Scottie, Malachi and the Bench Mob dismantle Nets 133-97

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Courtesy: Jason Szenes, EPA-EFE

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Without being too facetious, the Raptors finally returned from the longest All-Star break in NBA history.

Toronto took the first leg of the home and home series against an undermanned Brooklyn team in dominant fashion to move two games ahead in the playoff standings. The Raptors capped off February with a 8-4 record and there were plenty of reasons why.

Stat Stuffing Scottie

Scottie Barnes wasn’t going to lose a third straight game, evidenced from the opening tip. Just seconds into the game, the rookie took the ball away from a careless James Johnson and drew a foul by nearly dunking on him. That set the tone from a defensive standpoint as Nick Nurse called for a few full court presses in the opening quarter that worked out beautifully.

Scottie already was in double figures less than five minutes into the game. Aside from one open three set up by Gary Trent Jr, all of Barnes scoring came in the paint.

Nick Nurse said after the game that there weren’t any plays run for Scottie. Instead, Barnes dominated on the glass with 12 second chance points in the first half alone, mostly on basic tip-ins. Seven of Scottie’s nine offensive boards came before halftime by just being in the right spots with no Nets boxing out. You can see them all in this montage below.

How’s this for a halftime stat line? 24 points (10-10 FG), nine rebounds, four steals and two assists – simply off hustle. Barnes also had a number of deflections, which played a huge part in the Nets committing 14 first half turnovers.

Scottie had a much quieter second half with the game out of reach. However Barnes kindly told Nic Claxton to take his scoring ambitions elsewhere.

This was arguably Scottie’s most impactful performance of the season. Looking forward to his first 30 point game down the line.

Malachi’s opportunity

Flynn’s role has been in question all season. A few weeks ago, Samson and I both wondered on a podcast if the chance he needs would have to come on a different team. However Fred VanVleet’s ailing knee cracked the door open. Samson wrote a piece anticipating an opportunity for Flynn to shine before he was named the starter and it could not have worked out any better.

Flynn did a great job all game picking his spots to score, beginning with an elbow jumper with Andre Drummond in drop coverage. Later he found himself on the wing being defended by Blake Griffin.

Jab stepping and firing a three over someone eight inches taller said it all in terms of Malachi’s mindset.

Flynn later propelled this game into blowout territory by pushing the pace. The boxscore won’t show Flynn quickly bringing the ball up court at every opportunity, which got the Raptors into early offence and led to a couple of hockey assists. Then at other times, Flynn did it all himself.

The first thing I noticed on that drive and other Flynn baskets was that Fred was Malachi’s biggest cheerleader on the bench. Nurse mentioned that Flynn was explosive getting into the paint. A good example of that was having LaMarcus Aldridge switched onto him coming off a pick and roll action with Pascal Siakam. Malachi wasted little time blowing by Aldridge into the paint for a layup. He was a big reason why the Raptors scored 71 first half points.

To counter, Jacque Vaughn (coaching for Steve Nash because of Covid protocols) threw a 2-3 zone at the Raptors in the third quarter. It was pretty effective, as other teams have enjoyed all season but Flynn helped end a mini drought finding a spot for an in rhythm three. Mix in some solid on-ball pressure resulting in a couple of steals and you easily have Flynn’s best game of the season. He finished with a season-high 18 points and five assists.

Malachi played double digit minutes in the Atlanta and Charlotte losses. What most consider garbage time turned out to be a major reason why Flynn was ready when his name was called.

“Those minutes, they matter more than people think. I had those minutes the past couple of games. When you get a rhythm at the end then you get some real minutes. It feels good and it’s a confidence booster for everyone.” said Flynn after the game.

Precious and the Bench Mob

How often have we even been able to say “Bench Mob” this season? Once again, Achiuwa led the charge filling in for an ineffective Khem Birch who had three fouls in his first four minutes. It’s amazing to witness Precious improve in every facet as the season has gone along. He shot 50 percent from three in February and is now shooting them from all areas, not just the corner. Achiuwa mentioned that he has grown comfortable knowing what to expect from his teammates after his season high 21 point performance in Atlanta. He’s making much better reads, evidenced by his season-high tying four assists.

However what’s most encouraging is his improved finishing at the rim. Precious had no issue taking contact on numerous occasions, none better than going at Drummond on a broken play with the shot clock winding.

It’s the first time that Achiuwa has posted consecutive 20 point games in his career. He also helped on the offensive glass, setting up extra shot opportunities when the Raps were struggling with the zone in the third quarter.

Jumping to Thaddeus Young now. Pascal Siakam had an off game (2-14 FG) but he routinely found the trio of Young, Achiuwa and Chris Boucher behind the arc. They each made a pair, combining for six (!!) first half threes.

Young is capable three point shooter, jumping over the 500 made mark for his career in this game and going 79-222 (35.6 percent) just two seasons ago in Chicago. However he didn’t make a single three in his limited minutes with the Spurs (0-5)

Nurse has already let him know that’s not going to fly as a Raptor.

“One of the things he learned last game is we kicked it out to him for a bunch of rhythm threes and he didn’t take any of them. He’s a decent shooter. I told him listen our deal here is when it’s a rhythm three, you gotta pull it. Everybody is expecting you to pull it. I think that changed his mindset and his confidence a little bit tonight. We’ll change that.” Nurse said while laughing a bit.

Thad finished with 11 points and his only basket inside the arc was quite the highlight, using his veteran savvy on Bruce Brown.

I can’t finish this recap without mentioning Yuta Watanabe. He was in the rotation, getting a second quarter stint. But it’s all about what he did in the fourth to Kessler Edwards.

As sweet as that was, Scottie wasn’t totally impressed.

Overall, the bench obliterated their previous season high of 53 against Sacramento in December.

What’s Next?

Same team, different country. The Big Bank will be full for the first time in months for an exciting rematch tonight.

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