It’s been 10 days since Norman Powell, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam all got hurt, and we’ve spent that time wondering which Toronto Raptors might step up in their absence — the same way Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher stepped up when Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka were out, and the way Powell himself did when Fred VanVleet was out.
We may have finally gotten some answers, at least for one night — a very enjoyable Christmas revenge victory over the Boston Celtics.
Patrick McCaw: Faith Rewarded
During last year’s Eastern Conference Semi-Finals I worried that Nick Nurse’s faith in Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell was going to cost Toronto that series. VanVleet and Powell were terrible, and although (obviously) Toronto the series, I might go so far to say they won despite the play of VanVleet and Powell.
Then in the Eastern Finals Powell was excellent from the get-go, and VanVleet eventually turned it around (shoutout to Fred VanVleet Jr.) and was absolutely brilliant in the Finals.
If Nurse had benched those guys in Round 2, would they have contributed the same way in Rounds 3 and 4? We’ll never know for sure, but Nurse believed in them, and that belief paid dividends.
So we can, perhaps, give Nurse the benefit of the doubt that his belief in Patrick McCaw will reap similar rewards. It sure did last night; McCaw was aggressive from the tip, with a strip block and a steal in the opening minutes, along with a layup and a banked-in J. He had two more buckets and a nice swing pass to VanVleet during a 12-2 run later in the quarter.
Perhaps most notably, McCaw was on the ball at the top of the arc more, freeing up both VanVleet and Kyle Lowry to be in better scoring position. This worked brilliantly, as VanVleet and Lowry combined for 48 points and 36 shots, and McCaw finished with a career-high eight assists.
We’ll see if McCaw can be trusted to run the offense for extended periods, but for one night, Nick Nurse’s faith was rewarded — and once again he made the rest of us look pretty dumb for questioning him.
Speaking of Nick Nurse, let’s also give him credit for subbing Serge Ibaka out early last night, so that he could bring him back earlier and match up with Enes Kanter.
Kanter bullied Chris Boucher on Wednesday, and Nurse smartly wanted the stronger Ibaka to body Kanter up. It worked: Kanter scored 5 points and grabbed six boards in his 17.5 minutes, better (for the Raptors) than the 12 and 11 he had in his 18 minutes on Christmas.
I also liked that this strategy gave Boucher more time with the starters; VanVleet and Lowry can put Boucher in position to succeed better than McCaw or Terence Davis can at this point.
So who saw Oshae Brisset making a difference in this game? The undrafted rookie played a career-high 15 minutes last night, and they were impactful — none moreso than a stretch at the end of the third where he hauled in two big rebounds and played great D on Jayson Tatum, all of which helped the Raptors maintain a 10-point lead heading into the fourth — and gave Nurse confidence that he could trust Brissett in the fourth.
Sure, he made some rookie mistakes (a dumb foul and missed layup at the start of the fourth) but overall his D and his hustle were much-needed factors in the win.
It’s too early to say if Brissett has found a spot in the rotation (and it’s unlikely there’ll be room for him when the team is healthy), but maybe Nick Nurse has found one more reliable guy on his bench.
Hit the Boards
The Celtics killed the Raptors with their rebounding on Christmas, so it was nice to see the Raptors respond by dominating the boards last night. On Christmas, the Celtics were +11 on the glass, and had 13 offensive boards that led to 24(!) second chance points.
Last night, the Raptors were +22(!) on the boards, and held the Celtics to just seven offensive boards and five second-chance points.
The Ibaka-Kanter matchup, and Oshae Brissett’s energy, helped, but credit the guards too: VanVleet (three rebounds), Lowry (four), McCaw (seven) and Davis (seven) all hit the boards as well.
I’m Happy for Kemba
Sometimes you just root for a guy to find success, you know? Kemba Walker always seemed like a good guy and a good teammate, along with being a heck or a scorer. But he was stuck for so long on those terrible Hornets teams. So it’s nice to see him making an impact on a good team with a good coach and quality, reliable players around him.
Now, Kemba’s been a Raptor killer forever, and remains a terror (22 points on Christmas, 30 last night) so I don’t wish him too much success — not against us, anyway. Against the other 28 teams? Go get yours, Kemba.
Man, five thoughts already and I didn’t even get to Kyle Lowry, who had 30 points and seven assists last night? What does that guy have to do to get some respect around here! Sheesh.