The most bizarre season in Toronto Raptors history ended with a 125-113 loss to Indiana on Sunday.
Malachi Flynn had a career-high 27 points to top the Raptors (27-45), who finished a season thwarted by COVID-19 in 12th in the Eastern Conference. Stanley Johnson had 24 points, Khem Birch had 16 points and 14 rebounds, and DeAndre’ Bembry added 23 points.
Seldom-used big man Aron Baynes had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who used just six players in their 38th different starting lineup of the season, second only to Houston.
Canadian Oshae Brissett, a former Raptor, scored a career-high 31 points for the Pacers (34-38), who’d already clinched a spot in the play-in tournament.
Coach Nick Nurse summed up the season recently, saying the hurdles Toronto faced were more like “cement walls.”
“I’m actually really proud of how we navigated things. I really think the team has performed,” Nurse said before the game. “It certainly was entertaining. We were a million miles away roster-wise on some of these games and we still found a way to play really well and together.”
Toronto turns focus to next season
Canada’s COVID-19 border restrictions forced a last-minute move to Tampa for Toronto, the only team that had to play outside of its market.
The Raptors scrambled to find living arrangements. Their practice court was a hotel ballroom. Crowds at their “home” Amalie Arena often rooted for the visitors.
Still, they were in the thick of the playoff race before a COVID-19 outbreak in March sent them into a tailspin down the conference standings. They went 1-14 that month, and never recovered.
Fred VanVleet, who’s been hampered by a hip injury for weeks, joined the Raptors’ broadcast in the second half Sunday and said he never felt fully recovered after his bout of COVID-19 in March.
“I would say that there’s some hunger and desire for us to get started on next season fairly quickly. I think that the adversity that we faced this year probably fuels a lot of that.”
Kyle Lowry’s future?
The Raptors, whose last game at Scotiabank Arena was Feb. 28, 2020, played 36 “home” games at Amalie Arena. It’s the most by a displaced team since hurricane Katrina forced New Orleans to play 40 games in Oklahoma in 2005-06.
It’s still not a given that the Raptors will be able to start next season back home in Toronto.
“We miss Canada more than words can say,” VanVleet said on the broadcast. “We miss our fans. We miss Scotiabank Arena. We miss living in Toronto. Hopefully we’ll be back soon and we’ll be right back where we left off next year. It will be like we never left.”
Raptors management will remain in Tampa through the NBA draft in July, due to border restrictions.
Now, two years removed from their thrilling run to the Larry O’Brien trophy, the Raptors disperse for their longest off-season in years.
One of the biggest off-season questions concerns the future of Kyle Lowry. The veteran guard didn’t play Sunday, so if he signs elsewhere in the off-season, his season-high performance – 37 points and 11 assists – against the Los Angeles Lakers on May 3 will have been his final game as a Raptor.
Lowry will leave a lasting legacy in Toronto.
“Kyle is the ultimate leader,” said Chris Boucher. “He can kind of bring the dog out of anybody.”
The short-handed Raptors held their own through the first quarter Sunday, and trailed 31-30 heading into the second.
The Pacers broke the game open with a 16-6 run late in the second quarter that had them up by 16. Flynn sliced the difference to 68-55 with a three-pointer three seconds before the halftime break.
Flynn had three three-pointers and 13 points in the third, and the Raptors trailed Indiana 94-83 with one quarter left.