The Toronto Raptors were spectacular in February, going on a historic win streak and proving they are one of the top teams in the association.
If there's one word that encapsulates how the month of February went for the Toronto Raptors, it would be "victorious". They came into the month on an impressive win streak, and then they continued that streak until it was snapped the game before the all-star break.
Toronto's streak ended at 15 and that is a new franchise record. It was the talk of the NBA during the month and rightfully so. Many forget that they put together this win streak while missing some key players because of injuries. It was one of the longest win streaks of the season in the league, as Nick Nurse's squad ran through each opponent they faced during the streak. The Raptors continue to get things done despite being short-handed.
7-3 was the Raptors' record in February, which was one of the best in the league. Toronto's defence was the primary reason for their success this past month (like always), but their offence also played very well and that helped the Raptors in certain games. Other than those three losses, everything went really well for them during the month.
The all-star break also provided some needed rest and relaxation for the team, who is still dealing with a few injuries. Not to mention Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry played really well in the All-Star Game, where the trademark Raptors defence seemed to come alive in what truly was a wild fourth quarter.
Time to relive the awesome month the Raptors had. Was there anything new that was learned about them? What games stood out from the rest? Who is deserving of the coveted Raptors Rapture player of the month award?
What did we learn?
If there was something to learn about the Toronto Raptors after the past month, it is that they are one of the NBA's best teams in 2020, surprising considering the loss of Kawhi Leonard. It's not every day a team loses a Finals MVP and remains a top-tier team the following season.
To the surprise of essentially everyone, the Raptors have exceeded their expectations as a team. They sit at 42-17, just one win away from where they were record-wise last season. That shows how well this team plays together and that they should be taken seriously even though they don't have that bonified superstar player on their roster (yet).
Nick Nurse has done a masterful job of working with his rotations and continuing to demand hustle and effort from his squad on defence. The defence of the Raptors has been elite all year and has been one of the main ingredients of their unexpectedly great campaign.
Toronto has a defensive rating of 104.5 this season which is second-best in the NBA, only trailing the Milwaukee Bucks. Toronto holds its opponents to 42.6 percent shooting overall, which is again second-best in the league. The Raptors are tied for first in deflections per game (17.4), second in points off turnovers (20.0) and steals per game (8.8).
Oh, and they give up 106.1 points per game, second-lowest in the league. The defensive display that Toronto has shown all season is simply sensational. Give credit to both Nurse, for the schematics he puts in place, and the players for playing hard on that end of the floor. They hound shooters and clog up passing lanes, forcing their foes to make mistakes that they capitalize on.
Even though they are known for their defence, the Raptors offence is also up there in terms of being one of the best in the league. They average 112.7 points per contest, which is literally a few tenths of a point away from being in the top ten. They are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the association, shooting 37.3 percent behind the arc (fourth highest in the NBA).
For people who favour true shooting percentage, the Dinos are eighth in that category at 57.2 percent. Not to mention the team is top ten when it comes to sharing the ball, averaging 25.5 assists per game. Their offensive rating is 111.1, which is again a few tenths of a point from entering the top ten.
As much as the defence of the Raptors gets the credit, the offence should be recognized for their great play as well. Just as it is important to prevent the team from scoring, it is also important to score the ball. The Raptors are exceptional at both and are reaping the benefits of being a very solid two-way team.
The Toronto Raptors might not play highlight-worthy basketball, but they win and that is what matters most. Their 42 wins are the third-most in the NBA, only behind the West-leading Lakers and the East-leading Bucks. It wasn't as clear at the beginning of the NBA season, but it's time we give the Raptors their credit and acknowledge them as one of the best teams in the league. They have the wins and the stats to prove it. They have earned being recognized as the association's best and they confirmed that sentiment in February.
If any big roster changes were going to happen for the Toronto Raptors, February was the month to make them. The trade deadline was on the sixth of the month at 3 p.m. and it was quiet in Canada in terms of making a deal before the deadline. The only rumours they were involved were around former Pistons center Andre Drummond. Trading for Drummond made sense in some respects, but the Raptors didn't feel as though he was worth trading for.
3 p.m. came and went, with the Raptors standing pat and not making any trades. They feel comfortable about the roster they have and believe these players are enough to make a deep playoff run and defend their championship. Not making a trade at the deadline isn't common for Toronto, as this was the first time they didn't make a deadline deal since the 2005-06 season.
The only other roster changes for the month were injuries. It has been well documented that the Raptors have dealt with many injuries this season. This month wasn't as bad as the previous months, but they still had some injuries to some important players on the roster.
Marc Gasol missed the entire month as he is still nursing that left hamstring that has given him problems since December of this season. He reaggravated the injury in late January, and it seems like the Raptors are being extra cautious this time around.
It makes sense given Gasol is an older player and his presence will be needed more in April and May than February. There has been no sign of when he is returning to the floor, but the hope is that he returns in the next couple weeks to get back in rhythm right in time for the playoffs.
Norman Powell sat out the majority of the month because of a fractured left finger. Powell suffered the injury January 31 against the Pistons and was labelled out indefinitely the day after. This season had been injury-riddled for Powell, who also missed time with a shoulder injury back in December against the Pistons.
Even though Powell has missed considerable time, he has had a career year. He is averaging career highs in minutes (28.2), points (15.5), true shooting percentage (61.9) rebounds (3.8) and steals (1.2). He has been a spark plug off the bench and has even played well when he was inserted in the starting lineup.
