“I had a wide-open 3,” VanVleet told CBS Sports after Toronto’s 104-99 win on Saturday over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. “It kind of caught me off-guard. I haven’t been caught off-guard for a long time by a pass.”
VanVleet estimated that 99 percent of big men would have shot the ball. Gasol, the 34-year-old three-time All-Star acquired at the trade deadline, made a better read. The only problem was that VanVleet was too open.
“I was way open,” VanVleet said. “There was no way I was making that shot. I just wasn’t even thinking of shooting the ball. But that obviously speaks to what he brings.”
Gasol had seven points, six rebounds, one assist, two steals and a block in 19 minutes in his Raptors debut. Coach Nick Nurse, however, noted that their offense simply flowed when he was in the game. His teammates cut with purpose, used his screens and found easy shots. They just didn’t make many of them.
In a span that lasted less than three-and-a-half minutes, Gasol created that 3 and a layup for VanVleet, plus two in-rhythm, unguarded 3s for Norman Powell. In the third quarter, he appeared to surprise even veteran Kyle Lowry when he whipped the ball underhanded from the left block to the opposite wing. He delivered Powell what should have been an easy two points at the rim, too.
“He caught a lot of those guys off-guard,” Toronto wing Danny Green told CBS Sports. “They’re not expecting it as much, you know? Most of the guys in the league don’t expect that. He’s such a great passing big. It’s hard. You gotta be ready at all times.”
Asked a softball question about Kawhi Leonard’s recent play, Nurse said, “I think he’s got to get a little bit more engaged and look for some more motivation to go out there and do his thing.”
Though no one had laughed, Nurse added, “I’m kinda being serious about it. He needs to find a bit of fire.” This is slump talk. The Raptors aren’t slumping. Given that Leonard takes every fourth workday off – with the club’s happy consent – it seems a bit on the nose. Things were bumping along nicely. And then this.
It was especially notable because, to this point, everyone up and down the Raptors org chart has treated Leonard with something more than deference. Knowing the smallest thing might set him to thinking about his next destination (and has before), Toronto’s approach has been very close to obsequiousness.
“We’re obviously focused on his experience here with the team, things that he has concerns about, things that he likes,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster told TSN Radio the other day. “We’re very in tune and very open and always trying to make sure that we’re listening.”
“Things that he likes”? Webster sounded more like a butler than a boss.
Now, after a small dip in form, the organizational marching order has gone from tickling to slapping? That was quick.
One suddenly gets the feeling that there are a lot of adults in the room – some more adult than others – and someone needs to be father. We’re figuring out who that is.
The newest grown-up made his Toronto debut shortly after Nurse’s brushback.
Being nice is no longer good enough. Being good is no longer good enough. For this to be a successful season for Toronto — a team hoping to convince Leonard to stick around as a free agent this summer — only making it to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history is going to be good enough.
The Raptors know that, too — just as they know it won’t be easy. They saw the Milwaukee Bucks (Nikola Mirotic) and Philadelphia 76ers (Tobias Harris) make deals at the deadline, and the Boston Celtics remain a threat — even with their recent issues. All of that played a part in Toronto’s chasing and landing Gasol, who looked like a man motivated by his new surroundings after spending the past few months mired in Memphis with a team going nowhere.
“Without a doubt,” he said Monday morning when asked if the trade to a contender had given him a fresh jolt of energy. “Obviously.”
Even before adding Gasol, though, the Raptors had been impressive this season, going 42-16 thus far — good for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and third in the NBA — despite having played only two games with a full roster at their disposal.
The first time came Nov. 2 in Phoenix. The second came Saturday in New York against the Knicks — after the team shed five players in a
Starting the 2011-12 campaign as a deep bench player sleeping on his brother’s couch, he led an unexpected turnaround of a struggling New York Knicks franchise, creating a basketball craze known as “Linsanity” in the process.
An injury cut his breakout season short, and while he has remained a useful player, his career since hasn’t generated the same buzz.
With the Toronto Raptors reportedly set to sign Lin after his contract with Atlanta is bought out, here is a look back at the 26-game span that made Lin a star:
FROM OUT OF NOWHERE — Lin’s path to the NBA is as improbable as they come. Undrafted despite blossoming into a star at Harvard while completing his economics degree, Lin signed a two-year deal with his hometown Golden State Warriors and played sparingly in 29 games for them in 2010-11, becoming the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. Next season he was picked up on waivers by New York, where he was banished to the far extremity of the bench. But an injury to Baron Davis and generally woeful play by the Knicks had coach Mike D’Antoni desperate for an alternative.
