Greatest Raptors Reg Season Performances of All Time Bracket Challenge
WAYNE EMBRY BRACKET VOTING - https://play.raptors.com/tb_app/449755
JOHN SAUNDERS BRACKET VOTING - https://play.raptors.com/tb_app/449743
Raptors fans have been spoiled the last couple seasons. With a championship in 2019 and a deeply satisfying 64-game title defense clouding people’s minds, it’s easy to get hung up on recency bias when discussing the greatest moments, games and performances the franchise has produced. Of course, this is a franchise now with a quarter century’s worth of dry ink in its history book, and though not every year has been a rousing, 50-win success, there have been plenty of moments of brilliance doled out by the 236 players to have worn Raps colours.
Because this particular week of the calendar brings with it a thirst for bracketized sports that will not this year be quenched, we thought it might be worth trying to decide which of those moments -- and more specifically, which single-game individual performance -- should hold the title as the greatest in Raptors history, using a fan-voted, knockout-style tournament as the arbiter.
Toronto has contested 1,984 games since joining the league in 1995, with anywhere between seven and 13 players hitting the floor for each and every one. Here, we’ve managed to whittle it down to the 32 box score lines that shine the brightest to this day.
Only a couple of rules applied in building the tournament field. Playoff games were excluded, so as to create some unpredictability -- a necessary measure to avoid a stroll to the championship for Kyle Lowry’s Finals-clinching Game 6 performance. To ensure a diverse bracket, the number of entries per player was capped at three.
Don’t yell at me -- or anyone, for that matter -- about the seeding; that part of the process was done objectively, based on Basketball Reference’s Game Score metric, which gives every player’s box score from every game an overall figure to gauge how awesome it was. DeMar DeRozan’s franchise record-setting 52-point game against the Bucks on New Years’ Day 2018 comes in as the clear top-overall seed, with a Game Score of 44.1.
This is not, however, a compilation of the 32-highest Game Scores in Raps history. That wouldn’t be fun. Certain factors, both ethereal and quantitative, came into play in constructing the bracket as well. Did a huge performance result in a victory for the Raptors? What was the quality of the opponent? Were there memorable plays, moments or post-game quotes associated with a game of note? Without those distinguishing features, the many, many games where Vince Carter scored 40-plus kind of run together.
Lastly, a word to the snubs. The committee (of one) had some tough calls to make when it came to the bottom portions of the bracket. Could the field have been expanded to 64? Maybe, but not without seriously diluting the overall oomph of the match-ups. Of course, that means some very worthy single-game efforts have been left off, including but not limited to: Bismack Biyombo’s 25-rebound game against Pacers in 2015-2016, Jonas Valanciunas’ 32-point, 11-rebound season-opener the following year, and half-dozen signature Kyle Lowry games. Doug Christie might have the most legit beef with the committee, as his near quadruple-double (29 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and eight steals) in April 1997 just missed the cut.
Let’s get to know the contestants. And be sure to vote on who you think should win each match-up.
THE WAYNE EMBRY REGION (VOTE NOW)
(1) DeMar DeRozan scores 52p vs. Bucks - 1/1/18 vs. (16) The Ben Uzoh Triple-Double - 4/26/12
DeMar DeRozan rightfully holds the top-overall seed here. His franchise record 52 points represented the high-point of his best season as a pro. It’ll go down as one of the most modernized showings of DeRozan’s career, too, as he did his damage on 17-of-29 shooting, including 5-of-9 from three, adding in five boards, eight assists, and a perfect 13-of-13 mark from the line. Nine of his 52 came in overtime, as he pushed the Raps over the line to win 131-127, and onward to a 25-10 start to the season.
