From road wins, to moral victories and missing players, the Toronto Raptors had an eventful 2021-22 campaign. Listen to the full ‘Raptors Awards’ episode on the ‘Raptors Over Everything’ podcast feed or watch on our Yahoo Sports Canada YouTube.
AMIT MANN: Games of the year. We got three here. Aaron, you can go first.
AARON ROSE: Well, I think my– the first one that came to mind when you sent me this and said, what’s the game of the year, and this is probably an unpopular answer, but, to me, it was actually that loss to the Phoenix Suns, and they had been coming off a stretch. They had won something like six or seven games in a row, if memory serves, and a lot of those teams were missing guys.
They were down a few players here and there, and it was like, all right, this Raptors team. It was sort of in the middle of the season. We were like, is this team any good. What’s this team like? As I mentioned, they were a team that I thought was going to be sort of in that play in tournament picture, and then they go out, and they go toe to toe. I looked at the box score. Yuta Watanabe was starting that game.
This was not a complete Raptors team, and I think they were going up against one of the best teams in the NBA, who was fully healthy, and they lost by, what was it, like 3 points against one of the best teams in the league. And I just pulled up my game story from that night, and I said, this team is good. They might not be great, but they’re better than anyone expected.
And I think that was the moment that I realized, oh, wow, this team has a chance, maybe not to do something special in the sense of win a championship, but they went toe-to-toe with a team that could win a championship.
And I don’t talk about moral victories, but to me, that was the night that I realized that they were really good, and maybe it was a moral victory game for me. So, to me, that was sort of the moment that I would say was the game of the year. It was a close game, and they went toe-to-toe with a potential NBA champ.
AMIT MANN: Yeah, and the turning point of that game actually was Pascal Siakam getting that fifth foul, if you recall. That’s when, in the fourth quarter, and the Raptors had held them to 23 points in the first quarter, second quarter, and third quarter. And in the fourth, the Suns scored 30, and Pascal Siakam getting that early fifth foul and having to come out of the game, that’s really where things kind of turned.
So you could have been talking about a win. One that comes to mind for me is that triple overtime game versus the Miami Heat. Kind of typical, but I look at this because it’s more of proving the philosophy and showing the capability and potential of the Raptors, because every single one of their starters played heavy minutes, and every single one of them had an impact on the last three overtimes and also late in the game. You think about Pascal Siakam, four steals, four blocks, insane.
He was matched up against Bam Adebayo, one of the hardest checks in the NBA. And down the stretch of that fourth quarter, he beat him to the bucket for a layup. That was around the time we were waiting for him to find his groove defensively, and it took a long time, but he did it. OG Anunoby just shutting off the water on Jimmy Butler.
That really stood out to me. Fred VanVleet making two 3’s in the final OT and showing his big balls, as we know that he does have. Scottie Barnes battling, 56 minutes, two clutch free throws at the end of the fourth quarter to solidify that we’re going to be going to OT, and then eventually, obviously, the Raptors won, but dealing with those minutes. He grinded this year, man.
He was playing more minutes than he’s ever played in his entire life, and that was a case where– he also had that really impressive dunk too where he fell into the crowd. I just remembered that. Very impressive performance from him. And Gary Trent Junior, 33 points.
He led the team. Granted, overtime, he wasn’t as much of a factor, but he showed his scoring prowess, his ability to be a microwave scorer and become a huge factor on the offensive end, and he’s one player that I’m sure is going to have a terrific offseason as well.
AARON ROSE: Yeah, and other games that come to mind, maybe not the best game of the year, but you have that shot that Fred VanVleet made, the Sam Cassell big balls celebration at the end of that game, a really close game, and a great win for the Raptors. You think on the other end of the spectrum, as I mentioned earlier, that Cavs game where the Raptors showed up, and I think they said they met–
AMIT MANN: Oh, man.
AARON ROSE: –four new guys. That’s a game Raptors fans might want to forget, but for some reason I can’t forget it because they were like, we met these guys on the bus ride over here. That’s, to me, a memorable game of the year, and then, of course, the fire alarm game was one of the weirdest games to ever attend.
AMIT MANN: Oh, man.
AARON ROSE: I think it was against the Pacers, and all of a sudden, they have to evacuate the building. There’s a whole delay because there’s a fire in the building.
AMIT MANN: Finally, wrapping up this segment, game five versus 76ers, very typical, but again, it’s kind of in the same vein as the Miami Heat game where you’re showing the potential of the team. Going into the lion’s den in that situation, you know, down 3-1 at the time, and competing, fighting, and battling, and actually coming out with a win into that atmosphere. Scottie Barnes silencing the crowd.
– Sixers crowd trying to get through the play with some immediacy as Barnes drives it up top on the lob. Young makes himself available for the two-hand damage.
AMIT MANN: Pascal Siakam, he had 23, 10, and 7. Talk about players who needed to perform in the playoffs and show that they’re able to at least be something of a number one option. This was a huge moment for Pascal Siakam, game five, and when he left the court, what was his face? Stoic, nothing, no emotion one there. Other guys are cheering, but he was completely quiet because he felt like, you know, job’s not done.
And unfortunately, game six went the way it went, but that was a game where they rose to the occasion even though they were depleted. They were half of the version that they should be, but they went in there, and they got it done, and they really stifled the 76ers. Winning games on the road is a huge part of winning championships, and the Raptors showed that they got that ability throughout the season, but it really, really got solidified in that game five win. OK.