"Are you going to talk to Bebe?"
"Yeah, of course!"
This was me asking the Toronto Sun's Mike Ganter what he wanted to do in the Raptors locker room after last night's Utah Jazz game. As a matter of course, we usually wait around for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to get dressed and face the cameras. Their media scrums are typically the main events of any post-game Raptors experience. As the best two players on the team, this makes a kind of sense, even as their excellence can sometimes feel rote. This is the media machine at work.
That is unless some other Raptor plays a big role in a win. Or, if you're Lucas Nogueira, the man they call Bebe, and you play four and a half minutes against the Jazz and almost accidentally change your team's fortunes. In those instances, then the machine turns to you.
It was the 4:30 mark of the second quarter and the Raptors looked out of sorts. The Jazz had largely managed to dictate the game's tempo to that point, controlling both ends of the floor to the tune of an eight point lead. As predicted, Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas had their hands full dealing with the Jazz's twin towers, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. DeRozan and Lowry were doing their thing, but the rest of the team was struggling. These were the conditions into which the lightly-used Nogueira was checked in. It came as a surprise.
"His length against Gobert was what we were trying to get," said coach Dwane Casey afterwards. "He [Bebe] went in and gave us some presence, got a couple rebounds, and, you know, that's his gift." The gift in this case was four rebounds (two offensive) and some frenetic play punctuated by a monstrous alley-oop jam. "I just thought we were lethargic, and that got the crowd into the game, got him into the game and it all paid off," said Casey.
Afterwards, Casey called the move a calculated gamble -- which is an adorable understatement -- and stressed that old coach's mantra to all young players: be ready. And while no one would call Bebe a particularly consistent player (he did get called for a three second violation and got a lucky break after clubbing Utah's Gordon Hayward on a drive), his length and, let's call it, bounciness gave the Raptors a different look on the night. (It's telling, for example, that later in the game in a similar fast-break situation, Lowry threw the ball up to Valanciunas who made a half-hearted grab for it as it sailed into the stands.)
"Of course, I'm always ready because you never know when your number is going to be called," said Nogueira post-game with his usual exuberance. "I felt so happy to get in the game and do the best that I can and change the game a little bit."
By the end of the half, the Raptors had gone on a 16-5 run and taken a three point lead. Bebe wouldn't get back onto the court for the rest of the game, but his work was done. "Doesn't matter if you play 30 seconds or 30 minutes, you gotta get there and do your best you can and try to do something to change the game," said Nogueira afterwards. "You don't want to stay on the court for a long time or short time and nobody see you there. Try and make everybody see you there."
Well Bebe, mission accomplished.
Ultimately, it was Lowry and DeRozan who won the game for the Raptors. Lowry dropped 32 points on a ridiculous 65 percent shooting, while DeRozan put in 31 of his own on even more ridiculous 73 percent shooting. The Raptors will beat a lot of teams if these two play this way. But there's nothing surprising about that. Lowry and DeRozan have been playing like this, in one way or another, for all of the team's previous 58 games. Forgive the media machine for getting excited about the prospect of talking, thinking and writing about something else.
As for Ganter and I, it was decided, after a brief chat with his compatriot Ryan Wolstat, that he'd go to the visitor's locker room instead to survey the glum Jazz scene. I have to assume he was disappointed with this assignment. It's not every day you get to see Bebe letting fly after a game.
Not every day... yet.