Raptors' Thomas, Boucher impress against Bucks
The Toronto Raptors' 114-106 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks might not have meant anything in the standings, but don't tell that to Matt Thomas and Chris Boucher.
"It's a regular-season NBA game," Thomas said. "Every time we walk on the floor, me personally, I don't take it for granted to be able to play the game I love and be healthy and I think our team has that same view."
With Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka all sidelined for the night with various mild ailments, the Raptors used Monday night to get a look at their bench. Coming into the game, the bench had struggled in Toronto's previous five seeding games. The group was averaging a -3.2 plus/minus in the NBA bubble, compared to +2 prior to the COVID-19 hiatus, the fourth-highest plus/minus for an NBA bench.
They certainly hadn't shown any reason for Raptors coach Nick Nurse to go deep into the bench when the playoffs roll around.
"I think the bench at this point is fairly short," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before tipoff Monday. "It's obviously Norm [Powell] and Serge [Ibaka]. Those guys are gonna get big minutes, almost starter minutes depending on the night. And then Rondae's probably gonna have to get in there. Terence Davis has not got much of a chance yet or a flow, but we kinda know he probably will at some point. Chris Boucher hasn't had much of a chance but could factor. I think there's still some work to be done here and some figuring out on some of that stuff."
That may have changed a little bit Monday night.
"I don't want to get too carried away here," Nurse said after Monday's game. "I think the rotation stays at seven, eight. It's great they played well, we could use these guys as sparks here and there. You know, my theory, if I can throw you in a game and you start playing well your three-minute stint could turn into an 18-minute stint. We just want to keep these guys confident so that maybe they're able to do that a couple of times in a series."
Thomas showed exactly what he needed to show Monday night. He said he came into the game not even realizing that he was probably going to get a lot of minutes, but when Nurse called on him he was ready.
He started the game red hot, scoring 12 points in the first quarter including two made 3-pointers in just eight minutes. It forced Milwaukee to adapt defensively, spreading out their defense, opening things up for other Raptors attackers.
"He just looks like a better player to me ever since the restart," Nurse said of Thomas. "It's the skills have improved and the confidence playing the game and attacking the paint, not necessarily having to do anything other than make the right play. Sometimes it's a pull-up, sometimes it's a kick out."
He set a new career-high with 22 points on 9-for-17 shooting that included four 3-pointers.
"I kinda took the hiatus and took that more as an offseason and an opportunity to better my game and better my body once I had access to a court," Thomas said. "I just think with time and experience I’ve gotten better, gotten better offensive, reading defences. Obviously I play a lot off the ball so learning how to get myself open and then when I get open my footwork is definitely sharper now, I think, as well. And then defensively, whether it be watching film or doing a lot of different defensive footwork stuff, I feel like I’m better on that end as well."
Chris Boucher was equally impressive in his outing, taking advantage of his 29 minutes to set a career-high in scoring with 25 points and 11 rebounds, both game-highs.
"Every time you get a chance to play 20-25 minutes, everyone on this team is gonna take it," Boucher said. "Just get ready and the opportunity is there to play hard and show what you’re capable of doing."
Early in the fourth quarter, he threw down an impressive slam dunk over a pair of Bucks defenders. It was the kind of move he said he wouldn't have been able to do last year before he added some muscle.
With both starting guards sidelined, Norman Powell got the start and did what Norman Powell seemingly always does against the Milwaukee Bucks. He dropped 21 points, including four made 3-pointers. It was his first really impressive game in the return.
"He just looks confident to me," Nurse said of Powell. "He’s getting to the shots, he’s getting to mid-range, he’s getting to the basket. He still had a couple toughies at the rim but I loved a couple of his deep threes, loved some of his dribble pull up threes as well."
The Raptors will now have a day off after their back-to-back before returning for their penultimate seeding game against the now very banged up Philadelphia 76ers who will be without Ben Simmons and potentially Joel Embiid who left Sunday's game early with an ankle injury.