Despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back and missing a bunch of key players, the Toronto Raptors managed to put together a solid win against a seemingly disinterested San Antonio Spurs squad last night.
Sure, the Spurs made it interesting with a late game push (that sounds familiar) but the Raptors, powered by contributions from up and down the roster, held the lead the entire fourth quarter.
1. Never Gets Old
I still enjoy watching DeMar DeRozan play basketball. The pump-fakes, the drives, the 15-footers. And now, the court vision! Eleven assists last night. The guy keeps finding ways to improve.
I’m sure I’d still get frustrated as hell with him at times if he were still a Raptor. And yeah, watching him get hung up on screens is still exhausting at times, even when he’s on the other team.
But the footwork? The strength to get shots up through contact? I’ll never get tired of it.
The best thing about him being on the Spurs, though, is that we get a Kyle-DeMar montage every game.
2. New Freddie!
How adorable is it that everyone keeps calling Freddie Gillespie “New Fred”? I love it. I also really like the way Gillespie is playing;he’s got a great motor, and a good nose for the ball on the offensive glass. He sets big, wide screens and can defend the rim.
He’s still raw, to be sure. He’s not comfortable with the ball — he seems to be rushing to get rid of it — and he’s playing a little too much catch-up on defense. He somehow gave up an offensive rebound on a missed free throw that led to a Patty Mills three-pointer. He also got posterized by Drew Eubanks, which is, well, it’s not something I’d want (though as always, I appreciate anyone willing to make the effort to block a dunk and risk getting crowned!).
Gillespie finished with nine points, eight boards and three blocks. With his play so far, I think he’s earned a second 10-day. I know some folks are clamouring for a larger deal already; I’m not there yet. I think the bar was so lowered by Aron Baynes that literally any functional centre looks brilliant by comparison.
But hey — anything that keeps Aron Baynes off the court, am I right?
3. Paulie Walnuts!
It was great to see Paul Watson back on the floor last night. It was such a shame that Watson got sidelined just when he was starting to find a role, and find his shooting touch, with the team.
Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that he’s missed a step. In just 14 minutes, he shot 3-for-4 and finished with nine points.
For a while there, I was worried that Watson was gonna be the next Malcolm Miller — a guy with tools, and the size and athleticism, to make it, but just couldn’t quite put it together. And when you miss and extended period, you never know if you’ll get an opportunity again.
Thankfully, Watson has shown a better inclination for scoring than Miller, and with the Raps still shorthanded, he’ll still have opportunities to show what he can do.
We also have to talk about Yuta Watanabe. He notched 11 points last night, and if we take out the Hawks game, in which Watanabe didn’t score, he’s averaging 9.6. points per over his last five, at 63% from the field and 50% from downtown.
What’s most impressive, though, is the confidence with which he’s playing on offense. Shooting the ball, he’s not hesitating in any way, and even when he misses, he’s coming right back and shooting it again. But even beyond the shooting, the way he’s moving, with and without the ball, shows a much higher level of comfort than he had before. Yuta was an “energy guy” before, but now he’s becoming a contributor at both ends.
I really hope Yuta is back on a full-time deal next year. He isn’t designed to play on an undermanned team, but if you’re healthy, he’s everything you want in a role-playing wing.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 15, 2021
5. Wait, do the Raptors have… a Bench?!
When you think about the guys who were missing last night, and then add up those last three thoughts above, it seems possible that the Raptors might finally, maybe, sorta have a competent bench squad? The upgrades from Baynes and Stanley Johnson to Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie alone are significant. Add in more competent, confident play from Malachi Flynn, Yuta and Watson, and I mean… that’s a solid rotation:
Obviously these are small-sample-size minutes, and its easy for Nick Nurse to give the unproven guys a longer leash when the games don’t really matter. But you can see the potential!
Unfortunately, it’s probably too late for it to matter. With the brutal West coast trip looming, it’s going to be hard for this group to get healthy and gel and make a real run at a playoff or play-in spot. It’s a shame because I would have liked to have seen what that group could do, when fully healthy!
Thanks to San Antonio “pulling a Raptors” and making a late game push, the last five games in this series have no been decided by an average of 3.4 points. Kind of a shame they only meet twice a year!