Without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka and with the first game against Kawhi Leonard looming large on Monday, it would have been easy to chalk up Sunday's game against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers as a loss waiting to happen.
The Toronto Raptors had other ideas.
Despite falling down by double digits in the first quarter and a slow start by Pascal Siakam, the Raptors showed off the resilience of a champion in battling back to snap the Lakers' seven-game win streak.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Sunday's stunner at the Staples Center.
The unlikely heroes
Prior to the start of the game, Raptors' head coach Nick Nurse was blunt about the opportunity facing his team, especially those who pressed into the rotation given injuries to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. "We all didn't think we were very deep at all a couple weeks ago" Nurse told TSN's Josh Lewenberg. "I've been saying we got 8 guys I really like and 3 guys are missing. So I'm gonna have to start liking a few more guys here pretty quickly. This is their chance."
Boy, did they deliver!
Entering Sunday, the Raptors relied on their bench less than any team in the league, ranking dead last in minutes and 25th in bench scoring.
Chris Boucher swatted shots and looked like Serge Ibaka Jr.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played stout D and drained turnaround jumpers.
Terence Davis drained a massive 3-pointer late.
In all, those three combined to scored 24 points in the fourth quarter alone, seeing more burn than every starter not named Pascal Siakam. Here's their combined shot chart in the fourth quarter.
You love to see it.
For the game, the Raptors got 43 points from their bench after entering Sunday's game averaging just 30.1.
Boucher was challenging Anthony Davis and LeBron James at the rim while Hollis-Jefferson was playing in just his second game all season, the other coming in mop up duty late in the fourth quarter of a blowout win over the Bulls back in their third game of the season.
Life without Lowry
Losing Kyle Lowry hurts and one win over the Lakers won't change that. Several weeks into the season, Lowry and Fred VanVleet ranked first and second in the NBA in minutes per game, a testament not only to their own strong play but also the relative lack of depth in the backcourt.
Without Lowry, VanVleet obviously carries a much larger role, one that he admirably filled on Sunday. Taking on league guard duties, VanVleet was by far the best guard on the floor as he finished with 23 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. He proactively searched for opportunities to push the tempo, he confidently stepped into deep 3s and he proved unafraid of challenging the Lakers inside, no small feat given their standing as the best shot-blocking team in the league.
But VanVleet stepping up isn't a surprise, not after delivering in the Finals to the degree that he received a vote for Finals MVP.
It's the other guys that should give Raptors fans plenty to cheer about.
Norman Powell made his first start of the season and delivered 14 points on an efficient 5-9 shooting. Perhaps just as impressive was his activity on D, scrounging for loose balls and even blocking two shots.
Matt Thomas provided a nice spark off the bench in 15 minutes, making 2-3 from the field and dishing out two assists without committing any turnovers.
Then there's the aforementioned Davis who after playing 7:38 over the first three quarters, earned serious PT down the stretch, making all three of his shots and ultimately proving to valuable to be taken out of the game as he played 9:22 over the final period, more than either VanVleet or Powell.
Life without Lowry won't always be this kind, but it's certainly a nice start.
Pascal Siakam stays with it
Sunday wasn't always smooth sailing for Siakam who struggled in the first half when matched up against Anthony Davis.
He entered halftime just 3-13 from the field including 0-5 when guarded by Davis. If he wasn't guarded by Kyle Kuzma or by a guard following a switch, Siakam simply couldn't get going. That carried over into the third quarter as he at one point was just 4-17 from the floor and 0-7 from 3.
Then he did this...
NO ONE IS SAFE AROUND @pskills43 pic.twitter.com/p1vYqSxpTU- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 11, 2019
At that point in the game, Siakam was scoreless against Davis. And yet he stayed aggressive and still went after the player who might be the favourite to win Defensive Player of the Year.
End the end, Siakam still managed to fill it up, finishing with a game-high 24 points to go along with 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal on a night he only shot 9-25 from the field.
The best players find a way to work through nights when they don't have their best, particularly when going up against the likes of Davis and James, superstars of the highest order. After a slow start, it would have been easy for this night to go sideways for Siakam.
Instead, it's another early-season feather in his cap for a likely first-time All-Star bid.
Slowing down LeBron James
Look at the box score and you'll notice LeBron James had yet another triple-double, finishing with 13 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds. It would be foolish to suggest that James had a bad game or that he didn't appear in total control at times.
But Toronto deserves all the credit in the world for slowing him down, particularly in the second half.
With 5:28 in the fourth quarter, James re-entered the game for Alex Caruso with the Lakers down nine points. At that point in the game, James was stuck on nine points after going scoreless in the third quarter. It's a good time to point out that James has scored in double figures a whopping 936 games, by far the longest streak in NBA history and one that dates back to 2007.
Everyone in the building and watching at home knew what would happen next: James would impose his will, score on several possessions in a row and lead a Lakers' comeback.
On the very next possession, he got a rebound and then took it himself only to be met with three Raptors at the rim. He missed the layup but got his own rebound and then on the putback, was denied by Siakam.
The Raptors refused to relent and refused to let LeBron do what he's done so many times that it's downright stunning when it doesn't happen.
James finished the second half just 1-8 from the floor with four points, stymied by a steady dose of Siakam, Anunoby and Hollis-Jefferson. Anytime JaVale McGee scores more than James over two periods of a tight game, you know something weird just happened.
It's perhaps fitting now that the only teams to get the better of James this season are the Raptors and the team they'll face on Monday led by former Raptor Kawhi Leonard.
Looking ahead to Kawhi
The Raptors have no time to waste as they look forward to Monday's game against Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers.
Short of Leonard's return to Toronto next month, Monday might be the most anticipated game of the season so far for the Raptors. Leonard was asked about the upcoming game on Saturday. "It's going to be fun to see the guys and just congratulate them and be able to shake hands and compete."
There's history to me made in the sense that no team or player has ever gone through what Leonard and the Raptors will go through on Monday. When Leonard left in free agency, he became the first player in NBA history to serve as the best player on a championship team and then switch teams in the offseason.
Others like Michael Jordan and Bill Russell retired.
Others like LeBron James or Shaquille O'Neal went elsewhere eventually.
But none left immediately... until Leonard.
Which makes Monday's reunion the first of its kind in NBA history.
Grab your popcorn.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.