Raptors’ OG Anunoby hopes to end tough season on high note in Finals

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry discusses what he learned before the NBA about accepting responsibility and criticism, and gives his thoughts about team victory over personal success.

TORONTO — OG Anunoby had been dealing with the stomach pain for a little while. No big deal — he thought nothing of it. Then he started having headaches. It’s all good — it happens. But on the night of April 10, when the pain in his stomach and his head became too much to handle, keeping him up all night, he decided to alert the Toronto Raptors training staff to what was going on.

After a few quick tests the next morning, he was off to the emergency room at Mount Sinai Hospital. And a couple hours after that, he was under the knife.

It was an emergency appendectomy, which, unfortunately for Anunoby, wasn’t quite emergent enough. His appendix had already ruptured, spreading bacteria into his abdomen, which caused infection. Recovery from an appendectomy varies from individual to individual. But what we can be certain of is that a case like Anunoby’s is going to be on the lengthier end. Which is why he hasn’t played basketball since.

"The pain is very severe. It hurts a lot. I couldn’t sit up. It hurt to walk. It hurt for a couple of weeks after," the 21-year-old said Wednesday, sitting at a podium on the court at Scotiabank Arena for NBA Finals media day. "[The recovery,] it’s slower because it’s stuff on the inside. So, you can’t really control how fast you go and how much you do. I’m just taking it day by day."

That’s meant a lot of shooting, a lot of conditioning, and a lot of film study. And not much else. Anunoby’s only now, seven weeks after his surgery, progressing to contact drills during Raptors practices. And even those have been light. He’s still in pain — not nearly as bad as initially, but it’s still there.

In any other season, Anunoby would be shutting it down for the summer, recovering fully and working toward a return months from now. But in his absence, the Raptors have found their way to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. They have at least four games to play, and maybe as many as seven, over the next couple weeks. So, does Anunoby think he’ll be able to be active at some point in the series?

"Yes, hopefully," he said. "Hopefully I’m close. I’ll take it day by day. We’ll see."

And even if he does take the floor at some point against the Golden State Warriors in these Finals – the Raptors have listed Anunoby as questionable for Game 1 – it’s tough to know what to expect. He’ll be two months removed from his last appearance in a game, which would pose a challenge if this were the regular season. But an NBA Finals game is another beast entirely. It’s more intense, more physical, more closely scrutinized. Throwing Anunoby into that deep end and asking him to swim would be a lot to ask.

But his team sure could use him. Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has trusted only eight players with meaningful minutes in these playoffs, with apologies to Jodie Meeks who received a couple brief mid-game appearances in earlier rounds. If Anunoby was healthy, he’d certainly stretch Toronto’s rotation to nine, lessening the load on some of his teammates.

He’d also provide some much-needed length and versatility as a switchable defender who can guard a variety of positions. And considering Toronto’s struggles to hit open shots at times throughout these playoffs, if Anunoby were healthy and able to offer anything close to the 44.8 per cent (13-of-29) three-point shooting he delivered over 10 games in last season’s playoffs, it could have helped the Raptors avoid some of the stress they experienced on their road to the Finals.

And of course, Anunoby wishes he could have taken part in all this. The 2018-19 season has been an exceptionally challenging one for him both on the court as off. He’s been forced to take several leaves from the team for personal reasons, which may have affected his performance, as his numbers suffered slightly from his rookies season last year. The last thing he needed was for his appendix to burst two days before the playoffs began.

But that his team has found a way to get by without him has provided Anunoby with an opportunity to at least end his year on something of a positive note. No one should expect 20 minutes a night. But if he can merely get back on the floor and do something positive for his team, it’ll be a small victory in and of itself.

"It was bad luck. It was bad timing. But you can’t control it. No one can control it. It just happened," he said. "I just try to make the next day better. Not being down on one day. Not being down on this injury. Just trying to improve the next day and do what I can.

"It’s been frustrating. Of course I want to play. But I’m taking it as a learning experience. Just watching guys, seeing how they play, seeing all the team schemes. And just trying to learn from that."

It’s at least given him an opportunity for a new perspective on the game. He’s had a front row seat for everything the Raptors have done in these playoffs, from the inspired effort plays of Kyle Lowry, to the growing process of Pascal Siakam, to the utter transcendence of Kawhi Leonard.

No matter what team Leonard ultimately decides to play for this off-season, Anunoby’s an important part of Toronto’s future. He’s been a little out of sight, out of mind this season — and especially these playoffs. But he still possesses the raw athleticism, work ethic, and untapped potential that made him a first-round pick and regular starter during his rookie season.

That’s why it’s so valuable that Anunoby gets to spend time around an elite athlete like Leonard. That he gets to see him up close and observe all the little things that go into being a player as great as he is. The Raptors certainly hope Anunoby and Leonard will share a floor again before the Finals are through. That’d be ideal. But even if they don’t, Anunoby’s still coming away with lessons learned.

"It’s the attention to detail. He takes it very serious. He’s very locked in at all times. He prepares very well. He takes care of his body," Anunoby said of Leonard. "Seeing it, it makes me want to do it — do the stuff he does.

"I’m feeling really good. I’ve been working out the past week. Just getting back into things. It’s been hard not being able to play. But I’ve still just been supporting my team. Watching a lot of film, watching the guys play. I’m learning a lot."

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