BREAKOUT GAME — Lin played big minutes for the first time in a Feb. 4 game against the New Jersey Nets and made the most of them, coming off the bench to put up 25 points, five rebounds, and seven assists in a 99-92 win. But Lin put the NBA on notice in the Knicks’ next game. Thrust into the starting lineup and playing without star teammates Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, Lin had 28 points and eight assists while logging almost 45 minutes in a 99-88 win over Utah. After the game, D’Antoni said he planned to ride Lin “like freakin’ Secretariat.”
DEEP DAGGER — One of Lin’s most memorable shots came at Scotiabank Arena (then Air Canada Centre) on Feb. 14, 2012, a three-point dagger at the final buzzer that gave the Knicks a 90-87 win over the Raptors. Lin, in his fifth career start, didn’t exactly look like a phenom in the game, committing eight turnovers and missing four free throws — all in the fourth quarter. But with the game tied and about 20 seconds left on the clock, Lin got the ball at half-court. With the crowd on its feet and cheering, he stared down Toronto guard Jose Calderon for what seemed like an eternity, then stepped up to the top of the arc and drained a three-pointer with .5 seconds remaining on the clock.
There are plenty of winners in the news Monday that Jeremy Lin accepted a buyout from the Atlanta Hawks, and will join the Toronto Raptors this week. For the Hawks, they got precisely what they hoped for out of Lin — mentoring for Trae Young, who loved playing with Lin, and with a buyout, showing other NBA veterans that as Lloyd Pierce keeps building in Atlanta, the team won’t stand in the way of players with a chance to help playoff teams and their own upcoming free agency.
And let’s be clear: this transaction will help the Toronto Raptors tremendously, and help Jeremy Lin get paid this summer, when his three-year, $36 million contract expires.
Let’s start with the Raptors. Even before the injury news on Fred VanFleet, Lin represented a clear upgrade in a number of areas for the minutes at point guard spelling Kyle Lowry. The fact itself that Lin will be playing in Nick Nurse’s offense in the Lowry role, a ball-dominant one spot that is tailor-made for what Lin does best.
But consider also the strengths Lin brings that far outpace what VanFleet has posted so far this season. Lowry is an elite finisher, in efficiency if not volume — 18.1 percent of his attempts are inside of three feet from the hoop, and he’s shooting 64.9 percent on those attempts. VanFleet gets to the basket more — 25.2 percent of his attempts from inside three feet — but he’s making just 50.3 percent of them, a huge dropoff from Lowry. Lin? 30.3 percent of his attempts are inside of three feet, and he’s making 62.4 percent of those attempts. He remains one of the best in the league at getting those buckets at the rim on the drive, the engine of his Linsanity period.
Lin also edges VanFleet on assist percentage, rebound percentage, steal percentage — in virtually every way, Lin is an upgrade right now for a team with title aspirations. Moreover, VanFleet’s availability is in question, as he’ll be out for at least the next three weeks with an undisclosed ligament injury. Still, as long as Lin plays at the same level he’s displayed in Atlanta, don’t expect VanFleet to get those minutes back once he returns.
THANK YOU to the Hawks so much for this opportunity. Coming off of 2 years of being injured, you helped me become myself again on the basketball court and allowed me to experience the joy of hoops again!
Thank you to the Ressler family, to Travis, to Coach Pierce, to my teammates. An organization that does things the right way, treats people the right way! What an honor it’s been to get to play with Vince the 🐐 and to watch these young guys develop. The future is bright for Atlanta!!! I truly mean that!
Everyone who knows me knows how big my dreams are and that I have so much left to give to the game. Hyped to join the Raptors!! Galatians 6:9 #WeTheNorth #NeverDone
What Jeremy Lin brings to the Raptors
Lin will take over Delon Wright’s role as a combo guard off the bench and make up for the loss of Fred VanVleet, who is expected to miss at least three weeks with a left thumb injury sustained over the weekend. While Lin is more of a one than a two, he’s perfectly capable of playing both guard positions, as he showed in his one season with the Charlotte Hornets when he was primarily a shooting guard next to Kemba Walker.
That’ll give Nick Nurse the option of playing Lin alongside Kyle Lowry at the end of games if he wants another playmaker on the court.
Regardless of how end-of-game situations shake out based on matchups, Lin will at the very least provide instant offence off the bench. He averaged 10.7 points and 3.5 assists in only 19.7 minutes per game with the Hawks this season. That works out to be 19.6 points and 6.5 assists per 36 minutes, numbers more in line with what he’s averaged in his NBA career.
