You may not be able to watch the Toronto Raptors play any live games any time soon but, there’s a bunch of old matchups that can keep you entertained.
Twenty-Twenty has been uhh… weird. The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions, people are dating in “pods” and, the whole world has kind of shut down due to a global pandemic.
Students have moved to online classes, most people are working from home (shoutout to all the essential workers who still have to go into work and help their communities!) and worst of all - sports have seemingly all been postponed.
Not only are Raptors fans just losing a season of basketball, but we’re also losing one of the most fun Raptors seasons of all time.
They’ve defended their title with an unbelievable amount of tenacity and passion while putting a near stranglehold on the second seed in the Eastern Conference, leaving us fans begging for more Raps games.
For the Canadian fans out there, TSN and Sportsnet are both re-airing last season's amazing run to the NBA championship. Though, if you’re anything like me, that’s not enough to keep you occupied for days and weeks on end.
That’s why I compiled a list of the five best Raptors games to watch/re-watch during this stressful time of self-isolation and social distancing.
Any big game in last years championship run
Realistically, there could be four or five games from last year’s postseason run that should be on this list. But, considering you can watch any of those games at some point over the next couple weeks, all games from the 2019 playoffs are off the board. (Sorry to all you non-Canadian Raps fans)
The Raptors first-ever game
The only reason this game is getting any sort of credit is because of its historical relevance being the first time pro basketball was hosted by a team in Toronto. Adding to that, they actually won this game - a rare occurrence for that ‘95 team.
It’s cool to watch how different things were in 1995 around the NBA and how far the Raptors have come from that point. At the time, they were playing in the “Skydome” (now Rogers Centre) with some excitement around them only because they were a new team. Now they’re the reigning NBA champs and are close to contending for the most important sports team in the country.
Kobe Bryant’s 81
This isn’t necessarily a great Raptors game per se, but it’s one of the historic games in NBA history. Watching anyone put up anywhere near 80 points in a single professional basketball game is something you need to see whether you like the sport or not.
It’s truly one of the most impressive acts of scoring across any sport. It was a display of what Kobe really was. He clawed the Los Angeles Lakers back into a game they were down by more than 15 and did so by showing his nearly unmatched scoring ability.
The only reason this game doesn’t make the list is two-fold - a) it wasn’t a Raptors performance and b) it was shown relatively recently in the wake of Kobe’s unfortunate passing.
5. GAME 5 VS. INDIANA PACERS - 2016 PLAYOFFS ROUND 1
Coming into this series, the Raptors hadn’t made it out of the first round in 14 years. That’s a long time for even the worst franchises in the league.
The team had been getting a bad rep for their playoff performances in the two seasons prior and looked to be outmatched yet again, despite being the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference.
Looking back on it we now know, the Raptors made it out of this series unscathed, finally taking a step forward with the Lowry, DeMar DeRozan teams.
However, halfway through this one, it didn’t look like that was going to be the case.
Usually, when a series goes to seven games, the seventh game is looked at as the most important or exciting to watch back. In this case, that’s not true. This game was way more entertaining and will have you sitting on the edge of your seat screaming at your TV.
When a series is tied at two, game five is generally a deciding factor as to who’s going to win the series. I can remember coming into this game feeling like it was a game seven.
Unfortunately, since you know the outcome, the luxury of those emotions you feel while watching these types of games won’t fully be there. But, I promise you, when the Raptors finally tie the game up after being down as much as 15 points, you won’t be able to contain it.
There are a few reasons this game is great to watch.
First of all, as mentioned, the Raptors made a huge comeback which was capped off by an iconic fastbreak slam from Norman Powell
Even more fun to watch than that was DeRozan and Paul George dueling it out on the offensive end of the floor. DeRozan ended the night with 34 points while PG put up 39 and played more than 40 minutes.
Just remember, Game 7 doesn’t always have to be better.
4. DONYELL MARSHALL 12 THREES
Who would’ve thought Donyell Marshall was going to get a shoutout anytime soon? Well, he is.
In March 2005, Marshall had himself a career night hitting twelve three-pointers in a game against the 76ers. Nowadays, that seems like something more than half the league can do, but at the time, Kobe and he were the only players to ever accomplish that feat.
Marshall was never really considered a sharpshooter from beyond the arc, but his career 35-percent from deep is a respectable mark. The ‘05 season was his best year shooting the ball and this game definitely helped that out.
He finished with a career-high 38 points in just under 29 minutes played off the bench for the Raps in this one. He got hot early and pretty much just kept letting it fly whenever he got the ball.
