Raptors Cage

What To Remember From A Game To Remember

They say that you should start your day off doing something you love. Do yourself a favour, press play on the video below, and re-live what we witnessed last night.

Most Raptors fans probably haven’t derived as much happiness from a regular season basketball game as they did last night since, well… the last time that the Raptors romped over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Centre last season on November 4th, 2018.

What might feel even better this time around is that these Lakers held a league-best record of 7-1 prior to their encounter with the defending champs, being led by who many regard as two of the top five basketball players on the planet. On the other side, three of Nick Nurse’s top eight guys were out with injuries, and tonight’s game was his first substantially shorthanded outing in which he was forced to experiment with what is commonly seen as the shallowest Raptors bench of the decade.

So much for that narrative.

I was planning on going through player grades for everyone that suited up tonight, but it seemed redundant as I planned it out in my head and realized I’d just be giving an A+ to everyone, especially Nick Nurse, after his first successful coach’s challenge.

The first few minutes of the first quarter set the contest up for something that looked like it could become painful to watch. Enough bricks were coming off the rim to build a house, and turnovers were piling up like a corporation going bankrupt. The offense was stagnant, making it seem like it would be a long few weeks without Lowry, and the defense was a step slow on everything, allowing Avery Bradley to crack open the first 7 points of the game for Los Angeles.

All this was coming from the starters – supposedly the only 5 guys on the team who could hope to match up with the type of talent the Lakers had.

That was until the rookie sensations; Matt Thomas and Terence Davis Jr., walked in the game and combined to quickly nail a couple of threes, before Matt Thomas knocked down a buzzer beating contested floater to end the first quarter and pull the Raptors within one point.

In a game that people thought would be theoretically over by the start of the second quarter, Nick Nurse’s misfits ran Frank Vogel’s “deepest bench in the league” into the ground. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson proved that he should have been playing for each of the past 8 games. Chris Boucher showed us that he doesn’t need any more weight on his body to be a big-time contributor. Terence Davis is slowly making ‘Em Believe all around the world. Matt Thomas’ effort on defense (and Nurse’s ability to hide his deficiencies with a zone scheme) scored him some meaningful minutes. Fred VanVleet finally got the jolt back in his step that we haven’t seen from him since opening night, and Norman Powell suddenly decided that he was Kobe Bryant under the bright lights of L.A.

That stellar play only ramped up in the second half. Pascal Siakam was having a rough night, beginning the game shooting 3-15, however it was anything but talent that earned the Raptors this win. A sequence in which Chris Boucher emphatically swatted away Alex Caruso’s soft layup attempt, then ran the length of the floor quicker than anyone else to throw down an alley-oop lob from Fred VanVleet typified this team’s effort throughout the night.

Outside of Marc Gasol, the eldest player who played for the Raptors tonight was Chris Boucher, at a mere 26 years old. The team’s young legs showed out, pushing the ball in transition with every opportunity available, leading to a swift 32 fastbreak points, in comparison to the Lakers’ 8.

Many thought that having Lowry out of the lineup would cost the Raptors their only player who was able to dictate the pace of the game, but when you’re leading the league in fastbreak points, and having your calming floor general out only leads to even quicker basketball, there really isn’t an issue on that front. Perhaps the bigger concern was how the Raptors would fare going up against bigger teams with Ibaka out of the lineup. Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as your bigs off the bench theoretically could not handle the size of other NBA centers and power forwards. Well, when you want to test size, there’s no better opponent than the Los Angeles Lakers, who are going to throw Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma, and JaVale McGee at you.

Despite the obvious discrepancy in size, the Raptors had bigger heart. Boucher flew around the court from end to end using his long arms like spaghetti slapping around at the ball wherever he could, which resulted in three huge blocks, including one on each of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. As the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the G-League, most people would have thought that Boucher could bring some of his notorious shot-blocking ability to the NBA, but would not be able to emulate his success to the same level as he did last year. Chris Boucher does not care what most people think. Chris Boucher blocks the other team’s best player anyways, in addition to finishing and-one’s over Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard.

His partner, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has never been one to care about what people think either, and he was completely fine letting his seat on the bench feel some air tonight as he saw an uber productive 15 minutes of floor time. Upholding his defensive reputation that Nick Nurse discredited earlier in the year, he got his hands on every loose ball that he could, and he too, was a huge difference maker on the defensive end of the floor. His offensive arsenal is still finite, but he wasn’t afraid to let the game come to him. After hitting a few of his first few shots, making good reads, and hustling up and down the court, he recognized a smaller matchup in the post midway through the fourth quarter, and he channeled his inner-Dirk Nowitzki to nail a memorable post-fadeaway and put the Raptors up by 11.

Finally, there’s Terence Davis Jr.: If you haven’t already hopped on his bandwagon, do so soon. It’s filling up, and I regret to inform you that as soon as the world sees what he’s been up to, there may not be anymore room on it. If he can sustain some of the play that he had tonight, he can make a legit case to be considered for one of the All-Rookie teams this year. His energy was off the charts, sprinting around on defense to contest every shot that someone in a white jersey put up, and capitalizing on every opportunity he was given on the other end. His ability to run the point guard spot is developing game by game, and moreover, his overall level of confidence is rising, which is key for any young player hoping to make a difference.

The very fact that the undrafted trio of Fred VanVleet, Terence Davis Jr., and Chris Boucher combined for 51 points tonight against the most stacked team in the NBA is a testament to the Raptors’ scouting and player development. If that’s not enough, they’ll be back at it again tomorrow, hoping to do the same to Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers – the only other team who’s beaten the Lakers this season.

Oh yeah, by the way, did someone say Bench Mob is back? Well they should have, because they very well might be.

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