There were two Toronto Raptors teams on the court Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. One that had OG Anunoby and found success and another one without the 23-year-old defensive and suddenly offensive difference-maker.
Had it not been a back-to-back and had Anunoby not dealt with foul trouble in the first half, things could have been different for Toronto. When Anunoby was on the court the Raptors looked like they could contend with Brooklyn for the better part of the night, but Anunoby couldn't do everything for Toronto and eventually the Raptors just ran out of gas as turnover trouble late led to a 116-103 loss in Tampa.
At this point in the season, it's the development of players like Anunoby that the Raptors should be excited about. He's continued to show offensive improvement and he's begun to find the consistency Raptors coach Nick Nurse always talks about.
"He's doing a lot more," Nurse said following the game. "Starting the drive, getting by as initial defender, he's doing good at getting on balance and using his body down there. He's fairly crafty."
Anunoby has been able to limit those disappointing offensive nights lately while stringing together five straight 20-plus point performances including a 21-point night against Brooklyn.
"He’s getting better each day, he’s getting better every game, when he has a good game he’s coming back the next day and getting his work in, seeing where he can be better, asking a tonne of questions, being very open and approachable and being a great teammate," VanVleet said. "He’s definitely turning that corner that you have to turn as a young player to go from potential to actually realizing that potential in real time."
But it wasn't just his scoring arsenal that was so impressive against the Nets. He tied a career-high with six assists mixing in a few tough passes to go with the heads up easy ones he made Tuesday.
After falling behind early in the third quarter, the Raptors turned to their bench for a little energy. Out came Fred VanVleet who struggled for most of the night and in came Malachi Flynn. Seconds later the rookie guard nailed a 3-pointer and it wasn't long before the Raptors found themselves up six early in the fourth.
"I think that little group had a nice little string there," Nurse said. "I thought Malachi was very good tonight. He made a couple of tough moves. He got into the paint, he made some good hard drives, and he was feisty on defense too."
It was a lead Toronto couldn't hold. While the Raptors did a good job of holding Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in check, it was the Nets' non-superstars that Toronto couldn't stop. Jeff Green led all Nets players with 22 points while Blake Griffin, Tyler Johnson, and Mike James combined to score 38 off the bench.
"We did a great job on Durant, a great job on Irving and those guys just made the plays," Nurse said. "Kind of what we wanted to do."
With the loss, the Raptors will fall 1.5 games back of the Washington Wizards for the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and the final spot in the play-in tournament.
Up Next: Denver Nuggets
The Raptors will have the day off Wednesday to make the cross-country trip over to Denver to start their week-long West Coast road trip.