London ball

Toronto Raptors get boost from rookie Barnes in win over Wizards

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Scottie Barnes has already had some big moments in his freshman year.

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Confronting Kevin Durant and giving his best was one. Getting ahead of Jayson Tatum in Boston was another.

But after back-to-back losses and sluggishness, the Raptors needed a boost and the rookie delivered a 109-105 win over the Washington Wizards on Friday.

That game changed when Barnes went inside against another outclassed rookie in Corey Kispert. Barnes was the first Raptor to be knocked out of the game five minutes later and the team was down double digits early.

Rather than bowing his head, he was a different player when he returned. Much more aggressive and when he showed he had an advantage over Kispert, his teammates continued to feed him into the position to bring the Raptors back from that early deficit.

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Barnes scored seven points in the first quarter and 10 in the second, helping turn a 10-point deficit after one quarter into a one-point halftime advantage.

Barnes would add 10 more in the third as Toronto began to pull back before having to hold off a late charge from the Wizards in general and Bradley Beal in particular.

“When he stretches he’s big there and I think he can use that length advantage to his advantage and tonight he’s had it in places, or taken it to places where he could do it and he just stuck with it,” Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse said. “It was really aggressive, good ball game for him.”

Barnes would end up with a career-high 27 on 12 of 18 shooting and also participated in the boards with eight rebounds.

The nurse likes what he sees of Barnes, but he and Barnes know the job isn’t done.

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“He’s got a lot of top-down performance, which a lot of rookies do,” Nurse said. “Tonight was one of his best, obviously one of his best games, I think. Shot a pretty high percentage, stayed with it, got the ball where he wanted, was aggressive. He must therefore try to lean on it.

“I think it’s a year-round learning process,” Nurse said. “Rookies have to do that and get to the point where you can become more consistent every night. It’s two out of four, two out of five (solid) games right now. We want it to go to two out of four and then three out of four where you play at a high level. We don’t expect this every night, but we want to make sure you play above par on three out of four nights and he works towards that.

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Wizards didn’t fall quietly into this one.

They tied the game at 102 with 1:10 to go on a running dunk from Montrezl Harrell after the Raptors were up to 18.

As the crowd went wild, Nurse called a time out and calmed things down a bit, but it wasn’t until Fred VanVleet knocked down his fourth three of the night on 11 attempts that the Raptors felt good again.

The three ended Washington’s run at 16-3 and was followed by a rebound from OG Anunoby and a miss from Barnes to seal the game.

Gary Trent Jr. returned to the roster after missing six games and his comeback was huge for the Raptors.

Trent Jr. was clearly still looking for his legs, but he was there with three threes in the game as well as a handful of big defensive saves when his team needed him the most, none bigger than a block from behind on Harrell with the menacing Wizards.

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The win caps the five-game trip at 2-3 and the team heads home to face Portland on Sunday.

KEEP IT TIGHT

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has taken a lot of heat in recent games for opting for a rotation that hovered around seven players, but was mostly a six-man rotation in a three-game set that left them saw them win in Milwaukee and then lose close games in Miami and Dallas.

Any need to keep the rotation tight was relieved Friday night, at least somewhat, with the return of shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. who has missed the last six games with a swollen left ankle.

With Trent Jr. back in the fold, Precious Achiuwa returned to the bench and the Raptors had long anticipated a low starting five with Fred VanVleet and Trent Jr. in the backcourt with a similarly sized frontcourt from Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby up front.

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The nurse also widened the rotation by using nine in the first half alone.

The pre-game nurse was asked about the short rotation he’s been on in recent games.

“It was good,” said the nurse. “I think we played really, really well. I like the progress we are making. I like the way things look there. I kind of looked at the schedule and saw that we had several teams with championship aspirations in a row, and I wanted to see and give our main guys as many reps against that and see what that looked like.

Nurse went as far as nine bodies in his bench, but Yuta Watanabe and Justin Champagnie were both used sparingly, so for all intents and purposes Nurse was continuing with a seven-man rotation.

So it remains clear that Nurse still wants his bench players to earn their minutes like Chris Boucher did and he used Boucher as an example of a guy like that.

The door is not closed on others. But if they are to return to the rotation, it will be on merit. And with Khem Birch due in about a week, there will be fewer minutes up for grabs.

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