The upstart 16-seed here is Ben Uzoh. Only seven players in franchise history have recorded a triple-double, with Uzoh’s coming in as by far the unlikeliest. If you believe in the Butterfly Effect, it’s one of the most important, too. Uzoh’s 12 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in the 2011-12 season finale against the Nets earned the team its 23rd win of that lockout-shortened season, in the process dropping Toronto from sixth in the draft lottery odds down to eighth, behind the Blazers (via New Jersey) and Warriors. Damian Lillard went sixth-overall in the 2012 draft, followed by Harrison Barnes before the Raptors snagged Terrence Ross. Had they lost The Uzoh Game, chosen sixth, and taken Lillard, there’s a good chance Kyle Lowry never finds himself traded to Toronto that summer. There’d also be a very different, much less fun three-seed in the Wayne Embry Region. Thank you, Ben.
(8) Kawhi Leonard scores 45 vs. Utah - 01/01/19 vs. (9) Marcus Camby’s 36-9-3-2-4 vs Philly - 03/18/97
Kawhi Leonard wowed Raps fans so consistently over the 60 regular season games he played in Toronto that it’s tough to distinguish between games where he was great and merely very good. However, on the one-year anniversary of DeRozan’s 52-point outburst, Leonard diced up the Jazz with as much precision as he’d ever show in Toronto, scoring 45 points on 16-of-22 shooting, going 13-of-17 from the line in a 122-116 Raptors win.
Marcus Camby stuffed plenty of box scores during his two years in Toronto, but never quite like he did on March 18th, 1997 against the Sixers. The 33.9 Game Score he compiled is five points clear of his next most prolific game as a Raptor.
(5) Vince scores 47 on the Bucks - 1/14/00 vs. (12) DeMar ends Bulls streak w/ 42-7-8 - 3/21/17
Here Vince Carter makes his first appearance in the tournament, though not his highest-ranked one. This game was already discussed in a piece earlier this month, but here are the details: 47 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks on 20-of-32 from the field. His final two buckets were a self-pass, off-backboard, two-handed jam and a ferocious windmill -- an amuse bouche for the dunk contest to come in a few weeks’ time.
DeRozan’s second entry into the tournament wasn’t as prolific or efficient as his top-seeded offering, but the context of his 42-point, seven-rebound, eight-assist effort against Chicago matters. This was the game that finally ended an 11-game losing streak to the Bulls, and came during the stretch of 2016-17 in which Lowry was sidelined with a wrist injury -- a period in which DeRozan was sublime. When you also consider the sheer volume of absurd plays DeRozan pulled off in the fourth quarter and overtime as Toronto erased a double-digit deficit, it’s easy to overlook a 17-of-38 shooting line.
(4) Kyle Lowry duels Steph Curry - 12/5/15 vs. (13) Amir Johnson’s 32 & 10 @ Lakers - 12/8/13
Kyle Lowry’s been a pain in the Warriors’ side since long before he scored the first 11 points of the Finals-clinching game last June. Back during the early days of the 2015-16 season, Lowry served up one of the closest calls Steph Curry and the Warriors would dodge on their road to starting the season a record 24-0. Coming to Toronto at 20-0, the Warriors barely squeaked out a 112-109 victory, with Lowry’s 41 points and seven dimes on 14-of-26 shooting lining up toe-to-toe with the future two-time MVP’s 44 points on 14-of-24. This game was impossibly cool.
The underdog in this tilt is a stout one. On the day Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento in 2013, the Raptors visited Staples Center with just eight available players on hand. DeRozan and Lowry were great, combining for 49 points, but it was Amir Johnson who stole the spotlight in his hometown, posting a career-high 32 points and grabbing 10 boards on a near-perfect 14-of-17 line from the floor. You could argue that very win set the Raptors on the trajectory they’re still riding today.
(6) Donyell Marshall hits 12 threes - 03/13/05 vs. (11) Pascal’s 44-10-4 in New Orleans - 11/8/19
Our 6-seed in the Wayne Embry Region needs no introduction nor any contextualizing caveats. Donyell Marshall hit 12 freaking threes in a game one time, and it ruled.