Marshall started the game with four straight threes made over the first and second quarter then blew up in the fourth with 17 points to help seal a win. Nineteen of his 22 field goal attempts came from three-point range, and most of them were catch and shoot from the corner.
The entertainment factor in this one is through the roof. Not necessarily because it was a great game, but because of the commentary booth on the call was outstanding. After each three-pointer Marshall made, legendary Toronto play by play announcer Chuck Swirsky was giving it his all.
After Marshall hit his third three, Swirsky yells “Are you kidding me!” and it only gets better from there.
This would’ve been a perfectly normal occurrence in today’s NBA, but since it was 2005, it’s got to get some love.
3. RAPTORS LARGEST COMEBACK IN FRANCHISE HISTORY
This one should be pretty fresh in everyone’s memory as it happened just a few months ago.
At one point in the third quarter, the Raptors were down by 30 points. Yet, they were able to make an incredible late third and fourth-quarter come back to get a win despite being very short-handed.
Marc Gasol, Powell and Siakam were all out for this game, which meant some typical bench guys needed to step up.
The first half of the game as a Raps fan is almost impossible to watch with any sort of joy, but it makes the 45-point fourth quarter that much more enjoyable.
In the first two quarters combined, the Raptors shot an abysmal 34.7-percent from the field converting to just 42 points in the half. It looked bleak and, frankly, it wouldn’t be surprising if most people said they didn’t get to see a lot of the comeback because they turned the game off.
If that was you, it gives you even more reason to watch it back!
You get to see an unforgettable fourth quarter from Kyle Lowry, a career night from Quebec's favourite hooper and the most vicious full-court press you’ll ever see.
This game had everything anyone should love about a basketball game - unless you’re a Mavs fan, of course.
2. VINCE CARTER GOES FOR 51
Every single time I watch this game back or watch the highlights all I can think about is how different the Raptors franchise history would be if they manage to keep him or make a trade for more than pennies on the dollar. What kind of peak could the duo of Tracy McGrady and him hit? Do they win a title?
Anyway, that’s for another time.
This showing truly was the peak Vince Carter in a Raptors uniform. There’s obviously the dunk contest, the 50 piece he gave the Sixers in the 2001 playoffs, then there’s this game right at the top of that list.
No Raptor had ever gone for 50 in a Raptors uniform up until this point and, frankly, no one had ever really come all that close. Only two players before Carter had ever scored 40 in a Raps jersey.
And I can guarantee you, not one of them went up against a defender as good as Shawn Marion.
The one thing that does disappoint in the slightest bit is that there’s no real iconic moment from the game that you’ll always remember. Yeah, Carter pulled off a smooth 360 layup and had a pretty ferocious alley-oop slam off a broken play, but there wasn’t that extremely flashy dunk that he was so well known for.
That takes away from it as a viewer, but it also adds a little something extra to the performance. We were given an amazing showing of his three-level scoring ability. Carter hit threes, mid-range pull-ups, layups, dunks and got to the line with ease.
You hear people talk about all-around scorers, Air Carter was that. Especially in this particular game.
What makes the game as a whole even better is that it was a close one. It ended with the Raptors winning by just one point.
You’ll probably just want to watch Vince in this one though because everyone else is kind of just out there.
1. DEROZAN GOES FOR 52
Eighteen years later, DeMar DeRozan fittingly one-upped Carter to become the new Raptors franchise leader for points in a game scoring 52 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The only knock that’s somewhat reasonable for this DeMar performance is that he only had 44 points at the end of regulation. So, he had an extra five minutes to break the record.
While that argument is somewhat valid on an individual level, it also helps its case in terms of entertainment value for the whole game.
Focusing on just DeRozan, the individual performance has to be what he would look like if he turned into the absolute, most perfect version of himself as a basketball player.
He was making pull-up threes, catch and shoot threes, mid-range jumpers, free throws, layups, and dunks. On top of that, he was dribbling through crowds to get open shots, making the right pass, and most importantly he was the most clutch player in the game.
He had 17 points over the fourth quarter and overtime being a huge reason for the Raptors pulling out a victory.
What puts this game over the top is not just how well DeMar played, but also what some other players on the team were able to do. Lowry showed why he and DeMar were one of the best duos in the league by putting up 26 points and Jonas Valanciunas hammered home a buzzer-beating dunk to (should’ve been to win the game because he got fouled) send the game to OT.
If you need some positivity in your life during these trying times, watch this game. It’s impossible not to smile when three of the most beloved Raptors are balling the way they were.
As Leo Rautins said right before DeRozan hit his final free throw to put him over Carter’s old franchise high, “if anybody deserves to have the record, it’s this guy.”
Leo, I couldn’t agree more.