Another close game, another missed opportunity for the Toronto Raptors. Even for a young team, the Raptors not closing out games late is a troubling sign almost two months into the season. Yes, they are short-handed, and yes, as stated, they are young — but even luck seems to strike more than the Raptors have completed a late game comeback this season.
After a blistering start on offense, including an 8 of 11 shooting start for Gary Trent Jr., the Raptors let a hungry Thunder team led by Lugentz Dort and Shai-Gilgeous Alexander show them up in a hardcore fashion in the second half — almost to an unbelievable degree.
With a tougher Knicks squad coming into town tonight, with Julius Randle (the team’s leader in assists, points and rebounds) showing glimpses of a young Chris Webber, the Raptors should hopefully do what they’ve done best this season — play to the quality of their opponent. If that happens, they should take this game a little more seriously than they took the Thunder after halftime two days ago.
The bright spot of the season continues to be star rookie Scottie Barnes, who has some how improved on his stellar early season play over the last five games (perhaps acclimating to a lineup sans-Anunoby) by posting shooting averages of .485 from the field and .400 from three (2.4 makes per game), while increasing his defensive STOCK numbers to 1.6 steals and 1.8 blocks per tote.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 p.m.
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher
New York — Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson
Toronto — Precious Achiuwa (Questionable), Khem Birch (Out), OG Anunoby (Out), Justin Champagnie (Day-to-day), Goran Dragic (Out)
New York — Nerlens Noel (Day-to-day)
Scottie Barnes’ tumultuous early season ‘Robin Role’
Call me crazy, but I think what we’re seeing with this season is a dress rehearsal for the next ten years. With Barnes playing such a powerful role in the lineup already, at just 20 years old, Masai Ujiri has no choice but to focus his attention on his place on the team, and the players he puts around him. Pascal Siakam misses the first ten games of the season (of which Barnes plays eight) putting Barnes and OG directly in the spotlight together, and then, as of today, OG Anunoby has missed precisely that same number.
With OG as his primary running mate, the team was winning — albeit against similarly talented teams — and Barnes was posting excellent individual stats of 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists. One big thing was missing that we’ve seen recently, however — his three point shot.
In the last ten games, all without OG Anunoby, Barnes has shifted his entire productive output: 13.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists, while adding 1.4 steals and a solid block per game. On top of that gaudy stat line, he’s averaging .455 from the field and .395 from distance (and making 1.5 per game to boot).
With a 4-6 record in those ten games, it puts a slight stain on the production, but it’s hard to argue the rookie could very well be the best player on the team in five years. So, it begs the question — is Masai rehearsing OG and Pascal for the position of Robin next to Barnes’ Batman?
Julius Randle and Chris Webber — yeah I’m going there
Chris Webber is one of the most polarizing sports figures to play professionally in the past 40 years. From his “d’oh” moment in the NCAA tournament, to his quality as a sportscaster — it’s tough to find a person and player who garners as many “that’s my guy!” versus “what a clown!” reactions.
You can’t argue with his game though. Webber was a revolutionary forward at least 15 years before he made tank-like-forwards-who-can-pass-and-shoot a household archetype in the NBA — and that wasn’t for a lack of trying to find the second coming (hello Chris Wilcox, et. al). But I think Tom Thibodeau has unlocked in Julius Randle as close as we’ll see to another Chris Webber (until Scottie Barnes hits his peak anyway).
He’s currently leading the Knicks in all three major statistical categories, is shooting .433 from the field and making 1.8 threes a game, averaging almost a steal and block per game, and dishing over five assists. He’s a bruising big man, and you can still put a defensive monster next to him (hello, Mitch!) at centre — the truly beautiful thing about having a guy like Randle at power forward.
Hopefully Toronto can contain Randle and Robinson tonight, as they look to be outsized dramatically in the frontcourt.