Demar Derozan’s team-leading 24 points and five assists helped narrow the Toronto Raptors 21-point deficit against the Philadelphia 76ers, but ultimately saw his team lose, 117-111.
The game marked the second time in two games in which the Raptors nearly overcame a large, double-digit deficit, the first being Saturday’s 127-125 loss against the Golden State Warriors. Toronto trailed by as many as 27 points to the defending champion Warriors, but still fought back into a game that lesser teams would have conceded.
Despite both games ending in heartbreaking losses, the Raptors are showing something they haven’t had in years past: resilience.
It all started when Raptors’ management and coaching had to make a choice.
They could have remained the perennial playoff team of past seasons, who’s isolation-heavy sets and reliance on mid-range shooting wouldn’t be enough to match-up with the Eastern conferences upper echelon teams.
Or they could try improving ball movement and their use of the three-point shot, in hopes of keeping up with the Warriors and Houston Rockets, but at the risk of ruining their invaluable team chemistry.
Thankfully, they chose the latter, and it’s paid off. The Raptors are ranked top five in Net Rating(second), Offensive Rating(third), and Defensive Rating(fourth), while shooting nearly eight more three pointers a game than last season.
Furthermore, the ascendance of players such as rookie Og Anunoby, Norman Powell, and Delon Wright over the past few seasons has given the Raptors an edge in terms of their depth. Their bench is averaging 39.2 points per game, third among playoff teams.
Last Thursday’s 133-99 blowout win against the Cleveland Cavaliers was a testament to both their improved style of play and depth. What made the victory even more impressive was the fact that the Raptors were without starters Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.
This particular match-up along with the comeback efforts in their previous two games, hasn’t just been a showcase of their newfound abilities, but their changed attitudes as well.
“If we had LeBron [James] on our team, too, we would have won,” Derozan said following last year’s playoff exit, which came at the hands of the Cavs.
It was this comment from the Raptors’ best player that was upsetting to fans and media, alike, and was a mental flaw in their collective thinking that needed to be overcome.
Now that they have, they’ve shown some fight on the court, literally. Whether it’s been Lowry meeting 76ers guard Ben Simmons in the tunnel post-ejection, or Ibaka trading punches with Miami Heat forward James Johnson, their core hasn’t backed down when confronted by their opponents. The Raptors are showing they aren’t afraid of anyone, nor should they.
By: Adam Tayabali