As Adversity Grew, Raptors Second Unit Quickly Formed a New Bench Mob
At the start of the season, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse ran a tight ship.
A short rotation, which gave rise to many questions related to depth – questions that desperately needed answers.
Then Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka went down.
The adversity began to mount as the undermanned Raptors were heading into an incredibly tough west coast road trip. The proverbial target was on their backs as the reigning NBA champions knew full well that every opponent in their path was hungry to not only face them but take them down.
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Episode 34 of the @BALLnROLL Pick-n-Pod‼️🎧
— Pick-N-Pod (@pick_pod) December 6, 2019
It was time for Coach Nurse to find answers. He was forced to rely on lesser know players to step up and produce in the absence of the team’s stars and they were able to answer the call. The craziest thing about it is how little time it took for a new identity to form.
Between the likes of Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a new bench mob formed and Gad Elmaleh of BallnRoll.com spoke to three of the Raptors young bench players to gather insight on how it all happened so seamlessly.
BallnRoll: First of all, how are you feeling? How is the hand?
Matt Thomas: It’s good. Just got to give it time to rest and heal. Let the bone heal. Then, it’s nice to be able to continue to do work and work on other parts of my game and my body.
BnR: When Lowry and Ibaka went down, you guys headed on a long road trip. How were you guys able to rise to the challenge and band together so quickly?
MT: Yeah we just adapted that “next man up” mentality. We feel like we have a lot of pieces on this team so when those guys went down, myself, Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, Rondae, we all kind of just plugged in and had an opportunity, and we all tried to do whatever we could to help the team win.
Chris Boucher: I think it’s just a bunch of guys who are ready to play – just waiting for a chance. That’s what the NBA is. Most guys were just waiting for it and ready, so when it came, we all wanted to show what we were capable of doing.
CHRIS BOUCHER WITH THE PUTBACK YAM 😱 Jack, you okay there?! pic.twitter.com/9pzOoGfc86
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 28, 2019
Terence Davis: We knew that the talent was going to be there and just took the time to band around and focusing in. Sitting down with Serge was pretty big for me. I really needed that as a rookie. I knew what I had to do and just went out there and did my best.
BnR: The first couple of games, you hit shots pretty quickly. How much did that help for your confidence?
MT: Yeah, it always helps when you get right in the game and you see the ball go in. When my teammates are all telling me to shoot and Coach Nurse is confident in running catch for me and giving me shots. When my entire team and coaching staff have confidence in me, it’s even easier for myself to believe in myself.
BnR: This is not the first time the Raptors had such a productive second unit. What does the organization do to give you such confidence which allows you to produce so well?
MT: Yeah, well offensively, they let us play freely. It’s a very free-motion offense and you just play off each other. We have a lot of great leaders on this team and they have been helping us through the ups and downs. The coaching staff really does a good job at giving guys freedom to play.
CB: Well as soon as you start with the Raptors, you know you will be working on your game. They make sure that you stay ready and make sure that guys understand that they cannot be on this team if they don’t work hard and play with a passion. That’s one thing this team does well, it’s a group of guys that want to work hard and try to help their team.
TD: It just work. We put in the time and the effort. That’s just what you see from the second unit, it’s work. The organization is one of the better at development in the NBA, so we just work.
BnR: Defense is the calling card of your team. When did that mentality come together especially in a league where offense is really what’s cool?
MT: We know the reason why the Raptors have had success. It starts on the defensive end of the floor and the team is coming off a championship. Like I said, us new guys just have to fall in line, figure things out, and learn on the go. It starts on that end of the floor. For us to get opportunities, we have to make sure we’re doing the right things on that end of the floor because that’s where we want to compete and that’s where we want to differentiate ourselves from the other teams. It definitely is an offensive league, but we are at our best when we are getting stops and get on in transition.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s no-look assist earns the Raptors the win and your Heads Up Play of the Day! pic.twitter.com/YLeddVuswt
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 30, 2019
CB: When you come to the Raptors if you don’t play defense, you’re not playing. At this point, Coach made that an obvious point at the beginning of the year. For guys to be playing, they have to be able to do the defensive schemes, they got to be doing what he asks us to be doing on the game plan. I think we all bought into it and realize that we wouldn’t be doing anything if we don’t buy into the defense.
TD: Defense wins championship. First and foremost, these guys who’ve been here last year won a championship. Defense wins games and championship, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
BnR: So being a team player, being selfless, and focusing on defense has brought out your offensive game?
MT: Yes, I think that’s just the culture here. Everyone preaches playing the right way and when that happens, it’s contagious. When one guy does it, the next guy does it. When the best player on the team is making the extra pass, everyone should do it. It’s definitely a very unselfish atmosphere and I’m just very grateful and thankful to be a part of it right now.
CB: Yeah, like I said, when you’re focused on defense, things just work out when the ball finds you on offense. It’s always been like that. Everyone plays focused on defense and it creates our offense. Couple blocks here, couple blocks there, a charge, a rebound and then we can run and we get our opportunities on offense.
Terence Davis rises up! pic.twitter.com/jkk4JpFoqb
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 11, 2019
TD: Well this is the way this team is set up. To remain selfless and we are all a team. We are here for one goal and that’s to win. It’s all based off being selfless.
BnR: Seems like Hollis-Jefferson has become the vet of this second unit, what does he bring to the table?
MT: Well Rondae, everytime he comes into the game, he just brings a lot of energy on the defensive side of the ball. He’s been playing very well offensively too. He is very efficient, he’s just great. Finding little windows that present themselves to make himself open. He’s a great finisher around the rim, he has that mid-range pull-up that’s coming into form right now as well, but I think his best asset for this team is definitely his energy on the defensive end.
CB: Experience. He just brings chemistry, he talks to us all the time and helps us have fun coming off the bench. That’s a hard thing to do. You always need to have that guy on the team who shows you how to have fun coming off the bench.
TD: He’s the energy man. He brings the extra effort every time he’s on the court. The extra possessions that we get from him when he gets an offensive rebound. You need that on a team, especially on a good team. He just brings a little bit of everything.