Coming in to take on Marshall is Pascal Siakam’s 44-point, 10-rebound effort from earlier this season on the night that saw both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka leave the game in New Orleans with injuries. Looking back, that night answered the question of how the 2019-20 Raptors would cope with injuries. The answer: quite well.
(3) T-Ross’ 51-points - 01/25/14 vs. (14) Bosh scores 37-14-5 in Mo-Pete Miracle Game - 3/30/07
What defines a great individual performance? It’s a complex elixir. Prolificacy matters, of course -- racking up buckets helps you stand out. The ease and grace with which those points are accrued has to be considered as well. There’s beauty in having to work for it, but a greater level of amazement is reserved for those who can make the improbable seem casual. And while some may suggest the end result skewing your team’s way is essential, one could argue a truly great performance transcends the final score to the point it becomes secondary bar trivia fodder. Terrence Ross’ 51-point game against the Lob City era Clippers included each of those features and more. Few times in Raps history has a player ever looked as smooth. That game also still holds the record (tied with Carter) as the highest-scoring total by a Raptor in a game decided in regulation. People forget that.
Taking on this juggernaut is Chris Bosh, who was the underwritten story of one of the more fun Raps games in history. March 30th, 2007 is known mainly for Morris Peterson’s Michael Ruffin-assisted miracle three at the buzzer to force overtime. That shot is deservedly the landmark moment of that game, but Bosh deserves some love for his contributions to the 123-118 OT win. His game-high 37 came on 15-of-24 shooting, and opened up the stage upon which Mo-Pete could have his defining Raptors moment.
(7) Walt Williams’ 33-12-6-2-4 vs Suns - 2/1/97 vs. (10) Kawhi’s 38 & Game-winner vs. POR - 1/1/19
With the youthful star power of Damon Stoudamire and Marcus Camby taking up most of the airspace for the fledgling Raps of the mid-90s, Walt Williams is a bit of a forgotten man when discussing the early pillars of the organization. Williams certainly was one, though. After signing as a free agent in the summer of 1996, Williams played 101 games for the team, averaging 15.3 points and a smidge under five boards a game. His stat-stuffing peak came in a 24-point whooping of the Suns, in which he shot 12-of-19 and hit six of nine three point tries.
Williams is certainly at risk of being upset, though. Purely because of Kawhi Leonard’s innate knack for foreshadowing:
In addition to hitting it almost a little too on the nose, Leonard dropped 38 points with three boards, five assists and three steals on 14-of-22 from the floor that night against Portland.
(2) Vince scores 48 vs. Bucks - 11/18/00 vs. (15) Mighty Mouse leads Raps past ‘96 Bulls - 3/23/96
For a second time, Vince Carter makes an appearance as a heavily-favoured high seed. For a second time, it’s because he dropped 40-something on the Bucks in the calendar year 2000. This time around, Vince’s scoring explosion was complemented by 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a couple blocks, along with just a single miss in his 18 trips to the free-throw line. Toronto won 111-102. It’s unclear what the Bucks did to deserve such cruelty.
Occupying the 15-seed is Damon Stoudamire, who had games with more eye-popping numbers in his Raps tenure than his 30-point, four-rebound, 11-assist output on March 23rd, 1996. That said, those numbers were the driving force behind the Raptors’ biggest win of the 90s by a mile, which has to count for something.
THE JOHN SAUNDERS REGION (VOTE NOW)
(1) Lowry’s 43 leads Raps past Cavs - 2/26/16 vs. (16) PJ Tuckers’ second Raps debut - 2/24/1
At the time, it was touted as the biggest regular season game in Raptors history. On February, 2nd, 2016, LeBron James’ Cavaliers came to town at 40-16, two games clear of the Raptors for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Though Toronto had picked up plenty of nice wins that season, the Cavs were the biggest obstacle in the way of the Raptors’ being viewed as true contenders. That night, as his four fellow starters combined for just 19 points on 6-of-24 shooting, Lowry scored a career-best 43 points, leading the Raptors back from nine down after three to secure a 99-97 victory. Adjusting for opponent and the weight of the moment, there’s a case to be made that Lowry’s step-back to take the lead is the greatest regular season game-winner in Raps history.
