With Kawhi Leonard out of the lineup Fred VanVleet got the start, but it was his backcourt mate that stole the show on Wednesday night in Atlanta.
Jonas Valanciunas, in the starting lineup for the seventh time this season, scored 24 points (to go with 13 rebounds), while Pascal Siakam chipped in with 22 (9-of-13 from the floor) and Serge Ibaka came off the bench to score 19 (8-of-11 shooting).
Oh, and a Raptors legend made history.
Here are takeaways from the Raptors’ 124-108 win in Atlanta:
Lowry almost literally unstoppable
From the opening tip it was clear that Lowry was playing at another level. Nobody on the Hawks could come close to stopping him and he thoroughly controlled the game when he was on the court.
With Leonard sitting out the second game of a back-to-back, Lowry came out of the gates with purpose and orchestrated an early 15-4 Raptors lead just five minutes into the game.
In the second quarter, a deep-bench unit featuring Lorenzo Brown and Greg Monroe couldn’t sustain that lead — the Raps were also without OG Anunoby, CJ Miles, and Norm Powell — but when Lowry returned to the court the Raptors promptly regained their double-digit margin.
Lowry was toying with defenders all night long. He had 10 assists early in the third quarter, attacked the glass, and even had one of his now-trademark ridiculously deep three-pointers.
You know someone is playing with supreme confidence when they’re pulling off passes like this:
It’s the 11th time in 19 games that he’s reached double-digit assists this season. Lowry remains the NBA’s assists leader by a wide margin. He now has 200 total assists — 23 more than the next player, Jrue Holiday.
Apart from finding his teammates, Lowry also had his best scoring night in three weeks, going back to a 21-point night in the Raptors’ blowout win in Los Angeles over the Lakers — another game without Leonard in the lineup.
Lowry had really been struggling to score as of late. After averaging 18 points through the Raptors’ first 10 games, Lowry entered Wednesday night averaging just 11.5 points in his last eight, shooting 38 per cent from the floor and 26 per cent from deep.
He broke out of the shooting slump in a big way, going an efficient 7-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.
His final line? 21 points, 17 assists, 12 rebounds, and a game-high plus-28. Not too shabby.
Carter joins elite 25K club
Despite having played in Toronto for just six of his 21 (!) seasons, it still feels like an event whenever Vince Carter faces the Raptors, the franchise he helped launch to legitimacy in the NBA and whose jersey he made popular worldwide.
But Wednesday wasn’t just any rematch between the Raptors and their former star.
The 41 year-old Carter entered the game just 13 points shy of the 25,000-mark for his career. Whether it happened on Wednesday or not, that he would eventually be a member of the exclusive club is a testament to the changing course of his more than two decades in the NBA.
Carter rose to legitimate superstardom with the Raptors, vaulted by his performance in the 2000 dunk contest and playoff duels with Allen Iverson. At the height of his powers he received more all-star votes than Michael Jordan.
Not to take away from whatever causal impact he had on growing the game here in Canada, but when he left Toronto and even the Nets he seemed like his legacy would ultimately be of a talent unfulfilled. It may seem odd to have felt that way about an eight-time all-star, but it’s true; Carter was so good and so electric in his prime that it felt like he never fully reached his potential, or ceiling, as a player.
Nowadays we have to look at Carter’s career differently. The longevity he’s become known for will be a defining trait and one that boosts his eventual Hall of Fame case. He’s transformed his game as his athleticism wanes and has held value for teams like Atlanta, the Memphis Grizzlies, and Sacramento Kings in setting an example for younger teammates on and off the court.
For much of Wednesday’s game it looked like Carter would fall short of the milestone, spending most of his night in an unfortunate matchup with Pascal Siakam as the Hawks played with a small lineup for most of the game.
But clearly it was important for him to reach 25,000 against a team he shared so much history and enjoyed his best years with, and Carter checked back into an otherwise meaningless blowout in the final minutes guns a-blazing. He got his 25,000 points at the buzzer. Fittingly, it was a dunk.
The 22nd member of the 25,000 club, Carter joins a who’s-who of legends and scoring greats (in order of least to most): Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Carmelo Anthony, Alex English, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan, Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Roberstson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Carter hasn’t been a big-time scorer for a decade, really. He hasn’t averaged 20 points in a season since 2008-09 with New Jersey and hasn’t cracked double-digit averages in five seasons. But he’s managed to evolve his game, find ways to contribute, and carve out valuable roles nonetheless.
He says he still has another year or two of basketball left in him, so it’ll be fun to see how far he climbs up the scoring list before it’s all said and done.
Whatever happens, suddenly the question of whether or not Vince Carter is a Hall of Famer just became a little bit easier to answer.