Lin has always done the bulk of his scoring in pick-and-rolls, where he’s a threat to pull-up from midrange and finish around the basket with floaters and crafty layups. It remains to be seen which of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol is going to start at centre for the Raptors moving forward, but pairing either one of them with Lin will give the bench a go-to option they’ve been sorely missing this season.
Sources: Add Toronto in this group. https://t.co/V0Iw710cc2
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) February 12, 2019
Gasol doing it at his size, like his brother Pau, is a fun asymmetry. On one second-half play Gasol and Lowry played catch, bobbing and weaving, resulting in open looks. Gasol talked on the floor, and on the bench, with coaches and teammates, figuring out the Raptors plays and calling out Brooklyn’s. He communicates. Basketball IQ is a talent, as much as anything else.
“I’ve got to thank my coaches growing up, and giving me all the tools,” said Gasol. “A lot of it back then it didn’t make much sense to me, but their trust and work and patience, obviously, and the chance to make mistakes over and over on the floor, that’s probably what got me to be a little more patient and be able to see how to play.”
“Right now it’s just trying to fit in and understanding the plays, the spacing, obviously, the pace that they’re trying to play at, players’ tendencies, defensively the terminology as well. It’s not so much about my role now. It’s about trying to get comfortable and adjusted to what the team’s trying to do, and then we’ll figure out later on, how can I produce more.”
His role remains unsettled. He and the reborn Serge Ibaka split the centre spot, and Ibaka rolled to 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting, 12 rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes, and closed the game. But Gasol is the better overall player.
“I’m used to starting, obviously, for the last probably 10 years, but we’ll see how it goes,” said Gasol.
Nurse didn’t commit to anything, and said he would try combinations, as he had planned to do when the season began. He again wants to make sure everything has been attempted before the playoffs put those things under pressure. And it will depend on the opponent, to a degree. Philadelphia means the planet-smashing of Joel Embiid at centre; Boston means the versatility of Al Horford; Milwaukee means the three-point bombing of Brook Lopez, or the otherworldly experiment of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Matchups matter.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) February 12, 2019
With the game tied, Gasol nailed a short hook, then had a steal and a rebound and a driving layup, before finding McCaw on a pretty pass for a dunk.
Gasol then nailed a three-pointer and added a skyhook for good measure and all of a sudden Toronto was up by seven and the crowd was buzzing.
Lowry eventually replaced Green alongside the reserves, before Leonard, Siakam and Ibaka returned to finish the game.
Leonard seems intrigued by Toronto’s potential.
“I mean we can be real good,” Leonard said. “We have to come out with the same mind set and energy every night. That’s the thing that we are working on, trying to be consistent and just knowing the game plan,” he said.
“Once we get that down and start making our shot, it’s going to be very hard to beat us.” Head coach Nick Nurse asked Leonard if he called “bank” on his winner off of the glass.
“I called game,” Nurse said Leonard replied.
Toronto showed it is prepared to chase the East crown as well, acquiring former All-Star center Marc Gasol from the Grizzlies. Gasol is rated 84 Overall, giving the Raptors five players rated 82 or higher, and again, that’s another benchmark only matched by the Warriors. The Raptors did have to send away a good player in Jonas Valanciunas, but Gasol is considered to be a better passer and rebounder at the same position.
Milwaukee brought in Nikola Mirotic (81 Overall) from New Orleans. He adds a new dimension to the team as a versatile scorer and spot-up shooter in the frontcourt. The Bucks now have five players rated 80 or higher on the roster. And it doesn’t hurt to still have Giannis Antetokounmpo, who rates out as the best superstar in the East.
Other recent transactions included Kristaps Porzingis (88 Overall) getting moved to Dallas, where he’ll team with rising star Luka Doncic (87 Overall) as the only players on the Mavericks rated above 80. They’ll have an opportunity to sign a max player in the offseason with some cap maneuvering after sending Harrison Barnes (79 Overall) to the Kings.
Former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz (74 Overall) will get a fresh start with the Magic, and Otto Porter Jr. (80 Overall) was moved to the Bulls by the Wizards in exchange for Bobby Portis (78 Overall) and Jabari Parker (77 Overall).
The Nets fell 127-125 to the Raptors before a sellout crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena.
“We’re obviously disappointed, tough loss, we had our opportunities. But I told the guys we came up here [a month] ago and got our tails handed to us,” said coach Kenny Atkinson, referring to a 122-105 loss on Jan. 11. “We represented ourselves well.”
