Yuta Watanabe returned and made a difference in 14 minutes.
After a dismal first half, the Toronto Raptors turned the tables on the Memphis Grizzlies and locked in in the second half last night. For 24 minutes we finally got to see the same Raptors team we saw on that five-game win streak earlier this season — closing down the lane and rotating back to shooters, getting out in transition, and moving the ball.
Can they actually sustain it? We’ll see!
1. Tale of two halves
The Raptors gave up 71 points, including 42 points in the paint, in the first half last night, and let Memphis haul in 26 boards to Toronto’s 11. It might have been Toronto’s worst defensive showing of the year so far. They were just completely asleep!
But the light bulb went on at halftime, I guess: the Grizzlies scored just 42 in the second half, with 20 in the paint, and the Raptors out-rebounded Memphis 23-14.
Speaking of that second half, how’s this for a stat line? 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 3-for-3 from downtown, with three boards, an assist and a steal. That’s what Precious Achiuwa did after halftime last night, in what was surely his best half of hoops this year.
I still think he’s better suited to a bench role, whether the Raptors start Birch or start small, but good for Precious for showing up as a starter last night.
3. Yuta back
Yuta Watanabe made his long-awaited season debut and did not disappoint. Like many others, I cautioned anointing Watanabe a saviour or panacea, and it’s not like he went out there and dominated. But his hustle was noticeable and he brought an energy no one else was bringing off the bench (looking at you, Chris Boucher). He didn’t hit a field goal but went 3-of-4 from the line and had two big blocks, which we’ll get to.
Yuta is not the true centre the team probably needs, but if he can play more consistent ball than Boucher, he is a nice addition to the Raptors lineup — especially one that, hopefully soon, will include both OG Anunoby and Khem Birch as well.
4. The block…
Remember when Yuta Anthony challenged Anthony Edwards last season, and got the worst of it? Of course you do. But Yuta has either blocked it out or just doesn’t care, because there he was in his first game back, challenging Dillon Brooks at the rim:
YUTA WATANABE HAS NO FEAR pic.twitter.com/RXtgAoYgyE
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 25, 2021
Absolute fearlessness. You gotta love it.
5. … and the dunk
What’s hilarious is that at nearly the exact same time, Edwards himself was stealing Heat souls in Minnesota:
THIS WOULD’VE BEEN THE DUNK OF THE YEAR pic.twitter.com/0w9C6vW29x
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) November 25, 2021
The official should be embarrassed for calling a foul on that one.