Drawing the short stick in this match-up is PJ Tucker on the night he returned to the Raptors. As the legend goes, Tucker took a red-eye flight from Phoenix the day the Raps acquired him for a pair of second-rounders. On no sleep, Tucker suited up for a Raps team that was down Lowry -- and working in fellow new addition Serge Ibaka -- against Isaiah Thomas’ Boston Celtics. Tucker scored nine points and grabbed 10 boards, pairing with Ibaka to form what would become a menacing defensive back-line down the stretch. Among his stand-out moments: a strip steal of Thomas in crunch time, and a super charming post-game scrum. Tucker’s in tough to pull the upset, but he earned his spot in the tourney.
(8) Mo-Pete scores 37 vs. Celtics - 1/12/05 vs. (9) Siakam’s 44-10-2 vs Wizards - 2/13/19
Morris Peterson’s key attribute was understated consistency. He was the iron man who bridged eras of Raptors hoops, rarely flashing star-power, but never dipping below dependable contributor status. He bucked tradition in January 2005, when he scored 37 points to go along with four rebounds and six assists on 12-of-22 shooting with seven made triples in an 11-point home win over Boston.
He’s matched up with the Raptors newest star. If you were looking for reasons to believe Siakam could make the transition into true number-one duty before this season, his career-night against the Wizards last year is where you’d start. In the last game before the All-Star break, Siakam used a Leonard load management night to set a new career high with 44 points against Washington. The four threes he canned on five tries were, in retrospect, an ominous sign for defenses everywhere.
(5) Charlie V’s 48 as a rookie - 3/26/06 vs. (12) Kawhi scores 37 in OT duel with KD - 11/29/18
Charlie Villaneuva will forever be known as the guy who finished second to Chris Paul in Rookie of the Year voting in 2005-06. Second to Chris Paul! Much like in Ross’ outlier game, the losing result of Charlie V’s career-high 48-point evisceration of Milwaukee is inconsequential. Stepping up in the place of Bosh, who left the game just seven minutes in, Villanueva delivered a 20-of-32 shooting line, and helped push an overmatched Raps squad to overtime where they’d nobly fall. Few rookies have ever offered such promise and hope to the Raptors faithful from the jump like Villanueva did.
Charlie V’s in danger of a dreaded 12-over-5 upset. Although the phrase “82 practices” got tossed around in Raps circles last year, that feeling certainly didn’t apply to the Raptors’ tilt with the defending champion Warriors in late November 2018. Once again teasing his own future, Leonard provided the Raps the kind of star power beating the Warriors necessitated, countering a 51-point outburst by Kevin Durant with an efficient 37 of his own.
(4) Vince scores 51 on National TV - 2/27/00 vs. (13) Calderon’s 22 pts & 19 asts vs. CHI - 3/29/09
You could say that Vince’s 51-point night on national TV against Phoenix represented the official arrival of the Raptors into the general consciousness down south. It was the first time the Raps had been shown on national television in the states, making it America’s first nationwide exposure to the Vinsanity phenomenon. Was this Carter performance the inciting incident behind him becoming the antagonist in the Hollywood classic, “Like Mike?” We can’t know for sure, but probably, yes.
Up against Vince is another record-setting performance and José Calderon’s lone appearance in the tournament. Calderon tied Stoudamire’s franchise record of 19 assists two separate times, the first of which came against Chicago on a night where he also scored 22 points on a very tidy 8-of-11 shooting. And of course, he hit all of his four free throws that night, too.
(6) OG’s 32 with seven steals @ DEN - 03/01/20 vs. (11) Lou Williams’ 36 in Cleveland - 11/22/14
Holding the 6-seed in the Saunders Region is the most recent of all 32 entries -- OG Anunoby’s dominant and frankly terrifying seven-steal, 32-point display in Denver. This game took place less than three weeks ago, though it feels like it happened in about 1996. Anunoby’s affinity for demolishing Nikola Jokic-related actions that night kept an extremely undermanned Raptors team within range into crunch time that night. What’s most impressive is that he spent most of the evening as the Raps’ de facto centre with Ibaka and Marc Gasol sidelined. Coronavirus has derailed a great many things in our world, OG’s All-Defense campaign included.
