RAPTORS BLOG: True team effort in Denver highlights the beauty of the sport

Plus, Scottie Barnes is an absolute monster and a franchise changer.

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Does it feel good to have said a few days ago about the Phoenix-Denver meeting in Toronto: “You would think betting against the Raptors would be an easy decision. But as they say, that’s why they play the games and that’s why the sport is interesting. You never know what can happen.

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Well yes. That’s the beauty of sport. Even the seemingly obvious — fighting a top team in Phoenix and having to follow it up with a date at altitude with the league MVP and his tough, well-trained teammates — would result in at least one, if not two, losses.

Instead, the Raptors showed heart, toughness, resilience, will and more in managing the Suns and then rallying to beat the Nuggets.

Young legs are great. Instead of looking gassed, a strange group of Toronto back-ups kicked the Nuggets off the ground and turned the tables.

The bench, long a weakness of the Raptors – even when Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Malachi Flynn were available – became a strength as players like Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa and newcomer Thaddeus Young found their role and thrived.

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— Achiuwa’s growth has been eye-opening. We knew he was the best rebounder on a bad rebounding team. We knew he was an athletic marvel with great potential. What he’s shown since the star break is that he’s starting to understand how to play. Sure, he’ll still make mistakes, but he’s shooting three-pointers with extreme confidence (a career-best 4-of-6 attempts against Denver and 11-of-21 in March), making his free throws and defending well. Fouls and turnovers can still be problems, but Toronto should be happy with Achiuwa’s progress.

–Dwane Casey used to call Jose Calderon the “spirit” of those old Raptors teams. There is a bit of that in Khem Birch. He is a tireless worker who performs in pain, a leader and an excellent teammate. He did an exceptional job in the two consecutive games, despite this knee problem. Birch used to be a big flier in high school and during his Pitt/UNLV days, but now he’s content with throwing open attempts over the edge instead of throwing them to the ground. But he can still get up when he needs to, as he showed when Young threw one at him for an emphatic finish.

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– Young was a great choice. A glue veteran who has always been a monster on defense in a way not traditional for a big man. Never a shot-blocking threat, Young has been a constant threat to sweep the ball away from opponents since the day he entered the league. He’s aggressive, but smart, like a lot of pesky Raptors. They gave Nikola Jokic fits.

“What can you say about Scottie Barnes?” He’s an absolute monster. Kids his age shouldn’t dominate NBA veterans. Still, Barnes does it regularly on both ends of the floor. What will he look like in three years when he’s grown even bigger in his body? Going up in the lottery to position himself and then making the call to select Barnes was a franchise changer.

And catching Dalono Banton, who has a lot of work to do but can already contribute in many ways, wasn’t a bad job on draft night either. It’s tough to top Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet on draft night, but few teams come away with a Barnes and Banton combo either.

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– Barnes, the kid, against leading scorer and ageless wonder LeBron James in Los Angeles is going to be fascinating. We don’t know Barnes well yet, but it would be shocking if he didn’t have a huge game. He’s a guy who grew up idolizing Magic Johnson. Now he will have the chance to show himself in the garden of Magic.

– With Cleveland plummeting without all-star center Jarrett Allen, avoiding the play-in is entirely on the table. The teams will meet once again and a Raptors victory would put them in a great position. Cleveland and Toronto have tough schedules to close out the regular season, so neither has a clear advantage of having a heavy dose of weak opponents.

It should be a fun ending, especially if Toronto gets its full roster back soon.

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Oshae Brissett:

The former Canadian Raptor has had a great season rebuilding Indiana, finding an NBA home. He had 9 points and 7 rebounds, missing just one shot in a win over San Antonio.

On Feb. 27, Brissett hit 6 three-pointers and he’s hit at least one three in all but one game since.


Andre Wiggins:

Came out of a horrible post-all-star slump to score 21, with 6 rebounds and 4 assists in a big win over Milwaukee. Klay Thompson’s best game since his injury against the Raptors in the NBA Finals was history, but Wiggins’ play was indispensable.


Keeping track of the pick Toronto might be facing San Antonio (from Thaddeus Young’s trade) and the pick they pick up from Detroit.

Before Sunday’s games, Toronto would send the 17and take to San Antonio and pick up the 32n/a or 33rd choose from Detroit. But the Raptors are chasing Minnesota and Cleveland, just one game behind each (of course, if Toronto is in the playoffs and doesn’t make the playoffs, they keep the pick and send another next year but still get the Detroit pick).


1Scottie Barnes

2Pascal Siakam

3 Nikola Jokic (with apologies to Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa)


1 Gary Trent Jr.

2Pascal Siakam

3 Mikal Bridges and Scottie Barnes (tie)

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