With no major team news expected before the NBA Draft Lottery on May 17th, we're going to use this space to look back and count down some of the more interesting categories from the season that was for the Raptors.
The team's five best wins of the season seems like a logical starting point and although there was a very small pool to choose from in 2010-11, there were still some memorable victories against the league’s elite teams.
Agree with the choices below? Should a 'W' like December’s Miracle In Motown be here instead? Send me your arguments on Twitter and we’ll try and feature some of the more persuasive ones in this space.
#5 Disposing of Dwight & The Magic (TOR 110 ORL 106, Apr. 3, 2011)
Akil Augustine suggested only one of two victories over the Magic should make the cut for this list ("Which one came against Vince?" he asked). That would be on the road on November 13th when Sonny Weems' drilled a game-winning three with seconds to play, but it's the 102-98 victory at ACC in Hedo Turkoglu's return gets my vote strictly based on strategy.
The Raptors were content to try and deny the mass of humanity known as Dwight Howard with plenty of single coverage and focus their defensive efforts on the perimeter -- keeping the Magic under their league-leading averages for 3-point makes and attempts in the process. When Howard hit the bench early in the fourth, the Raptors (who were also shorthanded without Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon) made their run and saw DeMar DeRozan, Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa carry the scoring load down the stretch.
Factor in Hedo getting an earful from the ACC faithful every time he touched the rock and you've got the makings of one of the more enjoyable efforts of the season.
#4 Bumping Off Boston… Finally (TOR 102 BOS 101, Nov. 21, 2010)
Most satisfying win of the year? Has to be halting their eight-game slide against Boston. No, they didn't have Rajon Rondo or Kendrick Perkins in the lineup, but the C's recent dominance of the series has been steeped in an attitude much more attributable to the Big Three.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all chipped in during a 17-1 Boston run in the fourth to put the Celtics ahead by three with 2:29 to play, but the Raptors had some heroics on tap in the game's final seconds. Instead of launching a three to try and tie it, Weems hit a driving layup to pull within one and Barbosa then poked away the ensuing inbounds pass to Ray Allen.
Amir Johnson took over from there, grabbing a crucial offensive rebound off a Barbosa miss and calmly hitting two free throws to pull ahead, which held up after Pierce missed a potential game winner at the buzzer.
#3 Running With The Bulls at ACC (TOR 118 BOS 113, Feb. 23, 2011 )
The Bulls won 24 of their final 28 games to finish the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference, but one of those rare defeats was the result of an entertaining affair in Toronto on February 23.
Neither team ever lead by double-digits despite a wild fourth quarter that saw the Raptors put up 33 points against the defensive-minded Bulls. Derrick Rose was largely the reason why, as he went off for 19 of his game-high 32 points in the final frame. But this season’s likely MVP missed a potential game-tying jumper with 40 seconds to play and Amir Johnson (sensing a trend here?) countered with a sweet up-and-under move inside that secured the Raptors win.
This one also featured a rather unique debut from James Johnson. Acquired just one day prior from the Bulls, Johnson made his first start against his former team and showed that spark he can bring with his diverse floor game (nine points, five rebounds, three blocks).
#2 Dropping The Mavs In Big D (TOR 84 DAL 76, Dec. 28, 2011)
OK, so no Dirk Nowitzki for the Mavs, but the Raptors were essentially road kill as they limped into Big D without the services of Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Reggie Evans, Sonny Weems and Peja Stojakovic. Things didn't get any better after Linas Kleiza was ejected midway through the third quarter with back-to-back techs and Jerryd Bayless was lost to an ankle injury in the same frame.
But the Raptors continued to pound it inside (outscoring Dallas 48-24 in the paint) and used some staunch defence to pull away late and hold the Mavs to their season-low in points. The Raptors most improbable win of the season also ended their 10-game slide in Dallas and handed the Mavs just their second loss in 19 games.
#1 Thunderstruck (TOR 95 OKC 93, Mar. 20, 2011)
Gets my vote for best win of the season for a few reasons:
- People seemed all too quick to affix asterisks next to some of this team's wins against quality opponents this season, but this win came against a full-strength Thunder team that came in as winners of six straight games
- The Raptors did it in OKC, one of the more raucous home courts in the league
- Impressive late-March win that saw the Thunder fighting for homecourt advantage, while the Raptors were merely battling for pride
- They bent in the fourth, but didn't break thanks to some staunch defence (held OKC to 1-8 shooting from the floor in the final four minutes)
- The Raptors used some excellent execution down the stretch, including a great play to free up Barbosa for a three followed by the Blur slinging it in to a rolling Amir Johnson for the game-winner
- Earned the Raptors a season sweep over the Thunder, who absolutely dominated them last season. The tables were turned in 2009-10 with the Thunder winning both meetings by an average of 23 points