Raptors’ Nurse waiting for someone to grab injured McCaw’s minutes

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Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. (David Zalubowski/AP)

TORONTO – Nick Nurse has a real problem on his hands – even if it isn’t all that apparent after the Toronto Raptors hung on to beat the Sacramento Kings 124-120 Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena.

No, it’s not the 20 triples the Raptors allowed the Kings to drill — though that was concerning to see. Instead, it’s an issue with the back end of his rotation.

Patrick McCaw is sidelined for at least four weeks after having a benign mass removed from the back of his left knee. And outside of that gross mental image, the empty space where said benign mass once occupied similarly leaves Nurse vacant of his favourite depth rotation piece.

"You guys heard me talk, I love his IQ and all those things, and he kind of always makes things happen," said Nurse before Wednesday’s contest of what the loss of McCaw meant. "So, we’re gonna have to get somebody else to fill in for him here for a while."

The players auditioning for what has somehow become the vaunted eighth man in Nurse’s rotation this season were Terence Davis, Chris Boucher and Matt Thomas.

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"I would say that I’m leaning towards Terence for a number of reasons," said Nurse. "He needs some time and some reps out there, right? He’s making mistakes but he’s also doing good things… So I’d expect him, I’d expect Matt, I’d expect Chris, those three probably, off the top of my head right now, to start getting considerable chunks of time rather than the two and three, four minutes they’ve been getting."

Nurse said that acting more like a man resigned to his fate rather than with much real conviction and confidence and judging by the performance of all three in Wednesday’s shootout, that reaction might be warranted.

Beginning with Davis, the undrafted rookie certainly looked every bit the part as the only noteworthy thing he did was appear to foul out in a little over seven minutes of floor time until a last-second change made it so he would only be left with five fouls in just as much time.

"He needs to get out there and play," said Nurse of Davis’ foul-riddled Wednesday night. "I’d like him to be able to go out there and not foul as much. He’s just gonna have to learn, right? There’s some holding fouls early in possessions, you can’t get caught. Got to be able to hold and take your hands back and take your hands back. It’s something you’ve got to learn."

Added Fred VanVleet with some words of wisdom for Davis: "Stop hacking, that’s No. 1. But there’s games like that. I think with him, I just told him, don’t talk to the refs. They pick on rookies. He got picked on a bit tonight. Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place, wrong time. Sometimes you’re making bad decisions or you’re late. It’s gonna happen."

The foul trouble Davis found himself in is more of an anomaly, but it wasn’t a good look for him when there’s minutes to be had and an opportunity that it would appear Nurse wants to give to him.

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Boucher, on the other hand, wasn’t given nearly as much time to prove himself. He had an impressive-looking block, but still only played about five minutes. This may have been because Marc Gasol looked to be regaining some lost form and also because Serge Ibaka was balling out Wednesday, but the real reason might simply be that in replacement of a wing player like McCaw, Nurse likely wants another wing player to step up.

Which brings us to Thomas. Of the three whom Nurse pegged to be the McCaw’s replacement he played the best, scoring eight points on 2-of-3 shooting – all looks from behind-the-arc, of course – and even playing some scrappy, albeit shaky-looking, defence in a shade under 11 minutes of action.

Of the trio, Nurse had the most praise for Thomas, but he certainly wants to see more from all three.

"I thought that group was okay, right? They weren’t great, Matt stuck a few, gave up a few, but at least that group kind of held it even tonight, I thought," said Nurse. "I’ve got to find some guys and gotta keep trying them, so it was a night to do it."

In all honesty, it was the first of many nights. The Raptors aren’t going to go four weeks only playing seven guys. Nurse has no choice but to find an eighth, ninth or even 10th man to consistently rely upon.

Wednesday’s returns weren’t the most promising, but they were better than nothing.

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