TORONTO — Through 15 consecutive victories, the Toronto Raptors have proven fearless in the face of adversity, unfazed by countless injuries.
And they’ve made Canadian pro sports history in the process.
The Raptors roared to their 15th win in a row on Monday, beating the revamped Minnesota Timberwolves 137-126.
The win streak topped the Calgary Stampeders, who won 14 straight in 2016, for the longest single-season win streak from a major Canadian-based professional team (NBA, NHL, MLB and CFL).
What’s remarkable is this Raptors’ run, is they’ve accomplished it with a revolving door of a roster, thanks to significant injuries to numerous key players.
"I think we can win right?" Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of his squad. "I think these guys have proven enough that they can win. We’ve have a lot of injuries this year, but they just keep stepping up and playing and we’ve just gotten used to it.
"You at least have to go out and give a great effort, give yourself a chance to win, and don’t let them play harder than you. If you think you’re under-talented or undersized or whatever, then you’ve got to take your energy and toughness up a notch and think we’ve done that most nights."
Pascal Siakam scored 34 points to top Toronto (40-14). Kyle Lowry, who was back after missing a game with whiplash, had 27 points and 11 assists, while OG Anunoby had 16 of his career-high 25 points in the third quarter and grabbed 12 rebounds. Fred VanVleet chipped in with 16.
"There’s a reason they’ve won 15 games in a row," said T’Wolves coach Ryan Saunders. "They play with a sense of urgency and have a great identity about them."
Karl-Anthony Towns topped the Timberwolves (16-36) with 23 points, while D’Angelo Russell had 22 in his Minnesota debut.
Despite missing key players for major chunks of this streak — Marc Gasol (hamstring), Norman Powell (broken finger) and Serge Ibaka (illness) were all sidelined Monday — the Raptors continue to find ways to win.
"We’ve barely had our team and we’ve always had to adjust and figure it out," Siakam said. "Guys know now that you have to be ready every day. You never know what’s going to happen. Today you might be sitting on the bench and the next day you’re starting. That’s just got to be the mentality and I think everyone knows that."
No. 15 was a hard-fought victory that saw the Raptors finally take their first double-digit lead late in the third quarter. In a thrilling ending to the frame, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stole the ball off Russell with 3.6 seconds left in the quarter and his dunk sent Toronto into the fourth with a 106-94 advantage. Hollis-Jefferson gestured to the Scotiabank Arena fans to cheer. They obliged.
James Johnson’s three-pointer pulled the T’Wolves to within two points early in the fourth, but the Raptors responded with a 20-5 run capped by Lowry’s three-pointer with 3:07 to play that gave the Raptors a 19-point cushion. And it was all but game over.
The winning streak comes during the dog days of mid-season, and days before the NBA all-star break when some teams and players are looking forward to a few days off.
"Obviously winning feels good. Everyone wants to win, so the fact we can go out there, play some basketball and have some fun — and you can see it out there: whenever anyone is doing great, everyone feels like they’re doing great," Siakam said. "That’s just how we are and it feels good. It makes you want to keep winning but at the same time it’s just about us understanding what we need to work on and understanding what we need to get better at while having fun."
The Raptors’ previous record win streak was 11 games, set twice (2016, 2018). Coach Nick Nurse said the streak, which is the best in the NBA, wasn’t a focus with his players.
"There isn’t a whole lot of conversation about it but I think everybody, it’s pretty much front and centre on everything you see post-game … if you see anything across the bottom or on your app or on anything you’re looking at, that’s what they’re talking about," Nurse said. "But there’s not a lot of in depth discussion about it."
Among other lengthy Canadian win streaks, the Montreal Canadiens won 12 straight in 1968 en route to winning the Stanley Cup, while the Toronto Blue Jays won 11 in a row five times. Toronto’s new trans-Atlantic rugby team the Wolfpack won 23 straight games last year.
The league-leading Milwaukee Bucks won 18 in a row earlier this season.
While the Raptors made no moves at last Thursday’s trade deadline, the Timberwolves overhauled more than half their roster, sending away seven players — including Canadian Andrew Wiggins, who went to Golden State for Russell — and acquiring eight new ones in three separate deals.
Two days after the deadline, the T’Wolves ended a 13-game skid with a 142-115 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Raptors scored on their first eight shots to take a nine-point lead. They shot 69.6 per cent in the first quarter but Minnesota didn’t miss many either, and Toronto led just 40-36 to start the second.
Russell’s three-pointer midway through the second quarter capped a 21-7 Minnesota run that had them up by seven. They would go ahead by eight before Toronto closed the half with a 13-6 run of its own, pulling to within 75-74 at the break.
The Raptors play the Nets in Brooklyn on Wednesday in their final game before NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago. Lowry, Siakam and Nurse were all honoured before tipoff as Toronto’s representation in Sunday’s all-star game.