Powell did manage to return to the lineup in the team's final game of February against the Charlotte Hornets. He started in his first game back, putting up 22 points in 36 minutes. He shot 8-19 from the field and 4-11 from beyond the arc.
Getting Powell back is surely going to give the Raptor's offence a boost. He just needs to knock off some rust and get back into the swing of things.
Dewan Hernandez has yet to return from the ankle injury he suffered in December. Even though he hasn't been a huge part of the rotation, this is still something worth noting. There haven't been many updates on his progress, so it's safe to consider him week-to-week until further notice.
Player of the Month
This recipient of February's player of the month award might not be who many expect, but he is still deserving of the award nevertheless. Terence Davis started out the season as an undrafted rookie, who just so happened to make the Raptors roster after putting up 22 points at a G-League game where he played for the Denver Nuggets at the time. The Raptors signed him immediately, and it has paid off for both sides.
Davis had to fight for minutes early on, but injuries to players like Kyle Lowry and Fred Vanvleet early in the year, along with Norman Powell's injury-riddled season has gotten him more minutes to show what he can do. He has gradually gotten more minutes as a result and is now is a key reserve in the Raptors rotation.
In February, he averaged a season-high 22.3 minutes per game and he made them count. He averaged 12.2 points per game for the month which his highest scoring average in a month this season. He also scored a career-high 31 points while shooting over 80 percent from the field and three-point land at the beginning of the month against the Chicago Bulls. It seems like the Ole Miss alum has found gotten acclimated to the NBA and is now playing his best basketball of the season.
Davis recorded his second-highest field goal percentage (47.4) and three-point percentage (47.7) for a month in February. His 4.2 rebound was also his best in a month this season. Davis has constantly improved his play as the season progressed, even impressing his head coach with his play.
He was able to score in double digits seven out of the ten games this month, the most times he reached that milestone in a month this season. He was on fire shooting the ball, having an overall shooting percentage better than 50 percent four times this month. He also shot 40 percent or from three-point land seven times this month. His offensive game has come along really well, increasing his scoring output almost every month this year. He also is improving defensively, having at least one steal five times in February.
Terence Davis' growth this season has been impressive. The game seems to be getting easier for him and he is showing why he was an All-SEC performer during his time at Ole Miss. He has become one of the better stories in the NBA this year and one of the league's best rookies. Everything came together for him in February, taking advantage of the minutes he has been given. His season-long improvement, along with his impressive performances in is what earned him the player of the month award for February.
There are always some games that the Toronto Raptors play that just stick out, for good and bad reasons. February was no different, with the Raptors having some good and bad outlier performances. The loss against the Brooklyn Nets that snapped the 15-game win streak is this month's bad outlier performance.
The Nets seemed to come out the gates faster than Toronto in that contest, jumping out to a 30-19 lead in the second quarter. It was a 52-40 lead at halftime and the Nets never gave up the lead after the break. They withstood the multiple comeback efforts by the Raptors and ended up winning the game 101-91. The energy didn't seem right from the start for Toronto and they tried to get it going when it was too late.
They shot pretty bad that night, having a 37.8 field goal percentage and a 30.2 three-point percentage. The bench failed to show up, only scoring nine points on an awful 21 percent shooting. In fact, the only players to shoot over 40 percent in that game were OG Annunoby (who only took 5 shots), Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet. It was an off night offensively and it ended up costing the Raptors.
They also were beaten on the boards, being outrebounded by the Nets 64-52. They also were outscored in the paint 50-38. Marc Gasol's presence was missed in this game, and the interior players on the Nets feasted on the boards in his absence. Having this loss snap the franchise-record win streak, and it happening right before the all-star break only made the taste of the loss more sour for Toronto.
Moving on to the positive, the Raptors' dismantling of the Indiana Pacers is the good outlier performance of the month. They trounced the Pacers, beating them by 46 points in a game where the offence was clicking and the defence was stout. This was their biggest win of the season by far and it was never close.
The Raptors came out of the gates hot against Indiana, achieving 34-12 lead after the first quarter. When it was halftime, they nearly doubled the Pacers score at 63-32. A 42-point explosion by Toronto in the fourth put the exclamation point on a dominant 127-81 performance. Their defence was the key to this win, as they shut down the Pacers offensively.
Toronto held Indiana to 32.6 percent shooting from the field and 24.2 percent from three in the contest. They also had 10 blocks, making life really hard for the Pacers that night. The Raptors also won the rebounding battle 57-39, including a season-high 15 boards from Ibaka. No Indiana player scored more than 15 points, which emphasizes the defensive stranglehold the Raptors had on them. It was a trademark defensive game for Nick Nurse's squad and he had to love what he saw on that end of the floor that night.
Offensively, Toronto shot over 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from three. Pascal Siakam led all scorers with 21, followed by Matt Thomas who scored 17 points and shot 5-7 from deep. Kyle Lowry had 16 points and 11 assists, and Serge had 15 points along with the aforementioned 15 boards. The offence was clicking that night for the Raptors and Indiana has no answer. The sheer dominance displayed on both sides of the ball makes this an outlier performance for all the right reasons.
February was a short, but very successful month for the Toronto Raptors. They set a new franchise record with 15 straight wins, got some much-needed rest during the all-star break, and are now seeing their young players growing into their potential. The defending champs put everyone on notice that they are one of the best teams in the league this year with their elite defence and their above-average offence.
The Raptors have to be feeling good where they are despite the plethora of injuries they have had to endure. The Raptors look like they are starting to peak at just the right time, and that should make teams in the NBA worried. Once healthy and at their peak, the Raptors can do some serious damage, and February was just a small sample.