Toronto’s OG Anunoby drives past Miami’s Haywood Highsmith on Monday. Anunoby finished the game with six points.
Chris Boucher sat patiently and watched closely and tried to digest all he could the first week of the NBA season. It was his attempt at making the best of a bad situation, one that was not of his own doing.
He would not let a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Raptors’ first three games frustrate him or get him down, because there were things to learn in real time.
“To be honest with you, I feel like it was good for me just to see what I can bring to the team, sitting down and watching,” Boucher said about eight hours before his season debut against the Miami Heat on Monday night.
“If I was playing and we were losing games, I probably wouldn’t see as much.”
Boucher had an immediate impact in his first game. One of Toronto’s first substitutes, he had 10 points — and four personal fouls — in seven first-half minutes of the Raptors’ 98-90 win.
He played five scoreless minutes in the second half.
He got extra time on the bench to start the season because the team’s medical staff didn’t want to rush him back and risk the long term.
“The main thing is these guys do a lot of work in the summer, they come back raring to see if any of that stuff can be put into play,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
“I think a lot of their goals and the vision for where they see themselves and all those kinds of things get amped up over the summer and they do want to be on the court.”
What Boucher saw from his frontrow seat is a team that needs his unique style of play, someone who can quickly energize a game coming off the bench, providing rebounds and those court-length sprints that often turn into transition baskets.
The Raptors’ second unit, still in the development stage with Boucher and Otto Porter Jr.
on the shelf to start the season, has not been a team strength.
It has lacked speed and scoring and shooting.
The first two are staples of Boucher’s game, attributes he has shown throughout his career.
“I think he impacted both the first and second units most of the second half of last year,” Nurse said.
“Just providing the first group with a jolt of energy a lot of times and then a little bit of a scoring punch with the second unit some nights.”
And that’s what Boucher saw as he sat.
“I always watch film but (games are) live film for me,” Boucher said.
“Obviously, being in the timeouts, seeing what we’re missing, a couple of rebounds, a couple of rotations that we missed, from the bench, you can see it clear.
You put yourself in that position and wonder where you would be on the floor and that helps me a lot.”
The Raptors need Boucher to pick up from that great second half last season, which earned the 29-yearold a three-year, $35-million (U.S.) free agency deal in the summer.
The Montreal-raised St. Lucian has fully accepted his role as an energetic presence off the bench and the Raptors change pace substantially when he gets into a game.
“It’s easy for me to come and see what the game needs,” he said.
“Coach always told me to bring energy, bring a spark off the bench, and that’s usually what I do.
“I’m gonna come with a lot of that and try to fix the little things.”
The Raptors bench isn’t broken by any means, and it might become a strength when it is finally whole. Boucher is central to that.
“Obviously, at the beginning (of 2021-22) it was a little hard and people said our bench was not good, but I think we got better through the year, we were helping the team,” he said.
“A lot of people have been hurt (to start this season) but I’m sure we’re going to figure it out … and when we’re all going to be healthy, it’s going to be a different game.”
Coach always told me to bring energy, bring a spark off the bench, and that’s usually what I do.
I’m gonna come with a lot of that and try to fix the little things.