Third game in four nights? On a Friday? And a 9:00 p.m. start? Oh, and two injured starters? Yikes.
This whole thing didn’t sound good from the start. And it lived down to those expectations too, as the Toronto Raptors barely squeaked out an ugly 86-81 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, one that saw them give up 23-1 run bridging the third and fourth quarters... and then close the game on an 11-0 run.
Still, a win is a win, and the Raptors have finally evened their record out at 15-15.
1. Chris Boucher, NBA Starter
With Kyle Lowry and OG Anunoby both out, it was time for Nick Nurse to play mix-and-match with the starting lineup again, and this time, the card that came up belonged to Chris Boucher.
It was great to see him get the start (the first in his career!), a well deserved reward for his solid play this season — and a wonderful milestone and the long journey that he’s taken to get here. (Do yourself a favour and read Michael Grange’s piece on Boucher.)
Boucher started things off just right, hitting an open three right off the bat. Unfortunately he ended up with a fairly quiet night — nine points and just three boards in 21 minutes. Nick Nurse is probably right to leave Boucher as a reserve, but for one night, it was great to see him get his shot as a starter.
2. All Bembry, All the Time
Speaking of starters, DeAndre’ Bembry got his second straight start, and once again he impressed. He had a mini 6-0 run early that included two sweet jams and one wild runner off the glass.
It’s been great to see Bembry earn his spot in the rotation. When he signed, he seemed like a perfect fit for the Raptors, but couldn’t get off the bench for the first couple of weeks of the season. He’s not gonna be your leading scorer or playmaker, nor is he your primary defensive stopper. But he does everything well enough that he’s a good complement to the other core Raptors.
Unfortunately, the starter’s minutes may have caught up to him last night as he looked pretty gassed, but he was far from the only Raptor short of breath.
3. Tired Legs, Short Bench
Boy, the two injured starters really showed just how thin this Raptors roster is, didn’t it?
The starters didn’t have a lot of juice after the previous night’s big win against Milwaukee; Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam just couldn’t get any separation or get their legs into their shots at all, and even Norman Powell, who scored a game-high 31, left a few shots short.
That meant plenty of opportunities for the bench to step up, and boy, did they do… the opposite of whatever stepping up us.
The Raptors managed only six bench points through three quarters, and even that seemed high, considering how awful the reserves were. They simply couldn’t get out of their own way on offense, with virtually no ball or player movement and far too many forced shots early in the clock.
The poor play forced Nurse to go deep into the bench; he played every single player available to him except for Paul Watson. Finally, he found a little bit of a spark with Terence Davis and Stanley Johnson, who both finished the game. I’d prefer not to see Davis out there, of course, but I was happy to see Johnson get the minutes; his role has shrunk lately as Nick Nurse has found an effective rotation and that’s a bummer, as Johnson has played well this season.
4. Hi Nick, You’re Allowed to Call Timeout
I’ve written about this before, but man, sometimes Nick Nurse lets his guys play through runs way too long.
Case in point, last night in the third, the Raptors built their lead to 16 before Minnesota decided to play defense for a few possessions. With the Raptors offense stuck in mud and their the legs feeling tired, the Wolves scored six straight points. Then eight. Then 10. Then finally 13.
Six was too early, sure. Eight was probably a good idea. 10 was a necessity.
Why did Nurse wait until it was down to 13? Especially with the fatigue the team was showing, which quickly turned into frustration, as the team starting barking about calls and picked up two technicals. Before you knew it the T-Wolves had the lead — and the Raptors went 10 minutes without a field goal.
I know it’s not an easy balance. If you think a game is gonna be close, you want to save those timeouts in case you need ‘em late. But sometimes, you just gotta bite the bullet and stop the bleeding.
5. RIP Yuta
I’m sorry it had to end this way; I really liked Yuta Watanabe. Unfortunately, he was murdered on the court by Anthony Edwards.
Now, to be clear here, DeAndre’ Bembry deserves some of the blame. Actually, he probably deserves all of it. He gambled on the play, trying to pick off Jaylen Nowell’s skip pass, and that gave Edwards the lane to sky to the rim.
Anthony Edwards missed his first 10 FGs. Who cares? He did this, too. pic.twitter.com/minTcrReWE— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) February 20, 2021
And Yuta, well, he’s just trying to do the right thing and backstop his teammate on D.
Hopefully Bembry will pay for all funeral expenses.
The Raps won’t get much rest, as they’re back at it in Tampa against the Philadelphia 76ers tomorrow night. Hopefully the team will at least be back at full strength!