Going up against the Suns' Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes was not small feat for the Raptors. Despite coming out with a win, it highlighted the importance of injured centre Marc Gasol. (michaelgrange)
A visit from the Phoenix Suns and Marc Gasol’s extended absence raised a relevant question on Friday: How will a centre rotation that starts at Serge Ibaka and ends at six-foot-nine, 200-pound Chris Boucher manage? The Toronto Raptors somehow found a way.Add Raptors Games to Calendar But the Raptors have opted to be extra cautious with the 35-year-old, who followed the Raptors championship run with a full summer leading Spain to the world championships, with Nurse suggesting he could be out another month, returning only to get a 10 or 12-game tune up prior to the playoffs. As has been the case with almost all their injured players – the Raptors were fifth in games lost to injury coming out of the break – Toronto managed just fine without them, as Norm Powell (finger) and Pat McCaw (flu) were also unavailable. Against a talented but young Phoenix Suns team, the Raptors were able to manage while shorthanded once again as they survived seeing a 24-point halftime lead dwindle to seven with 5:29 left before Toronto was able to halt the Suns rally and win 118-101. It helped that Pascal Siakam came back from his first all-star game appearance playing like a future MVP. He led all scorers with 37 points and 12 rebounds and chipped in eight in the fourth quarter, including a pair of dunks and a crucial assist to OG Anunoby for another dunk that helped push the Raptors’ lead back to double figures. A Kyle Lowry three with 1:28 left capped off a 16-6 run putting Phoenix away. But the Suns visit and Gasol’s extended absence did raise a relevant question: how will a centre rotation that starts at Serge Ibaka and ends at six-foot-nine, 200-pound Chris Boucher manage? The Raptors are 26th in defensive rebounding percentage, as an example. Sign up for Raptors newsletters Get the best of our Raptors coverage and exclusives delivered directly to your inbox! Raptors Newsletter *I understand that I may withdraw my consent at any time. On paper, you would expect that the Suns big man duo of Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes would be too much for the Raptors to handle. Boucher in particular as he gives up a minimum of 50 pounds and several inches against either member of one of the more imposing big man pairings in the NBA. “He’s fighting in a different weight class, you know, or whatever,” said Nurse. “We’ll give him his chance and see how he goes.” The game didn’t pivot on Boucher – although he was minus-five in his 14 minutes on the floor — but when Ibaka got into foul trouble and sat for nearly 14 minutes after picking up his fifth midway through the third quarter, the Raptors were challenged to contain Ayton in the paint as he scored 13 of his 17 in the second half, mainly when Ibaka was out. Toronto did give up 10 offensive rebounds to the Suns but they got seven of their own to mitigate the damage. Their main advantage came from holding the Suns to 6-of-34 from three while making 14 of their own on 37 attempts. The Raptors hinted at a blowout early on by building up a 67-43 lead at half mainly by taking advantage of the inexperienced Ayton on defence. Both Ibaka (who was plus-13 in his 26 minutes while and finished with 16 points and six rebounds) and Boucher helped draw the second-year centre away from the paint and Raptors were able to attack him off the dribble in space, force him to commit the ball and burned the Suns on a seemingly endless stream of backdoor cuts that were finished at the rim virtually uncontested. On the occasions the Suns did collapse to the rim the Raptors picked them apart from the perimeter with five different Raptors making threes. That Siakam made five himself on eight attempts on his way to 25 first-half points was also beneficial. Defensively the Raptors defended as they always do – five men moving as one, with bodies darting in the paint to thwart attempts to hit Ayton rolling to the rim and scrambling out to the edges to limit the Suns to 2-of-19 shooting from deep in the first two quarters, and 35.3 per cent shooting overall for the half. More from Sportsnet Read more: Sportsnet
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