A decade to remember: The top 10 Raptors games of the 2010s

Tuesday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers seems like a fitting way to end the decade for the defending NBA champions. After all, Toronto and Cleveland faced off three straight years in the playoffs, including in the conference final the year LeBron James finally brought a title to Ohio. There’s no question, even with James long gone, that the Cavs franchise is one of Toronto’s greatest rivals.

As the 2010s come to a close, it’s a good time to look back on the 10 best Raptors games of the decade. It’s not an easy call picking only 10 — one could have selected that amount only from last year’s run for the ages — but we tried. In order of when they happened, here are the 10 that stood out the most:

  1. Feb. 14, 2012

The earliest game to make the cut. Who can forget the night Linsanity came to town as a fairy tale story came to life? Jeremy Lin’s incredible, unexpected run with the New York Knicks culminated with the 23-year-old nailing a stunning three-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining. How big was the shot? How many times have you seen hundreds of Toronto fans standing and cheering after the home team was defeated? It was NBA theatre at its finest.

Lin had earlier hit a tough driving layup while being fouled and then an ensuing free throw to tie the game with just over a minute remaining. Neither team would score again until Lin nailed his three-pointer.

  1. March 22, 2014

Kevin Durant scored 51 points against Toronto more recently than this one, but you can’t top the dramatics of KD’s first outburst against the Raptors. Russell Westbrook had limped off, the game went to not one, but two overtime periods, and Durant got to 51 points by rising up to sink a three-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining. Toronto had led by eight points with only 49 seconds on the clock, before Durant nailed another clutch three, followed by one by Derek Fisher. When John Salmons misfired on two free throws, Durant had a chance to make his seventh three of the game and of course he didn’t miss. Brilliance.

  1. May 4, 2014

The Raptors were supposed to tank after trading Rudy Gay and nearly dealing Kyle Lowry. Instead, they inexplicably returned to the playoffs after a long absence and took a 3-2 series lead against veteran-laden Brooklyn. Alas, the group fell short, when Lowry’s layup attempt was blocked, but the building has arguably never been louder than it was late in Game 7 against the Nets. Earlier that season the Raptors had served notice by beating OKC and Dallas and then East-leading Indiana that something special was afoot. This was the start of everything that would transpire the rest of the decade.

  1. Jan. 1, 2018

Vince Carter and Terrence Ross were finally knocked out of the Raptors history books when DeMar DeRozan scored a team-record 52 points against Milwaukee. Toronto rang in the new year in style, matching another team mark, with a 12th home win in a row, this time in overtime. DeRozan had 21 points in the first quarter, one off Lowry’s Raptors record. DeRozan even hit five three-pointers in the game.

5. Jan. 5, 2019

Two days after one of the ugliest games of the season, Kawhi Leonard’s vitriol-filled “homecoming” in San Antonio, a 125-107 loss, that featured a DeMar DeRozan triple-double, the Raptors went to Milwaukee (sorry Bucks fans, your team is on here a lot) and beat the NBA’s best team, with Lowry unavailable, to boot. Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard both scored 30 points in a preview of what was to come. Head coach Nick Nurse would later say during the playoffs that this was the game that really turned things around for the eventual champions.

  1. Feb. 22, 2019

The brightest stars in Raptors history have all returned to a cascade of boos, but DeRozan’s first return was nothing like that. One of the most popular Raptors ever was showered with cheers and nothing but love — until the man he was traded for, Kawhi Leonard, trapped him with old pal Lowry, came away with a late steal and went down to the other end and dunked the ball. Leonard gave the Raptors a 120-117 win, overshadowing DeRozan’s return in cruel fashion.

  1. May 12, 2019

The Shot, need we say more? Forget just this decade, this was likely the key play in Raptors franchise history. When Leonard headed to the corner in Game 7 of the conference semifinal against Philadelphia, launched a shot that bounced, once, twice, three and then four times, before falling through, it was immediately historic. Like Joe Carter’s home run and other all-time Toronto sporting moments. Philadelphia had given Toronto everything it could handle in a thrilling, see-saw series, but Leonard evaded Joel Embiid and just pulled the Raptors through to Round 3. It was the last of Leonard’s 41 points on the night and if they build a Raptors statue outside of the arena one day, a depiction of Leonard’s big moment would be most fitting.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (right) goes to the net past Toronto Raptors centre Marc Gasol during Game 3 of their playoff series on May 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS

  1. May 19, 2019

All hope seemed lost. The Shot seemed destined to become just a footnote from a great season that fell short. After losing two games in Milwaukee to start the Eastern Conference final, Toronto had led nearly throughout before blowing the lead when two Pascal Siakam free throw misses were followed by a late Khris Middleton shot to send the game to overtime. Lowry had fouled out, the Raptors could have packed it in and that would have been that. But both Fred VanVleet and Marc Gasol, who had previously struggled, rebounded in a major way with stellar performances, Siakam scored 26 and Leonard again put the team on his back. It took double-overtime, but the Raptors prevailed and the Bucks never recovered — and never got back into the series.

  1. June 13, 2019

They finally did it! The Raptors brought the NBA title to Canada for the first time by holding off the Golden State Warriors 114-110 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. After dropping Game 5 at home, the Raptors had to go back to Oakland to end the Warriors dynasty. Lowry delivered, with 26 points, Pascal Siakam matched it and Fred VanVleet stepped up too as the Raptors did it by committee. Leonard was named Finals MVP following his final game as a Raptor.

  1. Dec. 22, 2019: Just under the wire, we got a franchise-record 30-point comeback against the Dallas Mavericks. Toronto, missing a number of key players, looked completely out of it, before mounting the biggest rally the league had seen in over a decade. Lowry scored 20 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter. You had to see it to believe it.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Dec. 3, 2013: Golden State rallies from 27 down at home to beat the Raptors. A 64-28 run was the difference.

Dec. 5, 2015: More Raptors-Warriors! Lowry scores 41 points, but Stephen Curry drops 44 as the Warriors stayed perfect (21-0).

May 15, 2016: Lowry scores 35 points as Toronto blows out Miami in Game 7 to advance to the East final for the first time.

May 13, 2016: Lowry and DeRozan both top the 30-point mark, Bismack Biyombo blocks three shots and the Raptors even up the series with Cleveland.

BONUS

Feb. 14, 2016: It wasn’t technically a Raptors game, even though Lowry and DeRozan played, but we can’t leave out the NBA’s first all-star weekend north of the border. Not only did the previous night feature the second-best slam dunk contest of the last 20 years — Zach LaVine’s showdown with Aaron Gordon — along with Klay Thompson’s clutch performance to top teammate Stephen Curry in the three-point shootout, the game itself was outstanding, with Westbrook earning MVP honours for the second straight all-star game. To cap it all off, NBA fans won’t forget that this was the 18th and final all-star appearance by Kobe Bryant.

rwolstat@postmedia.com

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