It was midway through the third quarter with the Raptors down 15. Toronto seemed to be going through the motions, Pascal Siakam already had five fouls and quite honestly, watching this game felt like a Sunday chore. The team seemed to have no energy for the last game of a long road trip.
So what happened?
The Raptors turned a 86-71 deficit with two minutes left in the third into a 106-103 win, outscoring Memphis 35-17 the rest of the way. The Grizzlies were missing three starters, with Dillon Brooks suspended and Ja Morant joining Steven Adams on the injury list. Memphis has now lost eight of its last nine games after winning 11 straight.
There are a few guys to credit the unexpected turnaround, wrapping up a successful road trip.
The Bench Mob
Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young and Malachi Flynn were the only Raptors to play off the bench with Nick Nurse running an eight man rotation. Boucher actually helped Toronto cut into a deficit twice, his first half stint was equally important as the Raptors came out flat similar to the Houston game.
After checking in midway through the third, the bench made numerous plays to position the Raptors in striking distance.
Boucher, Young and Flynn combined for 36 points. Thad had 14, his highest scoring output since November and third best of the season. He also added four rebounds and two steals, while Boucher had a double-double (17 pts, 10 reb) and Malachi added five points and five assists.
Clutch Scottie and a key block
Barnes only had three points through three quarters but scored 13 in the fourth. He’s become three-pointer happy in February (6.3 attempts vs 2.1 in January) and although Scottie is making a healthy 36.8 of them, tripling his attempts is counter productive to what he did so well last month.
Scottie led the previously mentioned bench unit in the fourth doing what he does best, posting up and going downhill.
During this stretch the Raptors defense also picked up, stringing together numerous stops reminiscent of the beginning of this road trip in Sacramento.
The Raptors still trailed by three with under a minute remaining but at this point Scottie felt unstoppable. He took Santi Aldama to the baseline for a short jumper. On the next possession, Barnes had no issue going at a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Jaren Jackson Jr. who already had four blocks.
That’s not the first time Scottie has been able to score at will late in a game, even against a premier interior defender. Barnes had similar success against Brook Lopez during the Raptors wild 28-7 run against Milwaukee that ended up in a overtime loss.
With 20 seconds to go, Toronto needed a stop. You don’t expect Fred VanVleet to play the role of rim protector with the game on the line, but that’s exactly what he did against Desmond Bane.
It was originally called a foul, but Nurse used arguably his best challenge of the season to reverse what would have been go-ahead free throws for Memphis into a Raptor possession. Pascal Siakam ended up putting Toronto up three at the line.
Back to Scottie on the final play of the game. He played perfect position defence, not biting on any moves vs JJJ who was looking for a tying three.
“That’s when I’m at my best. I feel like I’m always locked in when the pressure is on. We need something, I feel like that’s when I feel I play my best. We obviously needed something, everybody was playing well and I was getting going. It was a team thing.”Scottie Barnes on his fourth quarter
Both Fred and Nurse talked about Scottie’s flair for the dramatic late in games.
Nurse mentioned progress being made on the seven game road trip, especially factoring in losing O.G Anunoby for most of it. Fred called this one a “traditional Raptors win, something you haven’t seen lately.”
Before Kyrie Irving’s trade to Dallas, the league seemed to be waiting on the Raptors to make a deal, not knowing if they are buyers or sellers. Conventional wisdom expects the Raptors to still be in sell mode, but rumours claiming the opposite have been also floating around. Toronto trails Washington by only a half game for the final play-in spot and a favourable five game homestand approaching. Will this same roster be intact for the Raptors next game on Wednesday vs the Spurs? Or was this the last dance for the current iteration?
Very little has made sense this season, so only time will tell.
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