With nothing at stake for Raptors, broken hand likely ends Barnes’ season early

Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes grabs his hair as timeout is called after turning over the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors season struggled to achieve lift-off almost from the start, and after the team announced Scottie Barnes has a broken hand, it may well end up crashing back to Earth with a thud.

The Raptors All-Star forward was diagnosed with a fracture to the third metacarpal bone of his left hand (the long bone between the wrist and the knuckle of the middle finger) late Friday night, putting a final sad-faced emoji on a game where Toronto found itself unable to contend with a visiting Golden State Warriors team that was playing on the second night of a back-to-back and had not arrived at their Toronto hotel until 7:15 a.m. due to mechanical issues with their plane leaving New York.

“The worst travel experience I’ve ever been involved with in the NBA,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said pre-game of the plane issues.

The Raptors’ Friday didn’t turn out much better.

Toronto ended up dropping the game — its second straight — 120-105 to fall to 22-38 on the season, but the turning point of the night and potentially the season came when Barnes injured his hand contesting Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga at the rim. With his right hand high and at the basket, it appeared that Barnes’ lower left hand may have been inadvertently kicked by teammate Immanuel Quickley, who was in the play and off balance.

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Barnes could be heard yelling in pain, and he immediately put both hands over his head and ran off the floor. He stayed behind the play and after the Raptors took a foul to stop the game, Barnes immediately headed for the locker room, trailed by medical staff.

How much does Barnes mean to the Raptors? The game was tied 55-55 with 2:17 left to play in the second quarter when the injury occurred, and the Raptors led 64-61 at half.

Barnes didn’t return and the Warriors went up by 13 in the third quarter as Stephen Curry — playing in Toronto for the first time since Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals — hit three quick triples. The Raptors couldn’t get the lead below double figures for the last 10 minutes of the game. Barnes, who has started all 60 of the Raptors games this season, finished with 10 points, six rebounds and three assists in his 15:40 minutes of court time and was the only Raptor to finish with a positive point differential.

It’s been a trend. Over the past 20 games, the Raptors have been outscored by 17.8 points per 100 possessions with Barnes off the floor. He’s the team’s second-leading scorer (20.3 points per game) and second-leading rebounder (8.3 per game), and he leads Toronto in assists (6.1 per game), blocks (1.5 per game) and steals (1.3), achieving career highs in all categories while being named an All-Star for the first time in his third season.

Warriors veteran forward Draymond Green is among the several elite players Barnes has drawn comparisons to for his multifaceted game, and he sees great things.

“Scottie is an incredible player. … Me playing the point forward position, I’m not going to sit up here and act like I was the first one to ever do it, but I think I’ve done it a little differently than most,” said Green, a four-time champion, four-time All-Star and eight-time all-defence selection known for his playmaking on offence. “And he’ll take that to another level. … I think Scottie will do way more than I ever did.”

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The question now is, when Barnes will get to resume his ascent?

According to injury analyst Jeff Stotts of instreetcloshes.com, the average time missed for an injury like Barnes’ that doesn’t require surgery is 31 days. When surgery is required, that average goes up to 41 days.

Given the Raptors have 22 games and 44 days remaining in their season, finishing up in Miami on April 14, it’s fair to wonder if Barnes has played his last game for the Raptors this season.

Certainly, the Raptors have little, if any, incentive to rush him back, other than perhaps wanting to make sure he’s in game-ready condition to head into what will be another important off-season of development for him.

There is very little at stake, competitively. The 12th-place Raptors are 4.5 games behind the 10th-place Atlanta Hawks for the final spot in the play-in tournament, and a game-and-a-half behind 11th-place Brooklyn. The odds of making up five games in the standings with 22 to play are pretty slim and doing it while leap-frogging another team makes them slimmer still. Doing it without your best player?

The odds only shrink.

Meanwhile, the Raptors have the seventh-worst record in the NBA, which is significant because they owe a first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs if it lands outside the top-six after the draft lottery. It’s unlikely the Raptors can finish poorly enough to be caught by any of the NBA’s bottom five teams, but if they could conceivably slide back to sixth place (they are two games ahead of Memphis), it would increase the odds of Toronto keeping its pick once the ping-pong balls settle.

The Raptors have been steadfast that they would push ahead this season with no regard for where they would finish regarding their draft pick, but the Barnes injury could change things.

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It certainly changed things on Friday night. The Raptors went from up-tempo and energized with Barnes on the floor to slower and less emphatic after his injury.

They might not have won, regardless. The Warriors have been fighting and scratching all season with the belief that the core of the team that won four titles in seven years — the last in 2022 — can still make some noise if the stars align. They’ve won 13 of their past 16 games, and eight straight on the road.

“We know what the challenge is ahead,” said Curry, who finished with a game-high 25 points and seven triples on 15 attempts. “It does tend to bring the best out of that competitive spirit every night when we’re chasing now, trying to find our way into some playoff series and give ourselves a swing at whoever we face. But it’s a gauntlet in the West and we have to keep performing the way we are right now if we want to have any chance of having some post-season action.”

The Raptors almost certainly won’t have that to look forward to. It was a glimmer of hope with Barnes at his best but only mathematically in play now.

Best case? Barnes can get ready to play in a month, finish the season on a high note and head into the off-season rested and ready to attack the areas of his game that must be improved for him to be the kind of player the Raptors need him to be to return to competitive relevance.

That, and the Raptors slipping a spot or two in the standings and hoping they get lucky in the draft lottery.

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