TORONTO – Toronto Raptors rookie Terence Davis took a pass from teammate Fred VanVleet, squared up his defender, fellow Chicago Bulls rookie Coby White, stepped back and drilled his sixth three-pointer of the game, extending his career-high point total to 31 Sunday afternoon.
The Bulls called a timeout and as Davis walked back to the Raptors bench he was swarmed by his teammates in a wholesome display of genuine joy and affection for the career performance he was enjoying.
"It felt really good," Davis said of that storm of hugs and congratulations that he happily stepped into. "It just shows you what type of team this is. This is a great organization. We all love each other, we care for each other, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, honestly."
Heartfelt words from Davis that will hit that much harder when you consider the week to be that he unknowingly prefaced.
This Thursday at 3 p.m. ET is the NBA trade deadline and with it comes a week ahead of the big day that focuses on players potentially on the move — essentially the exact opposite of the bond seen from the Raptors Sunday.
Whit that said, however, there is something to make of the sincere connection this Raptors team appears to have in regard to the trade deadline. That is to say, why mess with a good thing?
Sporting the third-best record in the entire league, it’s clear what the Raptors are doing, and have been doing, is working — even in the face of injury.
"No matter what position you’re in, we’re all equal here. We’re all brothers," said Kyle Lowry after the Raptors won their franchise-record-tying 11th straight game. "We’re all fighting for the same thing at the end of the day. No one’s bigger than the other person. So, that just shows that we’re all happy for each other and supportive."
Chemistry can be a difficult thing to define, but this Raptors team seems to have it, giving even more credence to the case that the best course of action for the Raptors at the trade deadline is to stand pat.
And looking back at Sunday’s 129-102 drubbing of the Bulls, you can see a microcosm of why this Raptors group as it’s currently constructed deserves a shot to see what they can do in the post-season.
Obviously, Davis’s career performance was a huge positive. He not only scored 31, but he was remarkably efficient, too, going 12-for-15 from the field and 6-for-7 from deep. What was even more impressive than just the productivity, though, was the circumstances he did it under.
Sunday was the first game the Raptors played since it was announced that Norman Powell suffered a fracture to the ring finger of his left hand and it was Davis who Toronto coach Nick Nurse turned to in order to find a replacement for productivity the team was likely going to miss without Powell.
Davis certainly answered the bell Sunday, and maybe also made a few assistant coaches from around the NBA a little red in the face while he was at it, too.
"It definitely was in the back of my mind for sure," said Davis on if he was motivated by the apparent Rising Stars snub. "Throughout the course of the season it will be in the back of my mind."
Based off Sunday’s performance, a motivated Davis seems like good news for the Raptors moving forward, including when Powell and the rest of the team return to full health.
It’s because of the players on this Raptors team right now during Davis’s rookie campaign that he’s able to have games like he had on Sunday.
"Our veteran guys, guys that have been around here really understand, I think, the working day," said Nurse. "[Davis has] joined right in, he’s right there. He’s a hard worker, he’s in the gym and he’s going to work."
Chief among the veterans who have helped show Davis the way is Serge Ibaka, who also happens to be a prime trade candidate if only looking objectively at the situation he’s in.
Ibaka is enjoying what might be his best season ever as a pro, is still only 30 years old and is on a big-money contract that will expire at the end of the season.
These are all ingredients that could make him an attractive trade piece.
Still, while president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster will likely at least take calls on him, when you consider his value to the Raptors it’s difficult to come up with a good reason — outside of acquiring a true superstar, of course — why the Raptors would even entertain the thought of trading Ibaka.
The Republic of Congo native has, arguably, been Toronto’s most consistent performer this season meaning, purely from a basketball perspective, he provides real, tangible value for the Raptors on the floor that helps them win games.
This was prominently illustrated Sunday as Ibaka finished with 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks, and appeared to help jumpstart the Raptors in the third quarter after Toronto played a relatively poor first half of basketball.
In the third alone Ibaka had eight points as he found soft spots in the Bulls defence and made Chicago pay for it.
"I think mostly he went inside, got near the basket a lot just because of the switch or whatever," said Nurse of Ibaka’s third quarter. "When they switched a smaller guy on him he made a beeline for the front of the rim, turned around and said, ‘Throw me the ball.’ He got it and delivered."
A small example this may be, but when looking out at the trade landscape, how many other centres will the Raptors be able to find with both the level of basketball IQ and execution Ibaka brings to the table?
And even if there is a guy like that out there, that person won’t be able to replicate what Ibaka’s done with Davis.
As mentioned before, Ibaka has been one of the biggest influences on Davis this season and should be credited with at least some of the success the Toronto rookie has enjoyed this season.
"Serge has been a light into my life," Davis said. "Me being a rookie, helping me eat right, we go lift after games."
"Some young fellas they don’t really take to it," added Ibaka of taking players under his wing in the past. "They don’t really listen. So you have to give a lot of credit to [Davis] for listening to me and wanting to do it. He’s always looking to get better. He’s always asking me, ‘Tell me what I should do here?’ That motivates me to want to help him more."
Ibaka is probably the most prominent player helping Davis out, but based on the reaction of the bench when he netted his new career high, he’s not the only one helping him out.
Everyone on the Raptors is trying to help each other out.
"When we have opportunities to go out there and cheer for each other and have fun with each other, it means a lot," said Lowry. "We don’t take any of it for granted… And when guys have good nights and have records set and things like that, we celebrate together."
As the old saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child."
And if that village is allowed to build and grow uninterrupted, who knows what heights those children might yet reach?