20-4 (very light news day)
1. “This is a potential Finals team right here,” Tristan Thompson said. “When it’s all said and done, they’ll be playing in late May, maybe early June.”
2. He meant the Raptors, obviously. No more of that stuff about the East running through Cleveland. The Cavs will not be going back to the Finals this year.
Boucher’s story is wonderful. Born in Saint Lucia and raised in Montreal, he was a restless youth with little sense of purpose or direction — floating around, not doing much of anything.
He found basketball and basketball found him, and it’s been a torrid rise ever since. Boucher, six-foot-10 and generously listed at 200 pounds, was the junior college player of the year in 2016 at Northwest College in Wyoming before spending two seasons at Oregon. He blew out the ACL in his left knee at the end of his senior season, went undrafted and spent last season on a two-way deal split between the G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors and the Golden State Warriors.
“When you learn how to play later … when you’re older in your head, that stuff is easier to learn,” Boucher said. “They’re telling you stuff and you can catch it. You’re older. Your mind is there.
“There’s a lot of stuff they talked to me about this year. I got a lot better in one year.”
Adds Mahlalela: “(He’s) growing tremendously, off the court faster than on. His ability to understand what being a teammate means now: how to relate on a day-to-day basis, when we’re travelling, when we’re in shootaround, when we’re in practices. His leadership he brings to our team has been a very steady growth, and faster than I thought.”
“In summer league … there was no sense of leadership that he brought to the group,” Mahlalela said. “Now with this team he’s taking ownership of this group and sort of saying, ‘This is my team, and for it to be my team I now have a responsibility. I need to act accordingly. I need to do certain things that otherwise I never would have thought of doing.’”
Boucher’s growth outside the game has mirrored his growth and dominance on the court. He’s averaging nearly 30 points and 12 rebounds for the Raptors 905, who beat the Grand Rapids Drive 106-91 at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga on Sunday.
Fred VanVleet is coming around.
The point guard has been battling a variety of minor ailments and at times has not looked like the player who was a sixth man of the year finalist just one season ago.
But he was one of the best players on the floor in Memphis last Tuesday and shook off a slow, overly-aggressive start to Saturday’s 106-95 win in Cleveland to finish with a decent night. While the Toronto offence didn’t run all that smoothly under VanVleet’s direction and there is work to be done on that front, it was good enough. More important, from the team’s perspective, is that VanVleet is increasingly starting to resemble his old self.
“He said he felt really good in the game at Memphis. For the first time all year felt like he could move,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse explained.
“(Against Cleveland) he was probably three or four blown layups away from having a great game. He got where he wanted to go a little more than he has been this year, which, he says (is because) he’s feeling better.”
Danny Green has enjoyed playing with VanVleet.
“You guys know Fred. He’s always very steady. Steady Freddy. Cool, calm, collected,” Green said. “Runs the team very well. Did what he was supposed to do. Attacked the paint, made plays happen. Didn’t shoot as well as I’m sure as he wanted to but shot good enough. Hit some shots for us. Played good defence. Communicated. Did everything we needed.”
VanVleet’s strong defence against the Cavs also stood out to Nurse.
With fellow point guard Delon Wright turning in his worst performance in ages and Kyle Lowry sitting out, the Raptors needed everything they could get from VanVleet.
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