After the departure of Kawhi Leonard last July, the Toronto Raptors exceeded expectations over the first half of the 2019-20 NBA season. Despite injuries to several key players — including every starter other than OG Anunoby — Toronto has earned the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference and the third-best record in the league.
As the All-Star break approaches, let’s look back at how the first half of the Raptors’ season played out.
Watch the Toronto Raptors take on the Brooklyn Nets in their last game before the All-Star break tonight across the TSN Network and streaming on Direct at 7:30 pm EST/4:30 pm PST.
Oct. 22: Siakam starts hot
Forward Pascal Siakam started the season red-hot. On Oct. 22 — opening night — he racked up 34 points and 17 rebounds after receiving his championship ring along with the rest of the Raptors. Siakam went on to average 27.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game over the team’s first eight contests.
He would eventually cool down and settle at an average of 23.7 points for the season, but Siakam’s improvement has been notable nonetheless. He already made a leap last year, boosting his scoring average from 7.3 to 16.9 on route to winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. This year, he’s become the team’s top offensive option with Leonard gone.
Nov. 8: Lowry and Ibaka go down; others step up
On Nov. 8 in New Orleans, Siakam wrapped up that eight-game stretch by tying a career-high with 44 points. That same night, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka went down with injuries. Ibaka’s sprained ankle and Lowry’s fractured left thumb would sideline the two of them for the next 10 and 11 games, respectively.
With two key rotation players out, the Raptors survived behind the strength of their bench. Undrafted rookie Terence Davis averaged 10.8 points on a scorching 46.7 per cent from beyond the arc in Lowry’s absence and third-string centre Chris Boucher chipped in three double-doubles while Ibaka was out.
Toronto finished an early-season West Coast road trip 3-2, with Lowry and Ibaka missing the final four games. The Raptors then reeled off seven straight victories. Ibaka returned to the lineup for the final game of that streak on Dec. 1, while Lowry did two days later.
Dec. 11: Blowout loss in Kawhi’s return caps worst stretch of 2019
When Leonard returned to Toronto with the Los Angeles Clippers and received his championship ring on Dec. 11, there was no doubt about it: Unlike past stars who departed, Leonard would get a rousing ovation in his return.
Unfortunately for Raptors fans, that was one of the only things to cheer all night. Even with all of Toronto’s key players healthy again, Leonard and the Clippers crushed the Raptors. The 112-92 defeat capped off Toronto’s worst stretch of the season to date, as it was the team’s fourth loss in five games.
Dec. 18: Powell, Siakam and Gasol all get hurt before Christmas Day game
On Dec. 18 in Detroit, the Raptors were once again ravaged with injuries. Starting centre Marc Gasol strained his hamstring, Siakam suffered a pulled groin and reserve Norman Powell hurt his shoulder.
All three would miss the team’s next 11 games (12 for Gasol), including the first Christmas Day game that Toronto has ever hosted. Excitement for the marquee matchup with the Boston Celtics quickly died down. The Raptors never really had a chance, as Boston took a double-digit lead early and never looked back.
Toronto quickly bounced back from the loss, though. The Raptors won in Boston in a rematch on Dec. 28, and Toronto finished the stretch 6-5 before Powell and Siakam returned on Jan. 12, followed by Gasol on Jan. 15.
With the whole championship core back in action, Toronto only went uphill from there.
Jan. 15: Beginning of 15-game winning streak
In Gasol’s return against the Thunder — a playoff-bound team — the Raptors came out firing on all cylinders, scoring 73 points in the first half. They finally had everyone healthy, and it showed; it took less than 24 minutes for Toronto to build a 30-point lead.
The Raptors nearly lost that huge cushion, but they held on for the win. That strong first half turned out to be a sign of things to come.
Since that night in Oklahoma City, the Raptors still haven't lost. It was the first of 15 straight victories — the greatest regular-season stretch in franchise history. Even after sustaining more injuries to Lowry, Gasol, and Fred VanVleet at various points since then, Toronto has just kept on winning.
Jan. 23: Siakam selected to first All-Star Game as starter
Siakam’s play did not go unnoticed among fans, media members and players around the NBA. They voted him as a starter for this February’s All-Star Game, along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid in the frontcourt from the East. Siakam finished second in fan voting, third in player voting and fourth in media voting among East frontcourt players.
Siakam’s selection extended the Raptors’ streak to six straight seasons with an All-Star starter (Lowry in 2015 and 2016; DeMar DeRozan in 2017 and 2018; Leonard in 2019; Siakam in 2020).
Jan. 30: Lowry named All-Star reserve
Speaking of All-Star streaks, Kyle Lowry has one of his own. He was selected as a reserve guard from the East for this year’s All-Star Game, marking Lowry’s sixth consecutive All-Star appearance — all as a Raptor.
Through 42 games this season, Lowry leads the Raptors in assists at 7.5 per game and is second in scoring at 19.8 points. Lowry’s scoring average is also his best since the 2016-17 season and the third-highest of his career. He’s still providing his trademark hustle, as well: Lowry is second in the league with 26 charges drawn this season.
Feb. 5: Raptors set franchise record with 12th straight victory
Toronto’s 119-118 win against the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 5 was a rollercoaster. Coming in, the Raptors had won 11 straight, tied for the franchise’s longest-ever winning streak. They led by 12 early in the game, but they blew the lead and even trailed by 19 points in the third quarter. After a back-and-forth final frame, Toronto again found itself down by double-digits late.
That’s when the Raptors rallied again, finishing the game with 11 unanswered points in a two-minute span. Toronto kept the win streak alive and set the franchise record in dramatic fashion.
Feb. 12: Final game before the All-Star break
That brings us to today. The Raptors face the Nets tonight in Brooklyn, looking for their 16th consecutive win. Toronto is 40-14 heading into its final game before the All-Star break.