Did you SEE the Raptors’ unbelievable victory last night? The last five minutes of that game were absolutely mind-boggling. I mean, when do you ever see bench players put in when the score is that close? And by an assistant coach? No, no you haven’t.
Let’s begin by discussing the coaching situation. Nick Nurse was in the stands (touching his mask WAY too often, btw – not a great advertisement for health and safety) while assistant coach Adrian Griffin led the team. Surprised? Me too. Hmmm.
Now, if you’ve read any of my other basketball articles, you may remember that I’m relatively new to sportsfan-dom. So, last night I asked my boyfriend, “Is it common for a head coach to take the night off and watch the game from a different vantage point?” He said it wasn’t really, so I then asked “But it’s not unheard of?” He couldn’t think of another coach who had done this.
In fact, the Raptors hadn’t had a substitute coach since 2008 when Jay Triano subbed for Sam Mitchell during a game against New Jersey. CBC reported that Griffin gave all the credit to Nick Nurse for being a supportive, understanding human being who wants to see Griffin succeed and therefore handed over the reins so the assistant could have an official game under his belt. “Griffin said Nurse’s gesture goes hand-in-hand with the Raptors’ ‘first-class organization,’ starting at the top with Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster.”
Whatever the reason for the coaching switch-up, it ended in a victory for the entire organization. Coach Griffin won his first professional game, the team’s lesser-known players kicked some serious ass, and Nurse gets to bask in the glory of a) having given Griffin this fantastic opportunity, and b) knowing he’s helped to train a team that can win under almost any circumstances.
Okay, now let’s talk about the Raps’ farm system. The Raptors 905 is the name of Toronto’s team in the G League – the “905” part is a nod to one of TO’s most popular area codes, one that is often used to refer to the ‘burbs. Current Raps who have come up from the 905 team include Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Chris Boucher, Paul Watson, Oshae Brissett, and a few others. Brissett and Paul Watson are still two-way affiliate players.
The 905 won the league’s championship title for the 2016-17 season, came in second for the 2017-18 season, and third for both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Spicy P was named MVP of the championship game in 2017, and Boucher was the league MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2018-19.
All of this information proves that the 905 does a fantastic job of grooming its players for NBA careers, and those careers experienced defining highlights last night. For instance, Chris Boucher’s stellar performance. You can’t talk about this game without giving Boucher his due. With his 19 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks, the guy was on fire! As Josh Kern from Raptors HQ said, “Chris Boucher might have been the best Raptor on the floor last night not named Kyle Lowry.” The night before, when the Raps played the Bucks (the current best team in the NBA), Boucher hit his NBA career-high of 25 points, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that Adrian Griffin trusted him to take the floor when he did last night. Also, Jack Armstrong yelling “BONJOUUUUR!” instead of his usual “HELLLLLLO!” after Boucher’s epic block of Shake Milton? So great! Respect for the French players!
There were a lot of surprises last night, but Dewan Hernandez’s performance may have been the most surprising of all. Hernandez was sent onto the court with just over three minutes left in the game and a score of 113-108 for Philly. The pressure was real, and yet the bench player who was recently back from an ankle injury, who hadn’t played a game since December 16, sunk a flawless three-pointer. Just. Beautiful. (See it here at 1:24)
With only a few seconds left in the game, Stanley Johnson calmly sauntered towards the basket, made a play, but was blocked. Wasting no time, Hernandez grabbed the ball, was blocked, and Johnson found himself in the perfect position to put the ball back up for the game-winner. They were finally back in the lead, with only 4.9 seconds left on the clock.
Paul Watson Jr. proceeded to steal the ball and clinched it for the Raps. You’re probably thinking, “Paul who?” Exactly. And yet he was pivotal to the Raptors’ victory. What is up with all these lesser-known players showing their metal like this?
And the way the rest of the team was cheering and celebrating from the bench. Like, they were jumping and basically doing acrobatics, probably expending more energy than they would if they’d been on the court! With no fans in the stands, no cheerleaders, nobody but athletes and other NBA professionals, the Raptors made enough noise, commotion, and energy to support their teammates through to the end. And what an end it was! That is the true meaning of “team spirit.”
I think that’s the real headline from this game: “Raptors’ Headliners Cheer as the Bench Makes a Comeback to Win the Game.”
For more thoughts and opinions from Melanie, check out her author page.
Image Source: AP Images