TORONTO – With just a little more than three minutes left to play in the third quarter of Game 1 of the Toronto Raptors’ opening-round series with the Brooklyn Nets, Raptors rookie Terence Davis saw a goal he’s been thinking of since the season suspension back in March realized at long last.
“I was so excited for playoffs because I’ve been working so hard for the playoffs, and now the question is up in the air,” Davis said in late April, understandably not feeling too optimistic at the time at the prospect of the season’s restart.
However, restart the season did, paving the way to a moment that Davis won’t soon forget.
The Raptors led by as many as 33 points in the first half, but by the time Davis checked into Monday’s contest the Nets were in the midst of a huge-looking comeback, cutting Toronto’s lead down to nine.
And so, not satisfied with the performance he saw from Matt Thomas in the first half and looking for a spark, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse turned to the rookie he trusted to play every game this season to give his team what it was lacking to close out the hard-charging Nets.
“It was good, he showed some life,” Nurse said of Davis after the game. “I thought he was great, he had a great attitude, thought he showed some life and even at the end he showed some life. Good little stretch for him.”
Perhaps Nurse didn’t want the rook to get too ahead of himself, but he may be selling Davis’ impact on Monday’s affair a little short.
The 23-year-old poured in 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting in just a little more than 12 minutes of action, all coming in the second half.
A lot of what he managed to score did come with the game well in hand in the fourth quarter. But before that he drilled a key three-pointer with 50 seconds to go in the third period to extend Toronto’s lead to 13 points over the outstretched hand of Nets guard Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot — helping to ensure Toronto had enough cushion heading into the fourth to pump its lead back up and cruise to an easy Game 1 victory.
For Davis, being able to come into what was a bit of a dicey situation for the Raptors and immediately make a positive impact — in the first bout of NBA post-season action he had ever seen — all came down to preparation and the work he’s been putting in all season long.
“…I just wanted to stay ready when my name is called,” said Davis. “Tonight was a perfect example of that. So just staying ready, man. Coach put me in at a critical time and, for a rook, you always want to stay ready, man. You want to take advantage of the opportunity and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”
For the Raptors, seeing Davis back playing with confidence had to have been a relieving sight as well.
It’s no secret that Nurse is only looking to extend his rotation out two more spots outside of the team’s core seven to eight or nine men, and on Monday it looked like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was firmly indentured as the No. 8 man — Nurse even said before the game that “he’s in the rotation” — but the No. 9 spot looked to be up for grabs.
As mentioned before, Nurse tried Thomas in that No. 9 role, but in the four-minute burst he was given in that spot he was unable to make any impact as he was hounded constantly and couldn’t get free for a good shot.
Thomas was, perhaps, tried out because during the seeding games Davis struggled, shooting just 30 per cent from the field and playing less-than-stellar defence. However, Nurse opted to try out the rookie from Ole Miss once again and was rewarded for it — not only for Monday’s Game 1 but maybe over the course of the series, in general, as the Raptors’ ninth man.
At the very least, Davis’ showing in Game 1 had to have been boost to the rookie’s confidence moving forward.
“I really want to take advantage of the playoffs. I really want the veteran guys to be able to trust someone like me in a game in the playoffs,” Davis said back in April. “I’m a rookie, so obviously I don’t know what’s to come in the playoffs — I’ve never been in the playoffs — but I want Fred [VanVleet], I want Kyle [Lowry], I want these guys to be able to trust me when I get in the game in the playoffs — if I get in the game during the playoffs.”
Davis got in and helped lift the Raptors to a rare Game 1 victory. So far, it looks like he’s doing exactly what he always setting out to do.