Midway through the third quarter, Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes stole the ball off Steven Adams then slowed down to look back at the Memphis big man before nonchalantly scoring.
The basket, which drew some criticism, was the punctuation mark of a 14-2 Raptors run on an otherwise ugly night for Toronto.
The Grizzlies beat the Raptors 98-91 on Tuesday, handing the reeling Raptors their third consecutive loss. And afterward, coach Nick Nurse evaluated the play of his prized rookie, who’s feeling the glare of the spotlight as injuries continue to mount in Toronto.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of peaks and valleys all within the same game, almost every game now,” Nurse said of Barnes, who had 19 points on the night. “You look down at the first 10 minutes of the game and … maybe he was minus-22 so he plays the rest of the game plus-11, that’s pretty extreme peaks and valleys, that’s what I’m noticing.”
Pascal Siakam had 20 points to top the Raptors, who, missing OG Anunoby among others, fell to 2-8 at home. Toronto (9-13) has won just three times in its last 13 games. Fred Van Vleet finished with 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds, and Yuta Watanabe had 15 points in the Raptors’ second night of a season-long seven-game homestand.
Jaren Jackson Jr., scored 25 points to lead Memphis (11-10), while Dillon Brooks of Mississauga, Ont., chipped in with 17, and was ferocious in defending Van Vleet.
“Fred’s an amazing player,” Brooks said. “He’s a go-getter … He sticks with it even if he’s not touching the ball, he can still find a way to score. He’s a tough cover. I was tired today. I love the challenge. I guard the best all the time.”
That’s not all he loves. After drilling a three-pointer, Brooks hollered to Scotiabank Arena crowd: “This is my house!”
“This game was circled, for sure,” Brooks said. “I love playing here. It’s been a dream. It’s been circled for a while.”
Six nights earlier in Memphis, the Raptors rallied in the second half to beat the Grizzlies by 13.
There were no late-game heroics on Tuesday however. The Raptors got off to a horrible start. They trailed by 17 points in the first half. Their offence was moving like sludge.
They finally showed some life in the third quarter, pulling to within a point with the 14-2 run capped by the Barnes steal and basket. The taunting prompted former Raptor-turned-analyst Alvin Williams to say on the broadcast: “Scottie has to stop doing that. It was a great play, but you’ve gotta attack.”
Nurse shrugged off Barnes’ showboating.
“At least he scored it. I guess I wouldn’t care if they bounced it off the top of their heads as long as it went in,” Nurse said. “If it doesn’t go in, we’re probably talking about a whole other situation.”
When Siakam picked up his fifth foul with 1:31 left in the third, Chris Boucher, who’s been planted at the end of the bench recently, subbed in and scored on a dunk at the buzzer to send Toronto in the fourth trailing 70-67.
Their momentum fizzled in the fourth however, and when Brooks scored on a 27-footer with 8:01 to play, Memphis was back up by 11.
The Raptors rallied again, and Barnes had a pair of three-pointers 12 seconds apart to make it a four-point game with 19.5 seconds left, but Brooks connected on a pair of free throws to all but clinch the win for the visitors.
Siakam said losing at home is “not acceptable.”
“We have this fan base, but we have to show up at home. I think we have to make it part of what we do. No excuses, that can’t happen. It’s unacceptable,” he said.
Injuries continue to plague Toronto. Anunoby sat out for his seventh consecutive game with a hip injury, while the Raptors were also missing Gary Trent Jr. (calf), Khem Birch (knee) and Goran Dragic (personal leave).
The Grizzlies were missing star guard Ja Morant, who’s expected to be out for several weeks with a sprained left knee.
The Raptors couldn’t generate anything on the offensive end in the first half, shooting 4-for-19 from three-point range. They made just eight shots in the first quarter while coughing up 10 points on five turnovers. They trailed 27-18 heading into the second.
Adams’ layup capped an 11-0 run that put the Grizzlies by 17 points midway through the second, prompting a smattering boos from the Scotiabank Arena crowd. The Raptors headed into the halftime break down 50-39.
Their 39 points in the first half were almost a season-low – they scored just 37 against Washington on opening night.
On “Canada Basketball night,” the Raptors honoured former players Miranda Ayim, Brady Heslip, Jevohn Shepherd and Joel Anthony and ex-Raptors and Canada boss Glen Grunwald.
The Raptors host the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.