PHOENIX – Success in the NBA often depends on opportunities. Therefore, the league's unofficial slogan is "stay ready".
Sure, you could be buried in the bench feeling that the League forgot about you and maybe even your team, but at some point you will get a chance or two. Those who make the best of them thrive and thrive.
Those who don't do it don't. It's that simple.
The Raptors are no strangers to the concept, as they set up a team of non-lottery picks, second-round players and uncovered free agents. None of them had the luxury of being given the role.
And this season there was no shortage of opportunities on a squad that only set up their ideal starting line-up 17 times.
But the message from Raptors head coach Nick Nurse before the game to those looking for a bigger role than his club in Phoenix wanted to tip to avoid the first loss in four games since January 2017 was succinct : Play better
For the most part, they did. And at least one of them – Chris Boucher – got the news and came to the opportunity.
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Boucher was a live wire all night, appropriately icing the Raptors' 123-114 win with a three to end a draw two minutes ahead and two free throws just over a minute ahead Raptors forever. With the victory, Toronto improved on its road trip in five games to 43: 18 and 1: 1.
The victory not only stopped the Raptors' losing streak before their first game against the Golden State Warriors since the final – which is due on Thursday – but a Boston Celtics defeat helped the Raptors take 1 1/2 games in second place to stay place in the east.
Certainly the healthy Raptors stars did their part in the victory on Tuesday.
Pascal Siakam recovered strongly from a frustrating trip to Denver to start the road trip. He played one of his most complete games of the season, ending with 33 points in 20 strokes. Lowry was brilliant on his way to 28 points and six assists, while Norman Powell continued his immediate offensive routine on his way to 26 points with 15 shots.
But they needed help. Boucher provided his share with 19 points and 15 rebounds – all deserved the hard way – in his 28 minutes from the bank. Mix in a hard-boiled performance from OG Anunoby, who wrestled with Sun's center Deandre Ayton most of the night, helping him keep 13 points (well below his 19 points per game average) while still having his legs around Earning 11 points and nine points recovers itself before it gets dirty late.
The Raptors tipped against the sun without Serge Ibaka (knee), Marc Gasol (thigh) and Fred VanVleet (shoulder).
The nurse practically asked someone outside of the core players to develop a big game to spark the team.
In the course of two inconspicuous losses against the Charlotte Hornets and Denver Nuggets, this was missing.
"Crap yes. Damn, yes, ”said the nurse when asked if it was time for Chris Boucher to take the team's only real centers out of the lineup, or in the absence of VanVleet that rookie Terence Davis should try one to crack.
"Listen, let's not gloss over it, these guys haven't played a hell of a lot in the last three or four games, this whole crew," he said. "If we want to sing their praise for game after game for game, [we need to say] if they don't play well and they don't.
“Part of the problem is that we have to play our top five players like the whole game because [the reserves are] comes in and is thrown around and makes mistakes and doesn't shoot and do anything.
“These people were good overall. They were a huge surprise for the season overall, but they haven't been very good in the last few games and we need them to get them out and do what they did if we wanted the chance to win one of these games. "
Nurse seemed the most frustrated about Boucher, the spindly third-year striker who has sometimes proven this season to be able to change games with his energy, but not lately.
In the previous two games, in which neither Gasol nor Ibaka alternated, Boucher was unable to influence either competition. In 16 minutes against Charlotte, Boucher was only able to make two rebounds and catch four quick fouls with the Raptors, who were desperately looking for bodies against the nuggets – twice as many rebounds as he had collected – and perhaps an explanation for why he was only 8: 42 played.
He is not alone. Terence Davis is now 2 out of 13 from the depths of his last four games and Pat McCaw has been his typically unpredictable self in three games since missing three after the all-star flu breakdown.
As Pascal Siakam admittedly had problems, someone had to get up.
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After losing the Nuggets, Kyle Lowry – who never calls teammates by name – seemed frustrated with the performance of some. He refused to accept the Raptors' injury problems as an excuse.
"We just have to play harder," said Lowry. "Understand the game plans a little better and play a lot harder."
Give them credit for listening. Boucher in particular. It was critical since the Suns are one of the few NBA teams that still have a high level of insult from their center. The aspiring star of the second year, Deandre Ayton (all 7 feet and 250 pounds from him).
The Raptors swayed early against the sun. They were between 39 and 30 after the first quarter and had decreased by 17 at the beginning of the second quarter. Ayton was able to go to the edge for easy rework. It didn't help that Lowry missed the first six minutes of the quarter after catching a stray elbow from teammate Terence Davis.
But around this time Boucher began to assert himself. Within 10 minutes, he grabbed seven rebounds – five on the offensive boards. He scored 10 points on put-backs and fly-by dunks. He drew three shooting fouls with his aggressiveness and made 5 of 6 free throws.
It gave the Raptors the necessary boost and meant another heating from Powell, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half in the second. This outbreak together with Siakams 16 should have been enough in the first half – but it wasn't because the suns shot 55.6 percent off the ground and knocked out 10 out of 22 threes. Nevertheless, Toronto remained in the conversation, although it was between 68 and 61 at the beginning of the third quarter.
Boucher's climb earned him a place on the grid to start the second half.
He went on like this. His characteristic game in the third quarter was that he faced Ayton on the post, jumped up to steal the post entry, and then forwarded him to Anunoby, who threw an alley to a grazing Siakam. It was an 8-0 run with consecutive Lowry threes that gave Toronto the lead for the first time since the first minutes of the first quarter. Toronto took the lead with 87-86. Boucher also started the fourth quarter – his minutes reached a seasonal high of 29.
He made the best of it. He was ready.