saturday, the Raptors took Washington by the throat, jumping out to an 11-2 run. The spurt wasn’t led by just any Raptors, but Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who scored 15 of the first 20 for the team in the 3rd. DeMar struggled in the first half, going into the break with just 5, but put up 12 in the third on 5-of-10 shooting. Instead of shying away from the ball given his early struggles, he remained aggressive, and the shots began to fall.
But a slightly improved out-of-the-tunnel DeRozan wasn’t the reason that the Raps saw a different outcome this time around. It’s that the team had several players step up in the third. They didn’t drag along an inferior team by playing down to their competition, but rather, saw several key contributors make a splash to bring the team over the top.
Serge Ibaka finished the game with 23 and 12. CJ Miles hit a pair of key fourth quarter triples. Delon Wright went 3 for 4 from deep. Kyle Lowry stepped up with suffocating defense against Wall.
Lowry Great Transition D on Wall Fast Break – SNET pic.twitter.com/VpolYeq7PP
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) April 15, 2018
The Raptors didn’t just cruise along and roll with the punches as they had in Game 1s of the past. They were assertive, and key players stepped up to make a real impact coming out of the break.
Perhaps, this is what is different about this year’s squad. In the past, the chance of a three-point spurt remained minuscule with no CJ Miles-type lurking in the shadows. The weight placed on Lowry’s shoulders on the offensive end was often too much for him to make a splash on D. Yes, there were a million possibilities when it came to ways that previous Raptor squads could have been impacted by individual players in these Game 1s, but it never really happened. Nobody seemed to step up.
This year’s Raptor team is more than the sum of its parts, but in terms of individual players, it’s parts can be pretty damn good. The talk of shortening the rotation doesn’t seem wise, because there are so many unique talents on the roster with so much to offer. Nobody knows who will provide a spark next time the going gets tough, but it’s probable that there will be someone who will.
Because something’s different this time around.