After rallying from an eight-point fourth-quarter hole — and a six-point deficit with just 2:13 left — the Nets took the lead in the final minute. But they couldn’t hold it.
With just 4.4 seconds to play, Kawhi Leonard (game-high 30 points) hit a go-ahead pull-up bank shot. It became the game-winner when Russell (28 points and a career-high 14 assists) couldn’t answer. His final off-balance shot went awry under heavy pressure from Danny Green.
It was a better performance than their last trek north when they’d trailed by 26 and better than their humbling loss to Chicago on Friday. But the Nets (29-29) have still dropped five of six, and six of seven since Spencer Dinwiddie’s thumb surgery on Jan. 28.
Toronto reporters asked Nets coach Kenny Atkinson about Lin, who was a Knicks assistant coach when “Linsanity” erupted late in the 2011-12 season — including a Valentine’s Day game at Toronto when Lin scored 27 points and hit a buzzer-beater to defeat the Raptors.
“Heck of an addition for the Raptors,” Atkinson said. “What I always said about Jeremy is he’s a heck of a competitor, a much better defender than people think. He fits the style of play I think Nick wants to play. He’s meticulous in his preparation and obviously very smart and versatile.”
Lin was disappointed when the Nets traded him to the Hawks, but he remains close with Atkinson, who was happy to see Lin get a chance with one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
“Good for him,” Atkinson said. “Obviously, it’s not great for the Nets, but it’s good for Jeremy and good for the NBA, good for Toronto. I’ll never forget that Knicks game when he hit that buzzer-beater. Rarely do you see an NBA arena go crazy like that. It was amazing. He has some history here, and I think the fans will enjoy watching him play.’’
He did his usual – smart ball movement, subtle, intelligent defence – in the early going. But the crowd’s faith was rewarded during a five-minute stretch in the early going of the fourth quarter when the three-time all-star lit up the Nets bigs for 11 quick points including a crowd-pleasing triple and a running hook across the lane.
“When you start to see the ball go through the net a little more you start to feel good, and you see your teammates and your coaches getting excited as well,” Gasol said. “It’s a cool moment to have. At the end, I got a little tired and had to come out.”
By the time he sat down, the Raptors had gone from tied to up seven with just under six minutes to play as Gasol finished with 16 points on nine shots, six rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes.
“It was a heck of a stretch for him,” said Nurse. “Really impressive.”
The Raptors’ story all season long has centred around Leonard, who has been deemed the key to the Raptors changing their story as the team that can’t get it done in the playoffs. So far, he’s been as advertised delivering MVP-calibre basketball as long as he’s been on the floor.
He did it again Monday as he led all scorers with 30 points and contributed a career-high tying eight assists as well.
Boucher wasn’t drafted after finally being noticed at the University of Oregon, after getting there via this small community college and that small community college. His fellow Canadian teammate, Dillon Brooks, was the 45th pick in Boucher’s draft year. Twice, Boucher was passed over by 30 teams. Now he has a shot at turning this into something.
And that makes him the perfect Raptor in a way, even though he will be glued to their bench more often than not for the final 24 games. The Raptors need to a find a way to fit Gasol into their new lineup, that’s apparent, but Boucher also fits this Raptor profile — he was never expected to be anything.
Which is the Raptors way, really. This team is full of guys who were never supposed to be difference-makers, from the top on down. Is anyone more of a long shot than Masai Ujiri, the Raptors team president and general manager without portfolio? The population of Nigeria is 199 million, he’s the one running an NBA team. A team built in his own image, the team’s theme song should be The Long and Winding Road.
The head coach is Nick Nurse of Carroll, Iowa, population 9,874. Nurse did some coaching for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Brighton Bears and in Telindus Oostende of the Belgian national league. Twelve stops in 23 years, give or take a stop. It’s hardly instructive on how to become an NBA coach, but it’s there.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 12, 2019
The particulars of VanVleet’s left thumb ailment — dubbed by the team as “a partial ligament injury” — are unknown. The Raptors say it occurred during the second quarter of Saturday’s 104-99 victory over the New York Knicks, but it wasn’t bothering VanVleet enough to stop him from playing 10 minutes in the second half. His performance was clearly affected, as he missed both shots he took, and finished a team-low minus-13 in the half. But, at the time, Nurse didn’t believe VanVleet was dealing with anything too serious.
“He did ask to come out later in the game. But I didn’t think it was going to be a two-to-three week injury,” Nurse said. “So, my reaction is that it’s a little surprising. But the good news is one week of that or a little bit more is going to be through the all-star break. So, hopefully he won’t miss too many games.”
