Raptors gelling more quickly than some predicted

TORONTO – The younger Toronto Raptors may need sputtered out to a shaky begin, however they’re abruptly one of many hottest groups within the league, tied with Miami for the NBA’s greatest win streak of 5 video games.

They seem like rounding into kind extra shortly than many individuals anticipated.

“I’m not going to lie, it actually did shock me,” stated Raptors ahead and Montreal native Khem Birch. “It’s humorous, when all of the older guys left this summer season, it was like, ‘Wow, we’re fairly younger.’ Then I spotted that’s sort of a profit simply because they’re capable of full-court press and do all of the little issues {that a} veteran wouldn’t do simply because he’s a veteran.

“These guys, with the liberty now we have, it provides them numerous confidence and I really feel that’s the reason they’re accelerating within the system.”

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The Raptors (6-3) have been again residence Thursday after profitable their first 4 street video games of the season — a primary in franchise historical past. It was additionally their first 4-0 journey since simply earlier than COVID-19 shut down the league in March of 2020.

Toronto’s’ robust begin comes regardless of being with out all-star Pascal Siakam, who continues to be recovering from low season shoulder surgical procedure. Rookie Scottie Barnes additionally missed the final video games after spraining his proper thumb in Saturday’s win at Indiana. He’s been cleared to play Friday when Toronto hosts Cleveland.

Whereas Fred VanVleet stated he’s not taking his staff’s sizzling stretch without any consideration, the beginning guard’s development because the staff’s chief instead of departed Kyle Lowry has been evident. VanVleet led the best way with 33 factors in Wednesday’s 109-100 win in Washington, and stepped up every time the Wizards threatened.

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“It’s evolving,” coach Nick Nurse stated of VanVleet. “We’re nonetheless studying one another. I feel you can see instances early within the 12 months the place we clearly weren’t collectively on the offensive and we’re simply sort of studying what guys can do and our spacing is getting so much higher.

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“His comfortability of the place guys are going to be, once they’re going to chop, what matchups they’ve, he’s studying numerous stuff on the market, after which he’s additionally studying his personal sport. He is aware of regardless of the coverages are, what he can get to, and his utilizing quite a lot of photographs this 12 months can also be an enormous plus.”

Birch in the meantime, has performed a key position in Toronto’s win streak, together with down the stretch of Wednesday’s win. The 29-year-old, who signed a three-year contract extension with the Raptors this previous low season, didn’t have the begin to the season he had hoped for after contracting COVID-19. He says he’s now lastly again to 100 per cent, and appears to have discovered an ideal match with Toronto after the higher a part of 4 season languishing with Orlando.

Whereas Birch’s stats towards Washington weren’t eye-popping — 9 factors, 5 rebounds and two assists — he was plus-10 in his 22 minutes on the ground, and he executes crucial particulars akin to screening and passing, stated Nurse, that don’t present up on the stat sheet.

“He’s acquired a very unselfish sort of staff mentality,” Nurse added.

Birch, who stated he doesn’t have a look at field scores, acknowledges that he provides worth with out placing up numbers.

“When you consider it, this group sort of valued that as effectively,” Birch stated. “What individuals (outdoors the staff) suppose doesn’t matter, the group gave me contract this summer season, so if something that ought to inform me and different individuals what they worth.”

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He’s had that unselfish mindset, he stated, for the reason that day he started enjoying.

“I by no means cared about stats. I used to observe the Detroit Pistons and the way they performed defence and in highschool individuals advised me they cherished enjoying with me as a result of I used to be so unselfish,” Birch stated. “I keep in mind being ranked excessive in highschool and I by no means averaged numerous factors or something. The way in which I’ve performed has acquired me to the place I’m proper now, so I’d by no means change it.”

Birch stated the Raptors’ defence is an enormous a part of the staff’s id.

“I feel defensively we’re among the finest groups within the NBA,” stated Birch. “I simply really feel like everyone seems to be such a cohesive (group). Everyone seems to be collectively. It’s not only one man on an island. It’s the entire staff towards the entire different staff. That’s what I like about this staff. I feel now we have an actual defensive id.”

Regardless of including 9 new gamers within the low season, the Raptors are sixth greatest within the league in defensive ranking lower than 10 video games into the season.

Following Friday’s sport towards Cleveland (5-4), Toronto hosts the Brooklyn Nets (5-3) on Sunday. The Raptors then play a pair of video games on the street subsequent week, dealing with Boston on Wednesday and Philadelphia on Thursday.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first printed Nov. 4, 2021.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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