OG Anunoby gives Raptors a sixth sense in their standings battle with Cleveland
No one was certain a couple of hours before tip-off whether OG Anunoby would play for the Raptors on Thursday night, and nobody was making any bold predictions on how he might look if he did.
If he could give the Raptors a few minutes here and there, keep up with the pace, play some defence and not hurt the team, his mere presence would be a plus.
It was that. And more.
Returning after missing 15 games and sitting idle since the NBA all-star break in early February, Anunoby helped stabilize the Raptors offensively and defensively as Toronto registered a significant victory, beating the Cavaliers 117-104 at the Scotiabank Arena to pull into a tie for sixth place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
And, coupled with Chicago’s loss in New Orleans, the Raptors are now just a game behind the fifth-place Bulls.
Anunoby and Scottie Barnes took care of most of the defence, Pascal Siakam tied his career high with six three-pointers as part of a 35-point performance and the Raptors were impressive in pulling away from Cleveland down the stretch to win the first of four straight games at home.
Anunoby finished with 14 points in 26 minutes and made four three-pointers.
“The biggest thing that I noticed was (Anunoby was) making some plays defensively, just execution-wise,” Nurse said. “He’s got the experience of going through some stuff (and he’s) used to taking those shots out there, too. They were there for him early so he could get loose.”
The Raptors got a huge boost from a four-man bench brigade. Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, Thad Young and Armoni Brooks combined for 43 points and 19 rebounds.
“Listen, I told the guys before the game, Chris and Precious and Thad, ‘They have to feel you when you hit the game … just your speed and your length and your rebounding, we need one of those relentless nights on the glass from you guys,’ ” Nurse said.
Barnes, meanwhile, began the night guarding centre Evan Mobley, then checked point guard Darius Garland, and spent some time covering shooting guard Caris LaVert. He also brought the ball up the court as the de facto point guard and threw his usual assortment of no-look passes to teammates spotted up to shoot or in transition to the rim. It was the kind of all-over-the-floor game that has put Barnes in the thick of the rookie-of-the-year conversation.
“Point centre,” Nurse joked before the game about Barnes’s position. “No, I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding. We already have an all-star point guard on our team.
“He’s really versatile. I wouldn’t define it as any position.”
The same might be true of Anunoby, who can guard multiple positions and adds an extra layer of physical play to the Raptors.
Anunoby hadn’t played since before the all-star break because of a non-displaced fracture of the ring finger on his right hand. His return was mildly surprising but he had been getting on-court work in for a couple of weeks, and hand specialists said his fractured right ring finger was healing on schedule.
He played with a wrap on the finger and didn’t seem out of step at all, taking his usual spot in the starting five.
“Shooting, dribbling, catching, those are the main parts (of pain management),” Anunoby said. “Defence, trying to get a steal, rebounds. I feel it all the time. (But it was) just knowing the season is about to end soon and knowing the playoffs are going to start and wanting to get a rhythm before the playoffs started.”
Nurse had said Wednesday that he wanted to get the five-year veteran into at least a handful of games before the end of the season and that he would figure ways in practice to at least approximate the grind of games.