The Toronto Raptors have lost three straight games for the first time since Dec. 8. With that in mind, do we believe injuries have finally caught up to the defending champs?
Up to this point in the season, the Toronto Raptors have continually surprised not only their fans but also basketball fans in general with how hard they’ve played despite being shorthanded most every night.
After three straight losses, however, it’s clear that injuries have finally caught up to the Drakes. It was bound to happen sooner or later.
Facing the Denver Nuggets, the Raptors tried containing Nikola Jokic with the likes of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and OG Anunoby, both of whom competed valiantly but still allowed the smooth Serbian to post his 12th double-double of the season. One can only imagine the damage Jokic could’ve done had Anunoby not racked up seven steals in the loss.
Norman Powell, meanwhile, played exceptionally well in his second game back from injury. That said, an injury to Fred VanVleet required Powell to start, leaving Toronto’s bench without its most dangerous weapon. The absence of Serge Ibaka also didn’t help the Raptors’ cause.
At some point, when enough key players go down, a team becomes unable to handle the rigours and demands of the NBA season.
As admirable as Toronto’s shorthanded efforts have been up to this point, the burden has become too much for its current cast of healthy players; reinforcements are needed. And quickly.
When Gasol, Ibaka and VanVleet return is anybody’s guess, but Nick Nurse, behind closed doors, has to be hoping the answer is “soon.”
Which injured Raptor is the most valuable?
It’s an unfair question, in a way, because all three injured players (Gasol/Ibaka/VanVleet) play such critical roles for Toronto. Forced to choose who is missed the most, I’ll go with VanVleet. He’s missed 12 games this year and Toronto has gone 7-5 in those contests.
Comparatively, the Raptors are 15-10 without Gasol in the lineup and 9-4 when Ibaka sits. So far, the team has been able to navigate life without its two primary big men, but the loss of VanVleet has been tougher to overcome.
A big reason for the team’s struggles when VanVleet doesn’t play is the impact his absence has on Toronto’s rotation – it forces Powell to start which drastically reduces the umph of the Raptors’ second unit. To his credit, Powell has performed better as a starter than he has a reserve in 2020, but he’s still best utilized as the team’s sixth man. That could change in the years to come, but not right now.
Besides VanVleet, I’d say Gasol is the other piece that Toronto would like to have back sooner rather than later. His high basketball IQ, on both ends, completely transforms how Toronto operates, and his presence has been sorely missed despite what his team’s record without him would have you believe. Still, Toronto’s medical staff has to be careful with Gasol and can ill afford to see him suffer another setback. A third tweak could be season-ending.
A missed opportunity for Chris Boucher
Chris Boucher has been a spark plug this season, but he was everything but on Sunday against Denver. He played nine of the worst minutes I think I’ve ever seen from a reserve player in my years watching basketball. A bit harsh, perhaps? Sure, but watch the game again, and I’m inclined to believe that you’ll see my point.
Against the Nuggets, Boucher was the closest thing Toronto had to a true center. But a clear lack of focus, perhaps caused by reduced oxygen levels, made trusting Boucher against Jokic a risky proposition for Nurse and Co.
It was an unfortunate development for Boucher, as Sunday was a real opportunity for him to show he’s capable of handling more responsibility. He remains a high-energy, high work rate option off the bench, however, regularly relying on Boucher, especially in a playoff environment, is still akin to playing with fire.
With how things have gone this season, as far as injuries go, it’s likely Boucher will see more opportunities before the end of the regular season, hopefully against less elite competition.
But the fact remains, he was given a big test in Denver on Sunday and was ill-equipped to deliver which undeniably left a sour taste in Nick Nurse’s mouth. As loveable a player as Boucher has become around these parts, he cannot afford too many more “misses” like the one he had in the Mile High City.