When the Toronto Raptors made the trip out West last week to start a four-game road trip they were 1-5, desperate for a win and searching for an identity. It was a pivotal stretch for the team, one that could dictate the direction for the rest of the season.
“These next four games can really help define how our season’s gonna go, define the team in general,” Raptors guard Norman Powell said prior to the stretch.
It might just have done that. The Raptors are good, just not good enough.
Toronto made plenty of progress over the week. They showed they’re a team that can compete, but right now they just can’t get it done, dropping another heartbreaker 112-111 to the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
“I think we played really good basketball, for one thing. We found out a bunch of things about rotation and playing and I think we’re getting closer to settling in there on some stuff which I think will be huge,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
It was the second straight one-point loss for the Raptors who fell 106-105 to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night. Once again, it was Pascal Siakam who after a standout performance couldn’t get the final shot to drop, again watching the ball rim out as time expired.
After a week of taking away moral victories, it’s hard to look at this 1-3 road trip as anything other than a disappointment for the 2-8 Raptors. Sure, Siakam appears to have reverted back to his old, All-NBA second-team self. He even recorded his first career triple-double on Monday, recording 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. It’s a great sign for the Raptors, but if it doesn’t come with wins, it doesn’t matter much right now.
It was a week of tinkering for Raptors coach Nick Nurse. When the Raptors arrived in Phoenix a week ago, Aron Baynes was the team’s starting centre. Now, he’s third in the backcourt depth chart and hasn’t been heard from in three games. In his place, Nurse has swapped between Alex Len and Norman Powell, alternating between a traditional lineup and a super small-ball squad. Ultimately though, it’ll likely be Chris Boucher’s who comes away from the trip the biggest winner and the most likely to start when the Raptors return home.
The 28-year-old Boucher came off the bench against the Trail Blazers and continued his impressive stretch, scoring 20 points with eight rebounds and three blocks in 32 minutes. It wasn’t so much his stat line, though impressive, as much as the way he gelled with Toronto’s other starters. When he checked into the game in the first quarter Toronto had mustered a nine-point lead. Fifteen minutes later, the Raptors led 58-45 when Boucher checked out. It was a lead that was quickly cut to just five in two minutes of action from Len to close the quarter.
“He’s playing at a super high level,” Nurse said of Boucher. “He’s certainly been a real bright spot. I think again he plays with great tenacity always and always puts you in a good position, he’s fighting on the glass and blocking shots here and there, he’s running the floor and plus the offence has been good.”
Following Monday’s game Nurse said he would consider bumping Boucher into the starting lineup. Though he wasn’t pleased with the “fixation” on the team’s starting lineup from the media and fans alike.
Up Next: Charlotte Hornets
The Raptors will have some time to rest with two days off to end their West Coast road trip. Then it’ll be right back to work when the Charlotte Hornets come to Tampa for a 7:30 p.m. ET tip on Thursday.