If you have to sit out a few weeks, this is certainly the time to do it. The Raptors play only four more times between now and the end of the month, which is approximately when VanVleet is expected to be out of a splint. Of course, VanVleet’s been playing through injuries all season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him attempt to shorten his timeline.
Regardless, it appears the Raptors have found a more than capable replacement in Jeremy Lin, who’s expected to join the team later this week after he was bought out by the Atlanta Hawks Monday. There’s a possibility he could be active as soon as Wednesday’s game against the Washington Wizards. But the Raptors may opt to wait until after the all-star break for Lin to make his debut.
A capable three-point shooter with a proven ability to create for himself and others, Lin will be an extremely useful addition to the team, whenever he arrives in Toronto. He’ll likely see considerable minutes right away, and maybe wouldn’t have even joined the Raptors if that opportunity didn’t exist.
When the playoffs rolled around, and the Raptors ran into teams that played competent small-ball and posed shooting threats at every position, the Raptors consistently went away from Jonas, allowing opponents to dictate the terms of the game. They didn’t look to press the advantages that he presented in the paint, to force opponents to try to match up with him on the boards, and they accepted the terms that teams presented them with, despite Jonas’ own efficiency and effectiveness having shown to have improved value in the playoffs, and that helped lead to some early playoff exits. In 2015-16 he was having his breakout moment in the postseason when, after putting together a dominant series and helping the Raptors overcome the Indiana Pacers, he was off to a torrid start against the Miami Heat prior to spraining his ankle and being unavailable until the end of the Eastern Conference Finals as the Raptors went down to LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Again, last year, he delivered a huge first round for the team, only to see his minutes slashed against Cleveland, and him eventually replaced in the starting lineup for the final game of the sweep.
None of this is to say that Jonas didn’t have moments where the limitations were appropriate. He could still be exploited in the pick and roll, and when the team didn’t seem inclined to run secondary actions offensively, it was hard to keep him involved. These moments, however, tended to be exaggerated to make him look like a weakness on the team.
Yet, despite the constant reductions of his role on the team, and despite the team always looking for solutions that pulled the gameplan away from Valanciunas, he took it all in stride. Which is maybe part of why he built up such a loyal personal fanbase in Toronto. Even as this season went on, he saw himself go from being the part-time starter to only getting one start in the last 9 games before his injury as the team went to Serge Ibaka more and more with the starting lineup. Despite that, Valanciunas just kept bringing dependable effort and production for the team.
“You understand the chance you have coming from a team that hasn’t made the playoffs last year and more likely than not this year as well, having a chance to be back there, you know how much it means,” Gasol said.
“You look at the team and the way the (Raptors) franchise is set up and everybody around it, you understand what they’re going for. It’s all great things.” Gasol said while the past few days have been “a little hectic” since he was acquired in a deal that sent Jonas Valanciunas, Wright, C.J. Miles and a second round pick the other way, the experience has energized him.
Gasol has been a part of some extremely successful teams, and we emphasize team here, since his best Grizzlies and medal-winning Spanish squads were groups of men who excelled by working as a collective. He’s used to egos not being as important and as front and centre as they are on many NBA sides.
Which is probably why Gasol deftly deflected any queries about his role as a Raptor and whether starting or coming off the bench is a major concern.
He came off the bench again on Monday after also doing so in his debut against New York.
“I’m used to starting, obviously, for the last probably 10 years (Gasol has started 762 of 771 career appearances), but we’ll see how it goes,” Gasol said. “Right now it’s how fast can I get acclimated and how can I help the guys up their game more … It’s just trying to fit in and understanding the plays, the spacing, obviously, the pace that they’re trying to play at, players’ tendencies, defensively the terminology as well. It’s not so much about my role now. It’s about trying to get comfortable and adjusted to what the team’s trying to do, and then we’ll figure out later on, how can I produce more,” he said.
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse called on star forward Kawhi Leonard to be more engaged on Monday after Leonard posted just 11 points in Saturday’s win over the New York Knicks.
Leonard has been held under 20 points in three of his past four games after topping 30 points seven times in January. He is shooting just .269 over his past two games.
“I just think he’s gotta get a little bit more engaged,” Nurse said. “Just a little bit more engaged and look for some more motivation to go out there and do his thing. I always say go out there and destroy some people. You’ve gotta get motivated… I’m kinda being serious about it, he needs to find a little bit of fire once and a while to go out there and say, ‘I’m getting 30 or 40 tonight.’”
On the season, Leonard is averaging 26.9 points per game with 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists through 42 contests.