First up, here’s Sahal and Oren in the post-game:
Gary Trent Jr. is quickly endearing himself to his new teammates. He and OG Anunoby both openly discussed a long conversation they shared on a flight about everything — video games, interests, you name. Anunoby called them friends. Now Malachi Flynn has cause to love Trent.
Well, really, all the Raptors have cause for adulation. On a night when Toronto played sluggishly against the Washington Wizards without Bradley Beal, it was Trent who saved Toronto’s bacon in the form of a running, buzzer-beating, game-winning triple after stiff-arming Raul Neto out of the way.
“As soon as he hit the behind the back,” said DeAndre’ Bembry, “I knew it was good.”
But it was Flynn who ought to be most thankful for Trent’s heroics. Flynn played the best game of his young NBA career, and he did it on a night when Toronto was without Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet, both out with day-to-day injuries.
At first it seemed like it might not be Flynn’s night. After telling assembled media after practice on April 4 that he would be starting Flynn, Nick Nurse chose to start Bembry instead at the point guard position, and Toronto’s offense was clunkier than a rook stuck defending doubled pawns. The Raptors seemed to initiate every offensive possession from the post, and with very little surrounding dynamic movement, Toronto struggled to create good shots. By the time Flynn entered the game, the Wizards were leading 18-9. Even once in the game, Flynn traipsed to the corner, asked to spot up around the arc while the team farted through its offensive sets without a point guard to penetrate the first line of the defense. Pascal Siakam created some layups in transition, but he was working twice as hard for his shots as the Wizards for theirs. It was untenable.
Flynn really started playing in the second quarter. His heavy hands were magnetized to the ball on the defensive end like Nicholas Cage to see-through scripts, catalyzing Toronto fastbreaks. At one point in the second quarter, he secured several defensive stops in a row. On the other end, he finally attacked with confidence rather than ceding all initiation reps to his teammates. He drilled pull-up triples, drove, created for cutters, and finished at the rim. Multiple times he had his hips fully clear of his primary defender; when Flynn is able to reach the paint with only a help defender to beat, rather than a crowd still in front of him, his decision making is pristine. That added aggression is a conscious ask from the coaching staff.
“We’ve asked him to really start attacking the rim… and he doesn’t have to shoot, he can keep his dribble alive and you see guys Nash out, Steve Nash, you know, just keep the thing alive, but he’s got to be aggressive that way and that is huge,” said Nurse. “If he can blast through there and get a few layups here and there, that goes a long way to helping our offense.”
Flynn finished shooting four of six inside the paint, offering Toronto much-needed rim pressure with its three-point shooting cold as bad beer with good marketing.
There were moments that still required improvement. He took an off-balance pull-up three without creating seperation from a defender, and that’s a shot he’ll need to excise completely. At one point he thought he drew contact in the mid-range and threw the ball at the rim, which is something that James Harden may earn free throws for, but a late-first-round rookie surely won’t.
But the good, even the good that doesn’t show up in the numbers, massively outweighed the bad. Flynn stripped Wizards as a lone transition defender, something that Raptors’ fans may think is common for undersized guards to be able to accomplish — being so used to Lowry and VanVleet — but is in fact extremely difficult and rare. He battled on the defensive glass and wrapped up the ball on plays that surely would have been jump balls had a rookie not been involved. He finished with a gargantuan line of 16 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals, and three blocks while playing the third-most minutes for the team. He was plus-11 in a two-point win.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Flynn kept Toronto afloat for stretches. But it was Trent who ultimately won the game.
For Trent, the shot was just another chance to wiggle ever closer to the hearts of his teammates. He made a point to learn to pronounce Yuta Watanabe’s name. He and Anunoby are close. Winning the game for Toronto was just another good-guy move.
“I just want to be a great teammate, help everyone out,” said Trent. “I would hope if I’m in a position where I’m on the court messing up, somebody would try to help me, too. Just being out there to be a void, trying to help anyway I can, whether that’s me yelling on the sideline when our second unit is bringing us back into the game — shout out to them, because they did a hell of a job tonight — or on the court yelling at someone to keep going. That’s really about it.”
Trent has had something of a dream start to his Toronto tenure. He’s already recorded a career high with 31 points, and now he’s recorded an NBA buzzer beater. All in six games for Toronto. I asked him if it was a fantasy start with a new franchise. And the ultimate good guy, he refused the label because Toronto’s gone 2-4 since he joined the team, despite his great play.
Flynn and Trent are both 22 years old. OG Anunoby is 23. It may feel like a veteran team, but Toronto’s win over the Wizards proved that the torch of the team’s future is in good hands with the team’s youngsters.