This was as close to a must-win game as the Raptors have gotten so far this year and the timing was just as critical. Going into the All-Star break, the Toronto Raptors had been on a slide; accumulating a string of losses and dropping from 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, down to the 5th spot. It looked like the team was wearing down at a rapid pace but the one thing that was still elite was the competitiveness and feisty disposition of the team; they all wanted to win and were frustrated with the losses. Needing a change and battling with trade rumors, Masai pulled off two great deals that calmed the nerves on the ship, reinforced the goal (going for the title), and strengthened the hands on deck, by bringing in Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker.
With the new players coming in, suddenly the Raptors represent a formidable foe to any Eastern Conference team looking to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals this summer. In fact, the possibility of the Raptors advancing to the Finals has improved significantly; and potentially for the next season or more as well. The time to go get it is now.
The first challengers on deck happen to be the (current) in-2nd-place Celtics; same ones who relegated the Raptors to a lower ranking. Remarkably, both Ibaka and Tucker were available to play in the game against the Celtics but Lowry was unable to play due to injury. Luckily, the Raptors still had DeRozan, Joseph, JV, Patterson, Carroll, Powell and, Noguiera. That made the Raptors at least 10 deep on paper with the availability of Wright. Game on. After a slow start to the game, the Raptors were able to pull off a 107-97 victory on a strong defensive effort and a career-high effort from DeRozan (43 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds).
And for Raptors fans everywhere, validation that the team is going to compete and represent the city very well, playing the great Canadian game of basketball, at its highest level. It’s the first game but it still was one full of promise. #WeTheNorth