Monday was a jam-packed news day for the Toronto Raptors.
Newly acquired star big man Marc Gasol made his debut in Toronto. Nick Nurse publicly criticized Kawhi Leonard. The team revealed an injury to Fred VanVleet that causes a major depth gap in the back-court, and ESPN reports that the Raptors are close to filling that hole by signing Jeremy Lin.
All that, and the Raptors also won a nail-biter.
Leonard led the Raptors with 30 points and eight assists on 10-of-20 shooting, while Serge Ibaka had 18 points and 12 rebounds as the Raps won a close one over the Brooklyn Nets, 127-125.
Joe Harris had 24 and D’Angelo Russell had 28 for the Nets, who are pushing for a playoff spot in the East.
Earlier on Monday, Nurse said Leonard, his superstar needed to “get a little bit more engaged” and “look for some more motivation.”
“He needs to find a little bit of fire once in a while to go out there and say ‘I’m getting 30 or 40 tonight,’” Nurse said.
Leonard said after the game that he didn’t even know about his coach’s words from earlier in the day.
Gasol had 16 points and six rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting. The Raps chose not to start him in his second game as a Raptor since he was acquired in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies last Thursday. With three minutes left in the first quarter, the three-time NBA all-star came off the bench to a hearty standing ovation inside Scotiabank Arena, and began with the reserves.
The Raptors new Spanish 7-foot-1 centre spent some time with the starting unit as well, as he continued to get acclimated to his new team and its plays. Gasol showed flashes of being the centre Raptors fans have long craved. The physical big man showed his imposing hook shot, his willingness to create for others and his no-look passes. He swished an effortless looking 27-foot three-pointer that brought the crowd to its feet for the newcomer for a second time.
“Yeah, it gives you the butterflies in your stomach when you get those,” said Gasol. “Makes you feel like a rookie again. It’s a good feeling, a great feeling.”
Nurse said acquiring Gasol opens up some new avenues for the Raptors. He allows them to play downhill to the basket more often as he relieves some of the pressure from the outside. He gives the Raps options to try starters at different positions, such as Ibaka at power forward or Pascal Siakam at small forward.
It puts the Raptors back into a scenario where the team could vary its starting lineups depending on nightly matchups – experience that will behoove the team in the postseason.
The Raptors were in the unusual position of having no backup point guards to relieve Kyle Lowry Monday. Delon Wright was traded away last week and Van Vleet was out with a thumb injury he suffered Saturday against the New York Knicks – one that’s expected to sideline him for three weeks. Lucky for the Raptors, part of VanVleet’s recovery time will fall during NBA all-star break, which starts for the Raps this Thursday.
Lowry had 13 points and seven assists in 34 minutes. The Raps called on little-used Patrick McCaw to help with the ball handling, because he’s played some point guard in college. McCaw contributed 13 points in 20 minutes.
It appears the Raptors have a solution to their point guard depth situation. ESPN reported Monday that Lin was finalizing a buyout contract with the Atlanta Hawks, clearing a path for him sign in Toronto. The 6-foot-3 guard has averaged 10.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in 19.7 minutes this season for the Hawks.
Raptors fans may recall his memorable game in Toronto in 2012, during the height of Linsanity. It had been Asian Heritage Night at the Raptors game, and the American-born Lin – of Taiwanese heritage – led the Knicks to victory over the Raptors by dishing out 11 assists and scoring 27 points.
The Raps improved to 42-16 with the victory over the 29-29 Nets. Toronto welcomes in the Washington Wizards on Wednesday for their last game before the all-star break. The team will then return to the court on Feb. 22, for the highly anticipated home game against the San Antonio Spurs.