As the Raptors get ready for their game against the Portland Trailblazers in their first game of February, a loss to the Washington Wizards in D.C. the night before is in the back of their minds. The Raptors lost by 3, and all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both logged heavy minutes.
In that loss, the Raptors bench struggled, forcing Toronto head coach Dwayne Casey to rely more heavily on his starters.
"They just didn't have the pop and the movement and organization they normally have, and then defensively they weren't into it," said Casey before the Trailblazers game.
"They're always important for us, to come in and do the job. They lessen the minutes on the starters, but they're not going to be out there if they're not going to do the job."
Dwayne Casey has said this season that it's going to be a priority to shoot for the top seed in the East, but he also has to balance that with making sure his stars get some rest now and then. And the bench mob is the squad that can make that a much easier line to tread.
It was clear early on in the game that the Raptors stars would get some rest, and that the bench would have the opportunity for redemption.
With three minutes left in the first quarter, all starters but DeMar DeRozan have gone to the bench and the Raptors lead 25-15. That DeRozan plus bench unit, staring Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright went on a 10-3 run to end the quarter.
And that proved to be indicative of the rest of the game. The Portland Trailblazers bench finished with 25 points, while the Raptors bench over doubled that with 53 points.
The Raptors bench has the best plus/minus of any bench in the league, at a +3.3. Trailing the Raptors are some of the league's top contenders, with the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and the Golden State Warriors rounding out the top four.
Fred VanVleet, who finished with 16 points and five boards off the bench, said that Coach Casey called the bench out after the loss to the Wizards.
He said Casey told them to, "come off the bench and be ready and play with energy and focus, and there's no room for error."
Pascal Siakam said it was a case of the bench unit "having our swagger back" and playing with more energy.
"We weren't proud of our performance last night, so we definitely wanted to come out and show something better and show that wasn't us last night."
Still room to grow
From watching the game against the Blazers, and a couple days later against the Memphis Grizzlies, it's not hard to see the team has chemistry. Before playing the Grizzlies, the team is playing a little playful volleyball with the ball, and warming their hands to the fire (at a safe distance) spitting from the hoop during the pre-game introductions.
And part of that chemistry comes from the time the bench unit spent together in the summer. Some of the young players, such as Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, and Pascal Siakam, along with some of the Raptors' other youngsters, all spent time together in Los Angeles as well as in Los Vegas for the NBA's Summer League.
Pascal Siakam, who finished with 13 points and four offensive rebounds, said it's only going to get better.
"We are definitely going to keep growing, and the more we play together, the more we're going to know what each other's tendencies are, and the better we're going to perform."