The Greatest Individual Raptors Regular Season Performances of All-Time: The Final Four
By Sean Woodley & Raptors Digital Staff
WAYNE EMBRY BRACKET VOTING – https://play.raptors.com/tb_app/449755
JOHN SAUNDERS BRACKET VOTING – https://play.raptors.com/tb_app/449743
It was always going to come down to the stars, wasn’t it?
One of the true joys of compiling the field for the GRRSPoAT was picking out the one-off flourishes of memorable greatness served up by characters on the margins of Raptors history. The Donyell Marshalls, Ben Uzohs and Terrence Rosses of the world all stepped out of the shadows to bathe in 15 minutes of on-court fame, and they belonged in the bracket alongside the franchise greats. They were always going to be hard pressed, however, to win what was inevitably going to become something of a popularity contest. As the constitution of the fan-voted Final Four proves, star power sells.
Coming together to form the two regional final match-ups are the three players who most defined the decade-long narrative arc that led to the Raptors lifting your friend and mine, Larry O.B., last June. Kyle Lowry has guaranteed himself a spot in the tournament final by running the table over in the John Saunders Region. Meanwhile, the final bout of the Wayne Embry Region features a delicious DeMar DeRozan-Kawhi Leonard duel, the built-in tension and poetry of which I need not dive into.
The one-man committee agrees with 75 percent of the Elite Eight’s voting results. It would be kind of old-hat for me to defy the people and overturn a decision I didn’t agree with for a second-straight round, so the field will remain as selected. Here’s how I placed my votes:
By now you’re surely acquainted with the heavy-hitters in the competition, so we’ll do away with an extended preamble. Let’s decide who gets to play for the title of Greatest Raptors Regular Season Performance, shall we?
WAYNE EMBRY REGIONAL FINAL
(1) DeMar DeRozan scores 52p vs. Bucks – 1/1/18 vs. (10) Kawhi’s 38 & Game-winner vs. POR – 03/01/19
With a cozy 63-37 win over Kyle Lowry’s duel with Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan continues his run of doing exactly what number one overall seeds are supposed to do. He still hasn’t even been tested in the tournament.
Now standing in DeRozan’s way is Leonard, who continues his two-year run of being a giant-killer in playoff tournaments wherein he’s dawning Raptor colours. You could have maybe suggested Leonard benefited from the draw in round one, where he took down Walt Williams with ease. But for the last two rounds, Leonard’s 38-point game against Portland last year has been the bracket-bustingest member of the field. First to fall to Raptors fans’ still-lingering Leonard-induced daze was Vince Carters’ 48-point evening of bully-ball against the Bucks in 2000. Then, the darling of the committee, Terrence Ross and his magical 51-point night, departed us too soon at the hands of Leonard and the charmed west-end rims at Scotiabank Arena.
Clearly I have no future as a political organizer. I tried really hard to get Terrence Ross — who if you haven’t yet picked up in reading through the tournament, is one the players from Raps history whose work I most enjoyed — through to the Final Four match-up in which he belonged. I knew the recency and star power of Leonard was going to be tough to overcome, but to hell if I wasn’t going to lobby. I sent the link to family members imploring them to cast a vote in Ross’ favour; I voted myself from four different devices; and as the clock ticked down, I cast aside all shame:
alright so here’s what we’re gonna do. Terrence Ross is trailing in the @Raptors Madness bracket right now with a few hours to go. if you go vote for him now, and send me a screenshot of your vote, I will put you into a draw to win a prize TBD if he wins. https://t.co/R77paLIqMb
— Sean Woodley (@woodleysean) March 27, 2020
I received exactly one screenshot.
Leonard — unrightfully, in my opinion — took the victory over Ross with a 61 percent share of the vote, removing from the field one of the most surprising and joyous pops of fun a Raptor has ever produced. Thank you to the 39 percent of folks who fought for the righteous, losing cause. See my Twitter account for more Ross propaganda if that’s your thing.
As for the actual Final Four match-up, DeRozan should be the heavy favourite here. His franchise-record 52 points have already proven impervious to Leonard’s title run bump; the top seed knocked off Kawhi’s career-best 45 points against the Jazz in the tournament’s second round, surrendering only 16 percent of the vote to the region’s 9-seed.
As has been the case throughout Leonard’s underdog run to the Final Four, his hopes hinge on two factors: popularity, and the degree to which voters value the fortune-telling aspects of Leonard’s Blazer-snuffing game-winner.
This is not, however, a tournament of the best shots, or game-winners, or single plays in Raptors history. Here we consider minutes one through 48 — or 53 in the case of DeRozan’s best game. On merit, DeRozan should pick up yet another comfortable win. Though I suppose you could have said the same about Ross two days ago.
JOHN SAUNDERS REGIONAL FINAL
(1) Lowry’s 43 leads Raps past Cavs – 2/26/16 vs. (14) Lowry leads comeback vs. Mavs – 12/22/19
It’s only fitting that we’re guaranteed to see a Kyle Lowry Over Everything™ game in the championship match-up. Now, to choose which one it’ll be.
In one corner, we have what is statistically Lowry’s best-ever game — a 43-point, five-rebound, nine-assist solo undoing of the Cavaliers on a night where very few of his teammates were sharp, emphatically capped by the signature game winner of the six-time All-Star’s career. In round three, he took down Vince Carter’s game-changing nationwide address against Phoenix in 2000, and unlike in the Sweet Sixteen, I don’t feel compelled to overturn this result.
Across the ring is another Lowry masterpiece, albeit a much lower-seeded one. Many sportstalk gasbags covering the tournament have called the Cinderella status of Lowry’s comeback against the Mavs into question. Unlike Leonard, who has taken down titans, this Lowry offering is being accused of surviving an easy draw in the bracket. Each of the wins for this particular entry have been blowouts, with no margin of victory less than 77 percent to 23. You can only, however, beat who’s in front of you, and as we’ve learned from the Raptors over the last couple seasons, the surest sign of a good team is making easy work of your inferiors. Lowry’s 30-point, nearly solo comeback against Dallas hasn’t snuck through the cracks with 51-49 decisions; it’s been pasting fools for three-straight rounds, and absolutely deserves Final Four status.
With all of that having been said, this is where the 14-seed loses. Awe-inspiring as the final 14 minutes of that Mavs game were, there’s just too much of a gulf to overcome here if the voters are thinking with their, you know, brains. The top seed is more statistically overwhelming, and came against a fully-loaded Cavaliers team in the heat of an earnest race for first place in the East. Not that it’s an excuse for choking away such a huge lead, but Dallas didn’t even have Luka Doncic available on December 22nd of last year. It was a truly wonderful ride for the lowest-ranked of Lowry’s three bites at the championship apple, but it’ll be an argument against democracy if it progresses to Thursday’s final.
If things go chalk in the Final Four, we’ll get to see a battle of dear old friends — and both number one seeds — for the most important title in Toronto sports history.
Be sure to vote at the provided links before Sunday afternoon.