TORONTO – You’ve likely heard something like this all season long in regards to this 2019-20 Toronto Raptors team: “They look good, but are they actually good?”
And after Toronto’s 127-81 demolishment of the Indiana Pacers Sunday night at Scotibank Arena, it’s pretty safe to say the answer to that question is, unequivocally “yes.”
As unfair as it has been, there’s been a narrative put forth that Toronto’s success through nearly three quarters of the season has been somewhat suspect and fraudulent all because of one small stat.
Coming into Sunday’s contest, the Raptors sported just a 9-12 record against teams with records of .500 or above, something naysayers of Toronto’s stirring title defence so far have pointed to as evidence that their accomplishments have somehow been diminished.
That record’s now improved to 10-12 against opponents with records of .500 or better, and with 13 more such opponents heading the Raptors’ way in their final 25 games this season, Toronto will only have more chances to prove why they’re every bit as good as their 42-15 record suggests they are.
Not that you need much more proof if you tuned into Sunday’s game against the Pacers at any point for any amount of time at all.
In a game that featured a franchise-record 46-point margin of victory, the performance from the Raptors was as clinical as you might expect.
“[We were] flying and executing the coverages, [the] ball was popping, and every single guy that went in there was on, ready to go,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of his team’s wire-to-wire victory.
Coming out of the gate quick, Toronto got off to a 13-1 start that saw the team hit three triples — including one by Serge Ibaka, who had seven points alone during the spurt.
This was a fitting prelude for what was to come as the Raptors kept up the pressure, with the team finishing the first 34-12. Ibaka and Pascal Siakam had 11 points in the opening frame alone, while Toronto held Indiana to just 4-of-23 shooting.
“We played well, our defence, and they missed some shots early, they missed some layups, and we just kinda played really physical and kept our pace up early,” Kyle Lowry said. “So it was a good start for us.”
And after that hot start, it was Lowry’s turn to pick things up for the Raptors, as he scored 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting in the period leading Toronto to a 63-32 advantage at the half and a curtain call for the Pacers – who have lost all three encounters with the Raptors in the month of February.
Lowry finished Sunday with 16 points and 11 assists, Ibaka had 15 points and 15 rebounds while going 7-for-12 from the floor and Siakam followed up his brilliant 37-point outing against the Phoenix Suns Friday with a game-high 21-point job on only 12 field-goal attempts.
Even more impressive than those individual lines, though, was probably the fact all five Raptors starters featured plus-minus ratings of at least plus-21.
Fred VanVleet led the way here with a final rating of plus-31, despite shooting poorly.
But as is so often the case for just about every player on this Raptors team, VanVleet’s impact isn’t just limited to what he can do offensively.
VanVleet, and the Raptors as a whole, were defensively destructive Sunday, forcing 18 Pacers turnovers — most notably driven by five Lowry steals — en route to holding Indiana to only 32.6 per cent shooting from the floor and an outright abysmal 8-for-33 from three-point range.
“The defence starts with a lot of desire to do it, so there’s a big desire to do it, so there’s a big ‘want to’ out of this group to play it,” said Nurse.
That “want” and “desire” on the defensive end isn’t just there for the Raptors on defence, it’s been the calling card of this team in every facet of the game since the ball first tipped in October.
And while Sunday night’s performance, by all means, was an outlier — 46-point margins of victories aren’t normal, after all — this was still a good reminder to any who may have had any doubts that the Raptors are actually quite good.
Sure, the schedule’s taking a tougher turn now, but the prospect of Toronto testing itself against opponents at its level should only serve to further excite you.
More confidence-asserting performances like Sunday’s could be on the horizon after all.