Tanking can be a fickle game.
The goal of any good tank is to lose as many games as possible in order to get a higher draft pick. It's usually an edict that comes from the top of an organization, but it never quite trickles down to the player level. To them, it's still about winning. Just ask the Toronto Raptors.
It doesn't matter how many stars you take off a team, to the players on the court those minutes are just an opportunity for more playing time. It's a chance to earn a living. That's what Paul Watson Jr. was trying to do Friday night in Toronto's 113-102 victory over the Orlando Magic.
Nothing Watson does on the basketball court is taken for granted. He's a 26-year-old playing in just his second NBA season who went undrafted in 2017 and spent a season over in Europe. If anyone on the Raptors knows the struggle of trying to make it in the NBA it's him. So on a night when Toronto had to play without Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr., all Watson did was step into the starting lineup for the first time in his career and make the absolute most of that opportunity.
"I think it's important that they can make those plays. If they couldn't make them this time of year in this kind of situation that we're in, this opponent, then you'd be worried," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "I don't think you expect them to do this, make them all."
After a seven-point first half, Watson suddenly became Stephen Curry in the second. He simply decided to stop missing, nailing 3-pointers one after another. Once it started, the Raptors started finding him. Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn started feeding Watson as he nailed his fourth, fifth, and eventually seventh 3-pointer of the quarter. He finished the quarter scoring 20 of his career-high 30 points.
Not only was it a totally unexpected night for Watson who has averaged 3.2 points per game this season, but it came in just his second game since back from the NBA's COVID-19 protocols.
"I had a tough little stretch there for about three days, three or four days where it was, it was pretty rough," Watson said. "It is taking a little toll fatigue-wise, but I definitely feel just my preparation up until this point has definitely helped me."
Unfortunately for Yuta Watanabe, Watson's career night overshadowed the Japanese forward's career night.
"I’m mad at him," Watanabe joked. "That was supposed to be my night! He stole it from me!"
Watanabe made the most of his opportunity, scoring 21 points to go with six rebounds.
"I’m really happy for that guy," Watson said. "He works hard, he works really hard, he’s always one of the first in the gym and one of the last to leave. So he definitely, he earned tonight. So I’m really happy for him, I’m really proud of him and it’s only up for him from here."
One game won't make too much of an impact on where Watson and Watanabe stand in the Raptors future plans, but their seasons as a whole have certainly been impressive enough to warrant a full-time spot on Toronto's roster next season.
With the win and the Chicago Bulls' loss on Friday, Toronto has now jumped up into the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and sits just ahead of the Bulls for the final spot in the play-in tournament.
Up Next: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Raptors will have a chance to make it three straight on Sunday night when the Oklahoma City Thunder come to Tampa for a 7 p.m. tipoff.