So ends the busiest month of the season for the Raptors, a month of odd lineups and bad injuries and moments of inspired play and stretches where it looked — quite correctly — like five strangers were running around the court trying to get to know each other.
And all in all, they may not have thrived but they did much more than survive.
A 117-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday night ushered out a 16-game December for the Raptors in which they went 9-7 and generally held their own despite missing Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norm Powell for seven games now.
“I think we’ve done OK,” Nick Nurse said before Toronto’s easy victory. “I’m proud. I think the guys have fought. There’s only been a couple blips where we didn’t play worth a darn.
“Most of the time we’ve won or we’ve had a chance and they’ve been real close. They’ve been tough. A bounce of a ball here or there, we might have won a bunch of those.”
But they did win enough to not lose any ground in the hypercompetitive top six of the Eastern Conference, and got through the longest month of the season ahead of the curve.
There have been moments when they looked discombobulated, as is to be expected, but the overall work ethic and depth carried more than a few games.
A 30-point comeback win over Dallas and a road win in Boston were the highlights, while a couple of really tough losses kept it from being an epic month for a short-handed team. They lost by one on Sunday to Oklahoma City, and went to overtime before losing on the road in Indiana. They win those two, given the injury situation, and it’s a month to remember.
“It’s been a little bit out of rhythm,” Nurse said. “I’ve bemoaned the fact that it’s hard to execute even sometimes basic inbounds plays. Just ’cause guys, there are so many weird lineups and stuff. So it’s been inconsistent … but some of it’s been pretty high, too, so just gotta keep riding those waves.”
The wave never wavered on Tuesday as the Raptors led pretty much from start to finish and were never threatened.
Kyle Lowry had 24 points and eight assists, Terence Davis II tied his season and career high with 19, and four other Raptors were in double figures.
- Anunoby switch: OG Anunoby, mired in a five-game shooting slump, came off the bench after starting all 32 games he’d played in and got back on track. Having been moved from small forward to the frontcourt after injuries to Siakam and Gasol, Anunoby was back in his backcourt role off the bench with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson replacing him as a starter.
“I thought both of them were more focused, way more energetic,” Nurse said of Anunoby and Hollis-Jefferson. “They were down and guarding. They were rebounding. When you’re like that, other good things — like your shooting and making strong moves — seem to follow.”
Anunoby, who had made two three-point field goals in his previous five games, made two in his first five minutes Tuesday and finished with 12 points.
- New year’s split: Tuesday was the sixth time in franchise history that the Raptors had played a New Year’s Eve game and it evened their record at 3-3. They lost in Washington in 1997, won in New Orleans against the then-Hornets in 2007, lost to Denver in Toronto in 2008, lost in Houston in 2010 and won in Chicago in 2013.
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- Winning equation: After Tuesday’s win, the Raptors finished the 2010s with a 447-358 record for a win percentage of 55.5. They began the decade with a 14-15 mark on Jan. 1, 2010, and go into Jan. 1, 2020 at 23-11 this season.
- Up next: A rather key Eastern Conference matchup kicks off 2020, as the Raptors are in Miami to face the Heat on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
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