It was on the other end of the floor that Lou Williams made enough hay to earn an 11-seed, storming off the bench for 36 points in 29 minutes to buoy the Raptors past Cleveland, 110-93. Consider this game that set the Lou Williams Sixth Man train on a runaway heading.
(3) Bargnani drops 41-6-7 @ MSG - 12/8/10 vs. (14) Lowry leads comeback vs. Mavs - 12/22/19
Andrea Bargnani makes his lone appearance in the bracket with a stunning 16-of-24 shooting clinic en route to 41 points in the arena he’d one day call home. It wasn’t quite enough to overcome a 34 and 14 masterclass from Amar’e Stoudamire, but it would linger as one of Il Mago’s high points in a Raps uniform.
Kyle Lowry waltzes against a guy who was not traded to the Knicks. Lowry waltzes into his third match-up of the tournament with some extreme “about to pull an upset” energy, same as he did the day he led the Raptors back from down 30 with about 14 minutes to play days before this past Christmas. As admirable as the efforts of Chris Boucher, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Malcolm Miller were, this was a game coated in Lowry’s fingerprints. He added some pep to his incalculable genius work by dropping 32 points while slinging ten dimes and grabbing eight boards. If you could join a bracket pool for this tournament, this would surely be the sexy upset pick you’d make in an attempt to look smart.
(7) Mike James scores 39 in win vs Pistons - 4/14/06 vs. (10) Serge scores 34 & 10 @ LAL - 11/4/18
Mike James gets a spot in the field thanks to the game that clinched his coveted 20 points per-game average in 2005-06. In his second-to-last appearance of the season, James led the lottery-bound Raptors to a five-point win over a 64-win Pistons team with 39 points on 9-of-16 from floor and a perfect 18-of-18 from the stripe. It was James’ fifth 30-point outing in six games, proving unequivocally that he could in fact put the ball in the hole at a very high rate.
Last season also offered proof of Serge Ibaka’s own proclivity for buckets. With Leonard being eased into the rigours of full-time basketball early in the year, someone had to shoot, and Ibaka obliged. His 34-point outing on 15-of-17(!) shooting against LeBron James’ Lakers was the second of two 30-point nights he recorded in 2018-19, and still stands as his single-game personal best. In concert with Lowry’s 21 points and 15 assists, Ibaka helped Toronto pull out a 121-107 road win, moving the future champs to 9-1.
(2) Bosh scores 40-5-5 vs. Dwight’s Magic - 2/20/08 vs. (15) Keon Clark’s 12-block game - 3/23/01
While the Raptors’ tango with Dwight Howard’s Magic in the 2008 postseason was forgettable, at least one regular season matchup between the teams that year offered a road map to a Raptors upset. As you might expect, it involved Chris Bosh doing superstar things. With 40 points, five rebounds and five assists, Bosh notched his highest ever Basketball Reference Game Score in a winning effort (40.1). Between hitting 14 of his 16 attempts from the field, and a perfect night on 11 free throws, Bosh amassed a True Shooting percentage of 96.0, outdoing Howard and leading Toronto to a 127-110 signature win.
On the other end of the match-up is a true anomaly, not only as far as the Raptors are concerned, but within the NBA’s 70-plus years of recorded stats. On March 23rd, 2001, Keon Clark became just the 15th player to record at least 12 blocks in a single game -- a feat that’s only been achieved 35 times in history, and just twice since that day in 2001. He’d finish just two rebounds shy of one of the coolest triple doubles you could possibly conceive.
That does it for the first round of match-ups! Be sure to vote at the links provided, and check back Saturday for the Sweet Sixteen!