For much of the 2019–20 season, the Raptors have had to prep for matches without a full roster. In this regard, yesterday was the same old, same old for them: While All-Star Kyle Lowry managed to play after missing a game over the weekend in compliance with the league’s concussion protocol, fellow starter Serge Ibaka wound up staying in the sidelines due to flu-like symptoms. Still, their mindset stayed the same as they prepped to host the Timberwolves. They’re the defending champions, and, regardless of circumstance, they have more than enough to win.
That the Raptors were proven right at the final buzzer speaks volumes of their resiliency. They didn’t have a perfect outing, committing 28 turnovers and 26 fouls to hand the Timberwolves 34 points and 35 free throws — numbers that would normally have had them absorbing a setback. Instead, they prevailed, and in double digits to boot, on the strength of outstanding shooting backstopped by solid coverages; even as they canned 51.5% of their trey tries and 57.3% of their aggregate field-goal attempts, they forced the opposition to a season-worst 24 turnovers, 10 by new acquisitions DeAngelo Russell and Malik Beasley and six by resident leader Karl-Anthony Towns, good for 26 points.
Significantly, decisiveness has been key for the Raptors. For all the talk of them being rudderless following the departure of Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard in the off-season, they’ve actually become even more purposeful in their actions on the court. They simply know what to do with the ball when they have it, and what to do, period, when they don’t. With Lowry continuing to provide leadership and just about everybody else, including reigning Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam, becoming even better, they’ve figured out how to be greater than the sum of their parts every single time out.
Can the Raptors truly contend, though? With the Bucks running roughshod and the Celtics, Heat, and, yes, Sixers still posing threats in a long series, going deep in the playoffs and emerging as East titleholders anew remain big ifs. Then again, they’ve answered the only query that matters at this point: They’re ready, willing, and able — no matter what happens, and no matter who stands in their way. The Larry O’Brien Trophy sits on their mantel, and they’re bent on keeping it there.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.