Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse did not care on Tuesday night. COVID-19 has so far not caused any serious issues for any Raptors players, but conditioning, that’s a different story.
“I’m super worried,” said Nurse, whose team has had 11 players go into COVID protocols this month.
Eventually, the Raptors are all too familiar with how quickly this virus can derail a season. They were 17-17 last year and were in fourth place in the Eastern Conference when Pascal Siakam tested positive in late February. A month later and after nearly half a dozen positive tests, Toronto found itself 18-30 on its way to the seventh worst record in the NBA and a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
This time, the Raptors can not let that happen again.
And that was what made Tuesday’s match so heartbreaking. The Raptors were right there. After being dismantled by the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday night in a game that should never have been played, the Raptors reacted with every bit of toughness you could ever ask for against a largely healthy Philadelphia 76ers team.
It was just barely enough when Toronto fell 114-109.
The Raptors showed the kind of fight that has been far too unusual this season. Chris Boucher rose repeatedly in the fourth quarter as the Raptors crawled out of a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to pull ahead with one minute left.
“The biggest thing was that he was ready to take on the challenge,” Nurse said of Boucher, who scored 12 of his team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and snatched 19 rebounds. “Thus he had a little meeting with him before the struggle to give a few pounds away [to Joel Embiid] tonight, so just do your best. He was ready to fight them, and I thought he was hurting them. “
It was a completely different Boucher than the one Toronto saw on Sunday night when he looked confused as the Raptors’ best option against Cleveland.
“The second game I think gave me a perspective on whether I really need to be an option number 1? AA many things that you see guys do every day, Fred, Pascal, Gary, they come in , and it’s a little harder than you expect, “said Boucher, who shot 10-to-14 with five three-pointers. “So it was a good experience for me and just made me realize what I could really do.”
The problem for Toronto was that Embiid hurt them too. He bullied Boucher early on, hit the game-winning put-back dunk and got Gary Trent Jr. near game-winning layup with 20 seconds left.
“Aww man, that’s a great guy,” Boucher said of Embiid, who had a game-high 36 points on 11-to-16 shooting. “But like I said, I think he made me a lot better today. I think I learned a lot of things when I play against him.”
All in all, the Raptors are pretty lucky to be 0-2 over this stretch with all the COVID-19 issues they’ve had lately. They got two games postponed and took on an understaffed Golden State team just before the outburst that allowed them to knock on a curcial victory before everything went sideways.
“I hope we come back and are ready to go,” the nurse said. “It seems to me that everyone is reacting pretty well.”
The team expects to have Fred VanVleet and possibly a few more players left for Friday’s game.
Siakam returns from COVID
The good news for Toronto was that Pascal Siakam did not show signs of rust in his first match back from the minutes. With Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby among the group still on the sidelines, Siakam put the team on its shoulders early on to score or assist on 19 of Toronto’s 24 points in the first quarter. Despite all the attention the 76s gave him, he reached his mid-range spots and fired shots one after the other. When they doubled, he moved the ball around for eight assists to go with his 28 points.
“It’s been tough, but I think this time it was a little easier, I would say,” Siakam said of his second match with COVID-19. “I remember the first time it was just a lot and I felt really sick and my body lost a lot of weight, and just uncomfortable. This time it felt like a cold, to be honest.”
Siakam played a match height of 41:50 and seemed really bubbly after the match.
“I know I was going to play a lot so I was expecting it. And then it was like, when you’re tired, getting out like that, but I feel like I’m tired all the time,” he said.
Wilson Protocols dilemma
DJ Wilson was not allowed to play in the first half due to NBA Health & Safety protocols. It’s unclear why that was, but Wilson somehow cleared minutes at the break and returned to the field to prove pivitol for Toronto in the second half, which helped bolster the defense and noted a team-high +12.
“It’s two good fights for him, he’s shown some rebound, he’s shown some bounce, some IQ, the right place, the right type of guy,” Nurse said.
Next: Los Angeles Clippers
The Raptors will spend their New Year’s Eve with Serge Ibaka and the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night at 19:30 ET.