We’re two minutes into the fourth quarter, tied at 91 — Jakob Poeltl has been iffy on defense all night, Kyle Lowry just sank his first of two free throws thanks to a hip-check flagrant foul from Wizards forward Mike Scott and things are tense.
Then, living Legend Lucas Nogueira enters the game.
What happened next was the climax of Nogueira’s entire season — one which featured slashed minutes, a lost place in the rotation and a bag full of ups and downs. The Raptors proceeded to win Nogueira’s nine minutes of floor time by a total of eight points. And win Game 1 by the same margin, 114-106.
Much of the Raptors’ defensive success was directly tied to his ability to alter shots at the rim (Washington shot 6-of-13 in the paint in the 4th). And while Nogueira’s presence won’t be felt by those who read the box score in the future, the people who lived the moment know that there was one specific player who changed the tides in the waning minutes of Game 1: his name is Bebe.
Find the shooter, let him work! pic.twitter.com/EcphHFqJJW— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 14, 2018
It was the best 1-point, 1-assist, 1-rebound game in the history of Raptors basketball, and one could easily conclude that he was the main factor in Toronto breaking their streak of ten consecutive Game 1 losses. In a game that saw Lowry exorcise his ghosts of playoffs past (while playing with a literal illness), Delon Wright score 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting and Serge Ibaka dominate the Wizards to the tune of 23 points and 12 rebounds — that’s saying something.
But when asked who specifically affected the game the most for the Raptors, Lowry was quick to mention the Brazilian big-man:
To most Raptors fans, Nogueira’s clutch play is no surprise — he’s been doing this type of stuff all season. During the regular season, he posted one of the best defensive ratings on the team, and regularly looked the part of a rotation piece, even when tossed into the game for garbage minutes.
As a restricted free agent this off-season, Raptors’ brass has a tough decision to make on Nogueira. Do they go over the luxury tax for a seldom-used player, who also happens to share playing time with some of the team’s brightest young guys? Or do they let him walk, and risk losing his ability to be a dynamite-like impact player?
We have plenty of time to ask those questions in late-June and early-July. For now, let’s toast to a successful start of the 2018 playoffs, courtesy of the music-loving Brazilian affectionately known as Bebe.
Or maybe, as Serge Ibaka referred to him after Game 1, we should start calling Bebe by his other name: the X-factor.