Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse sent a message to his rookie Scottie Barnes early on Friday night — and the rookie responded with a career night.
Looking either unable or unwilling to engage defensively early, Barnes got an early hook from Nick Nurse as the Washington Wizards jumped out to a 10-3 lead. Barnes got the message, though — when he was re-inserted into the lineup a few minutes later, he was a different player, more aggressive, and fully willing to use his size to have his way with any Wizards defender.
From halfway through the first quarter through the end of the third, Barnes poured in a career-high 27 points, on 17 shots, as the Raptors turned an early 12-point deficit into a 14-point lead heading into the final frame.
The end wasn’t pretty — the Wizards used a 25-7 run to tie the game before the Raptors put it away in the final minute — but the Raptors wrapped up their road trip with a win and a 2-3 record.
Barnes’ 27 led all scorers, and he also grabbed eight boards, all in the second half. Fred VanVleet chipped in with another double-double of 21 points and 12 assists.
Gary Trent Jr., who returned after missing six games with an ankle injury, scored 13, and although he looked a step slow at time, flashed some of his signature defensive energy to help the Raptors overcome their sluggish start.
Bradley Beal scored 25 — 13 of them in the fourth — to pace the Wizards. Spencer Dinwiddie chipped in 17, and shot 5-of-7 from downtown, but one of those misses was a critical one with a minute to go that would have tied the game.
Things were ugly both early and late for the Raptors; in the fourth, it was the offense that left them, as they went 7-for-24 in the quarter and endured some especially horrendous half-court possessions. Early, though, it was the defensive end that was the issue — both on D, and on the glass. The Wizards ran out to an early 24-12 lead that saw them getting whatever shots they wanted, the freedom to clean them up whenever they missed — the Wizards had two offensive rebound putbacks in the stretch.
Raptors can't make a shot but at least they're turning it over and not defending particularly well— Doug Smith: Raptors (@SmithRaps) January 22, 2022
Wizards by 8
When Barnes subbed back in, he looked different right away, scoring in the post over Corey Kispert with two baby hooks, and then dropping an and-1 to boot. That and-1 cut the Wizards lead to 28-20, but once again the Raptors gave up a putback and ended the quarter down 10.
We were treated to a very cool moment in the first quarter as both Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe checked into the game at the same time, and Watanabe even guarded Hachimura on the ensuring inbounds. The Wizards did it up right but putting on a Japanese Heritage Night, and it was all-around positive vibes seeing the only two Japanese NBA players face off against one another.
Meanwhile, Washington’s parade to the paint continued in the second. After dropping in 22 paint points in the first quarter, three of the Wizards first four buckets in the second were layups, as they built the lead up to 13.
One early bright spot? Trent Jr.! The most stylish Raptor dropped three 3-pointers in the first half, and took a ball away from Bradley Beal that led to a Precious Achiuwa three (no, really!) that brought the lead back to eight. The Raptors got it all the way down to four before Kantavious Caldwell-Pope hit a corner three (of course), and then a Deni Avdija layup (of course) pushed it back to nine.
But then the Raptors went on 9-0 run, one that included a Wizards backcourt violation — their second — and a Siakam three to tie things up at 47. Toronto finally took the lead three minutes later when VanVleet stole a pass at halfcourt and found Barnes underneath for a dunk. The Raptors then forced another over-and-back and Freddy found Boucher on a dive; a late Dinwiddie three cut Toronto’s lead to 1, 55-54, at the half.
Barnes finished the half with an incredible stat line of 17 points... and no rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers or fouls. That’s a truly impressive feat!
Also impressive: Nick Nurse called on his bench! Nurse played nine players in the first half! But you could very clearly see why he’s been hesitant to go to his bench; the four subs managed to score all of seven points in the half. (Washington’s bench, meanwhile, scored 22 in the half.)
Barnes changed up his stat line right away in the third, though not in a good way: he picked up three quick fouls in the first 2:30. But it didn’t slow down his scoring — he had six points in the first four minutes.
The opening minutes of the third saw the two teams go back and forth; Barnes hit a floater, Dinwiddie hit a three, VanVleet his a three, Avidja hit a three.
But another Fred three pushed the Raptors’ lead to five, their largest, 75-71, and suddenly the floodgates opened. The Raptors ripped off a 22-5 run, one that included another Barnes and-1 and back-to-back Boucher threes, to push the lead to 91-76. Toronto entered the fourth up 14, and it looked like the Raptors were going to roll the rest of the way: Anunoby opened the scoring fourth quarter scoring with a fadeaway, and Achiuwa followed it up with a running layup to push the lead to 18.
But on the next two possessions, Achiuwa tossed up an airball 10 footer and missed a baseline J when Barnes was wide open under the hoop. That allowed Bradley Beal to score seven straight points and cut Toronto’s lead back down to 11. Nick Nurse called for time to settle things down.
After that, it looked like the defense might be back on track. A beautiful Trent block on a Hachimura dunk attempt sent the Raptors the other way, then Trent hounded Beal into a bad pass. We missed those quick Trent hands! But the Raptors only scored two points out of the two extra possessions, and another Beal layup and a Dinwiddie three cut the lead all the way down to eight. A Harrell block then led to an Advija layup, and Nick Nurse needed another timeout.
Siakam scored in the midrange after the timeout, but Beal easily found his way into the paint twice, getting fouled once, and the lead was suddenly four.
A Trent free throw made it five, but the Raptors then missed three great opportunities — a Siakam off-balance runner and a Trent three, then another Siakam miss. And you had to know the defensive rebounding problem was going to rear its ugly head, right? After a Beal miss, Montrezl Harrell overpowered two Raptors for the offensive rebound, and scored the putback and-1, cutting the lead to two. Harrell then dunked on a fastbreak after a missed VanVleet J, and we were all tied up at 102.
Thankfully, VanVleet his next shot, a massive three coming out of a timeout, and after a Dinwiddie miss, OG cleaned up a Barnes miss to push it to five with 20 seconds to go. The Raptors sealed the deal at the free throw line.
The extended bench from the first half didn’t return in the second, as neither Watanabe nor Justin Champaignie (eight minutes, zero points combined) found their way off the bench. But Trent’s presence means the team’s top seven players are able to stretch their minutes out a little further, and the space he creates takes some of the offensive creation border off a Siakam and VanVleet. Getting Khem Birch back will also help, though we should pretty much expect at this point that the Raptors will never be fully healthy for long.
Toronto now returns home with a 22-21 record, and will face the Portland Trail Blazers at an empty Scotiabank Arena on Sunday evening.