TORONTO — When the Toronto Raptors take the court Friday night for their first game out of the all-star break against the surging Boston Celtics, most eyes will be closely fixed on recent additions Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker.
Ibaka is expected to immediately take over as the team’s starting power forward, while Tucker will provide some much-needed toughness and versatility off the bench. But it’s worth keeping an eye on a familiar face, too, who could be making just as big of an impact on the Raptors lineup.
That’s Patrick Patterson, the seven-year veteran who is expected to return to the rotation on Friday. Patterson has missed his team’s last six games with a knee contusion, and 10 of 12 in January with a separate knee injury. And when he has played he hasn’t been able to truly be himself, logging restricted minutes while clearly in pain.
But after weeks of diligent work to strengthen the knee and ideally put the injuries behind him, Patterson says he’s ready to pick up where he left off: as a key cog in the Raptors’ second unit.
“I’ve never had a knee injury before in my life — it sucked. But thankfully everyone was understanding around me,” Patterson said. “Just sitting there in the locker-room watching my teammates play and sitting on the bench trying to encourage them and not being able to be out there was probably one of the toughest things I’ve had to do.”
Even with the addition of Ibaka in front of him, you can expect Patterson to resume his role as a crucial element in several of Toronto’s lineups. He’ll guard multiple positions on defence, space the floor on offence, and have the green light to shoot three-pointers when he has a good look. Casey could even look to leverage both Patterson and Ibaka on the floor at the same time, which would give the Raptors great versatility on defence and two shooting bigs on the offensive end.
But after Thursday’s practice, Casey wasn’t sharing much with regards to how he’ll deploy his power forwards. He said he was simply holding out hope that Patterson would be good to go Friday night.
“We’ll see—I don’t want to give all of our scouting reports away,” Casey said. “With Pat, we’ll see what he does. He’s done this before where he’s had great practices. But we’re keeping our fingers crossed and legs crossed that the medical people and he can come to a decision.
“We need him. He’s an important part of what we do. Hopefully his body co-operates with him and lets him play.”
Patterson had a series of good, hard practices earlier this month, which gave the Raptors hope that he’d be able to return before the all-star break. But on the days following those practices, Patterson’s knee felt awful, which kept him from getting back into games.
“I’d run up and down, do everything full speed,” Patterson said. “But it just didn’t feel good enough the next day. That was basically keeping me out each time.”
That’s why Thursday’s practice was so important. The Raptors ran a hard, two-hour practice Wednesday night before reconvening for another long, physical, training-camp style session 16 hours later. Patterson was able to fully participate in both and said his knee responded to the stress much better than it did before the break.
“Normally, after a day where I go 100 per cent, it’s a little sore. But today is actually pretty good,” Patterson said. “Tomorrow, knock on wood, I should be out there playing.”
Patterson’s been spending his time on the sidelines trying to help wherever he can, whether it’s by being a motivator on the bench during games or helping Ibaka get accustomed to the Raptors playbook in practice. Patterson played opposite Ibaka throughout both Raptors practices Wednesday and Thursday, constantly communicating with his foe about where to be and what to do.
“With Serge, it’s all about plays and play calls. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s very smart. High IQ. He’s played with the best in the league. He’s played in crunch-time situations. So, he knows the game of basketball through and through,” Patterson said. “So it’s just about talking to him and telling him where to be on what plays, play calls, understanding certain words and certain schemes and where guys like to be.”
The fallout of Patterson’s return and Ibaka’s arrival will likely be felt most by Pascal Siakam, who will now struggle to find minutes outside of garbage time. The rookie forward was pressed into immediate NBA duty after presumptive starting power forward Jared Sullinger hurt his foot during training camp. Siakam started the first 34 games of the season and played plenty of minutes before his effectiveness began to decrease, forcing Casey to search for alternatives.
After a few games off, Siakam worked his way back into the rotation and played especially well during a win in Brooklyn earlier this month when he was a plus-15 in 30 minutes. But now with Ibaka and Patterson ahead of him, the bulk of Siakam’s minutes are much more likely to come with Raptors 905.
Just the way it’s supposed to be with a 22-year-old prospect drafted just eight months ago.
“Pascal did an excellent job. This is going to pay back in double for Pascal in the future,” Casey said. “When we were in second place, the whole time he was starting. It’s probably my fault for taking him out of the starting lineup. We were rolling pretty good. The league adjusted to him, but the experience that he got is going to be invaluable.”