Players don't tank.
It doesn't matter how many players the Toronto Raptors mysteriously rule out with injuries these days, nobody on the team has shown any signs of slowing down. To them, it's a chance to prove themselves and lately, that's exactly what they've been doing. Once again, the Raptors' understudies stepped up to squander another golden tanking opportunity by knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-106 on Sunday in Tampa.
Every night these days it seems like someone else goes off for a big night. On Friday it was Paul Watson Jr. and Yuta Watanabe who filled the void as Toronto's leaders struggled. On Sunday, it was Chris Boucher and Gary Trent Jr. who led Toronto offensively with 31 and 23 points, respectively.
That's exactly what is making the Raptors so dangerous these days. On any given night anyone can get hot.
"I think that is the way in my ideal offensive world that it operates: That there's a whole bunch of guys in double figures and a couple guys, the ball's finding them and in a groove and in a rhythm and having a big night," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said prior to the game.
Finding the hot hand is exactly what Trent did to seal it for Toronto. Clinging to a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Trent took advantage of a crushing Khem Birch screen to wiggle loose from Lu Dort and penetrate the Thunder's defence.
"I'm happy they didn’t call that flop, I swear I barely even touched him," Birch said.
Just as the Thunder collapsed into the paint to cut off Trent's drive, he kicked the ball out to Boucher who nailed his sixth 3-pointer of the night to just about wrap things up for the Raptors.
"It was definitely a huge play," Boucher said. "Definitely felt like we were that close from getting the win and after that shot I was really happy. We’ve been going to a lot of close games and lose close games every time so it definitely felt good to get a win on this one and know that we can finish games."
Outside of the stars, Freddie Gillespie continued to show why the Raptors offered him a second 10-day contract. He's provided Toronto the kind of rebounding skills and size they've lacked so mightily this season.
Raptors aside, it was the kind of night that should make Canadian basketball fans proud. While Boucher starred for Toronto, he was matched bucket for bucket by Dort, his fellow Montrealer, who scored a team-high 29 points.
"I really wanted to kinda put Montreal on the map a little bit, just to make people realize we have talent in Montreal," Boucher said. "Honestly, you’re only seeing three guys but I know a lot of guys that are from Montreal that actually are really talented, they just don’t get the chance to leave the country. That’s what was exciting for me, that all three guys really played well and it was a really exciting game just to showcase what we’ve got."
The 22-year-old Dort has improved by leaps and bounds over his first two seasons in the NBA, Nurse said. When Dort first broke into the league he was considered a one-dimensional defensive star with little offensive firepower. That has since changed as he's blossomed offensively as a sophomore while maintaining his elite-level defensive intensity.
"He’s becoming a like force, like not just a roster player, he’s becoming a force out there," Nurse said. "The way he can put his shoulder down and get to the rim and the way he’s starting to shoot the ball and the way he can really change the game defensively ... there’s not a whole lot of guys in the league that can do that."
With the win, the Raptors are back ahead of the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls for the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and the final spot in the play-in tournament.
Up Next: Brooklyn Nets
Things are about to get a whole lot tougher for the Raptors who will have two days off before the Brooklyn Nets come to Tampa for a Wednesday night game at 7 p.m. ET.