Raptors experiment with Nogueira, Valanciunas in win over Nets

Kyle Lowry had 23 points, Norman Powell scored a season-high 21 and the Toronto Raptors defeated the Brooklyn Nets 116-104.

TORONTO — A pretty good basketball team beat a pretty bad one at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday night. But although the Toronto Raptors ran zero risk of a loss throughout their 116-104 disassembling of the outclassed Brooklyn Nets, that doesn’t mean the game was devoid of interesting events. In fact, there were several. Three at least. And here they are.

Life without Brook and Pat

With both teams resting key rotation pieces—Patrick Patterson for Toronto and noted Raptor killer Brook Lopez for Brooklyn—there was bound to be some lineup wackiness throughout the night. And the first taste came late in the first quarter when Casey deployed both Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira simultaneously, with the latter serving as a very long power forward.

The experiment lasted only a couple minutes, as the Nets quickly reverted to a small lineup, which forced Casey to match. But this may not be the last time we see the two centres on the court at the same time, as Casey says he envisions Nogueira serving occasionally at power forward as his game continues to evolve.

“At some point in his career I think he’ll be there. He can stretch out there and do that,” Casey said. “We want to make sure to give him the chance to play there.”

Meanwhile, the Lopez-less Nets were at a constant size disadvantage in the paint, something the Raptors were able to consistently exploit, like early in the first quarter when Valanciunas stood under the Brooklyn basket and rebounded his own missed tip-ins repeatedly until one of them eventually fell.

Nogueira, too, had plenty of early success in the paint, especially at his own end where he blocked a pair of shots within two minutes of checking into the game. And he was downright dominant as a rim protector in the fourth, earning two more blocks and altering several Brooklyn shots.

With players like Terrence Ross and Norman Powell logging unfamiliar minutes at power forward with Patterson on the bench, it was imperative that Valanciunas and Nogueira took advantage of their mismatches at centre. And it went pretty well, as the duo combined for 20 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.

“I’d much rather have Pat in there at the four,” Casey said. “But guys made due, understood what we were trying to do offensively, and finally found a way to rebound. They still kicked our butts on the boards, but we found a way during a couple stretches where we got some boards.”

“I had a lot of fun out there”

Patterson’s one-night sabbatical meant extra run for Pascal Siakam, who played 27 minutes and was his usual energetic, industrious self.

Siakam still makes plenty of mistakes, which is to be expected of a 22-year-old who hasn’t yet played 30 games in the league. Sometimes he throws a pass he really shouldn’t. Sometimes he out-runs even himself and steps out of bounds on a fast break. But the one thing you can never fault Siakam for is his effort, and more often than not his persistence and relentlessness leads to good things for his team.

That was especially true against an outfit like Brooklyn that likes to push the pace. Siakam was all over the place at both ends of the floor Tuesday, opening the night’s scoring with a nice mid-air adjustment to convert a Lowry lob and finishing the game with a very effective nine points on three attempts.

Sitting Patterson also led to extended time for Powell, who is always eager to take advantage of his too-rare opportunities. The sheer aggressiveness of his game was impossible to miss and paid off highlight-wise with a rollicking steal, sprint and dunk late in the first quarter.

And he didn’t let up from there. Powell fought his way to five steals, drove to the basket practically every time he had the ball in his hands, and was Toronto’s second-most active shooter to DeMar DeRozan, finishing the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting.

“I pride myself on not only being a two-way player, but just versatile in whatever the team needs—whatever it’s going to take to get on the floor,” Powell said. “Whatever is in front of me, I take it as an opportunity to show what I can do.”

Casey asked Powell to do a little bit of everything Tuesday, but the 23-year-old was especially dangerous quarterbacking several fast breaks. He consistently turned those run-and-gun plays into points, whether he was driving and dishing to Lowry for a three or charging toward the net and finishing with a dunk.

In truth, Powell made too many good plays to sufficiently document. But the one he pulled off late in the third, when he dribbled into the key, drew a triple-team, and still found a way to score a bucket and draw a foul, deserves a mention at least.

“I had a lot of fun out there,” Powell said. “I think the whole team did tonight.”

“We want Bruno! We want Bruno!”

The fourth quarter of this game was a difficult one to consume with Brooklyn too checked out to mount a true run and Toronto too firmly on autopilot to put the game out of reach. The Raptors shot 35 per cent in the quarter; the pace of a once-blistering game slowed to a crawl; there were an awful lot of fouls.

“It’s tough,” Casey said. “You see a team that’s growing, a young team that doesn’t have their star player, and human nature sets in where you don’t really put your foot on the pedal.”

But that final quarter did provide a Memorable Moment in Toronto Raptors Garbage Time History (trademark pending) as Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo checked in with two minutes remaining, making them the first Raptors to ever play in both a D-League and NBA game in the same day.

Caboclo’s appearance was preceded by a solid three minutes of “We want Bruno!” chants from the crowd, which was egged on by Patterson and Valanciunas from the Raptors bench. The enigmatic Brazilian received a standing ovation when Casey finally relented and summoned him into the game, which is a truly odd thing when you really think about it.

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