The NBA season is now suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic but before the league was halted, the Toronto Raptors were arguably the story of the year.
After defying all preseason expectations — some that look comically absurd in retrospect — the Raptors received the SLAM cover treatment, considered by some to be basketball’s bible.
Started from the bottom, now we’re here, Drake famously rapped — and it’s a mentality that often fits the 2019-20 Raptors team, who sit in second place in the East.
SLAM visited the Raptors in February prior to the suspension of the season, where the team laughed off critics who expected the team to fall apart without Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green, who left for the Clippers and Lakers, respectively, in free agency.
Dismissing the critics
By now, if you’ve been paying attention to the Raptors even remotely, one of the themes of the season is that the team outperformed even the most optimistic projections.
There were a legion of skeptics, however. FS1’s Jason McIntyre notably predicted that the Raptors would become a lottery team after Leonard left, which is now an impossibility, as the team clinched a playoff berth on March 6 with a win over the Golden State Warriors.
“I just think, overall, the stuff that came out about us not even being a playoff team, we laughed at that,” Fred VanVleet told Franklyn Calle of SLAM. “Other than that, we don’t really care.”
“The one that surprised me [was] when they said we’re not even going to make the playoffs. To me, that was kind of funny. We [use] that as a motivation as a team. But we don’t really try to worry about those things,” Serge Ibaka quickly added.
By now, it’s clear this team is intrinsically motivated but it is a fun exercise to look back at the skeptics who thought this team’s success was a byproduct of Leonard’s singular brilliance.
“I feel like every year we were doubted and left out, and every year we continue to change the view and prove people wrong. That’s what I think is so special about this group of guys,” Norm Powell said. “Throughout their whole careers, they’ve been doubted and overlooked, and we keep working, we keep grinding, and we keep turning heads. We have a group of winners here.”
The 15-game win streak, Larry O’B on the mind
Toronto won 15 consecutive games spanning from Jan. 15 to Feb. 10, despite playing without a full roster as myriad injuries affected the veteran core.
It’s the longest winning streak by a Canadian team in men’s professional sports and once again, the Raptors continued as the pride of Toronto, if not the entire country.
Just don’t tell Kyle Lowry this. He only has the Larry O’B on his mind.
“You want the real truth? [It meant] nothing!” Lowry said. “We hoop to hoop—to win every game. It didn’t mean nothing to us.
“You know what the goal is. That’s all that matters. We always know what the goal is. Now we’ve gotten there and we know what to do. We know what it takes. It’s never going to be easier. It’s going to be harder. But we know what it is and that’s what we want.”
Toronto has allowed the fewest points per game (106.5) throughout the regular season, once again establishing its identity as a clinical defense that can punish teams in transitions and hit 3s at an elite rate, ranking second in 3-point percentage differential.
Sitting at 46-18, the Raptors must be considered a genuine threat to the title if the season resumes again.
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