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NBA ICYMI: The Raptors’ Bench Is Now Closing Out Other Teams’ Starters

The league’s best second unit quieted the Nuggets mostly by itself late on Tuesday. Plus, LeBron and Co. get denied by an old friend, Anthony Davis appears to avoid injury but can’t avoid a loss to Portland, and everything else you may have missed from the night’s action.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

All the need-to-know info from Tuesday’s slate.

The Takeaway

No Toronto starter saw time in the fourth quarter except for Kyle Lowry. (And Jonas Valanciunas, kind of, who was subbed in with 10.8 seconds left so the Nuggets wouldn’t foul 58.5 percent free throw shooter Jakob Poeltl.) It was the only way the Raptors could have closed out Denver, 114-110. Toronto was playing its 10th game in 17 days—and unlike the Cavs, the Wizards, the Sixers, and the maimed Celtics, it can call for backup.

Dwane Casey administers the most reliable bench in the NBA, a special-ops unit that averages 42 points a game behind DeMar DeRozan (who is playing like an outside MVP candidate) and Lowry.

Casey turned to the relentless two-way attack that is Pascal Siakam, Poeltl, Fred VanVleet, and C.J. Miles after ending each of the three previous quarters within three points. Here’s why: Just as Denver exhaled, after Trey Lyles hit a 3 to put them ahead eight with 11 minutes to go, Toronto erupted for a 15-2 run. The second unit’s stopping power and ability to finish will ruin a team playing on tired legs; playing against them is like watching a rash spreading and knowing the doctor can’t see you until Monday.

Casey trusts the reserves with the second-most minutes of any bench in the NBA. Toronto’s not-so-secret ingredient sets the roster apart from every other Eastern Conference contender. There’s a reason LeBron knows the entire unit by name.

The Raptors are now 31-7 at home, making their hold on the 1-seed all the more imposing, and at 55-20, they are one win shy of tying the franchise record for wins in a season.

The Cheat Sheet

  • Anthony Davis couldn’t dodge a 107-103 loss to the Blazers, but he did his damndest: 36 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals, six blocks. (The Brow also appeared to hurt his ankle in the third but wound up staying in the game. Add “avoided injury scare” to that stat line.)
  • Shout-out also to Jrue Holiday, who recorded his first triple-double of the season (21 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds).
  • BIG-GAME DAME SIGHTING. Lillard dropped 20 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter and finished with nine boards, six assists, and four steals. Lillard will not travel with the team in Memphis, flying home instead for the birth of his son, Damian Jr. Dame Time meets Delivery Time!
  • In the words of Justin Verrier on Ringer Slack, Heat forward Jordan Mickey is messing with Kevin Love’s Banana Republic money. He caught Mickey’s elbow trying to draw a charge in the first quarter. Love was set for the call, but his teeth … were not:

Postgame, Cleveland announced that Love entered the concussion protocol and will be reevaluated Wednesday morning.

  • Speaking of the Cavs, their five-game-win-streak party is over. Miami trampled LeBron and Co., holding them to a new season low for points in Cleveland’s 98-79 loss. The Cavs couldn’t get going on offense (after averaging 122.2 points over the five previous games). In the second clip, it took seven minutes of regulation to break four points. The entire team shot 36.5/15.4/68.4. Shall I go on? The Cavaliers are now ahead of the Sixers and Pacers for the 3-seed by only a half-game.
  • Indiana beat a Warriors starting lineup of Quinn Cook, Patrick McCaw, Nick Young, Jordan Bell, and Zaza Pachulia, 92-81, which pushed the Pacers into a tie with Philadelphia for the 4-seed.
  • A tale of two Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 26 points, nine boards, seven assists, and five blocks, while Jabari Parker, who filled in for the Greek Freak in the starting lineup this past weekend and struggled to fill his size-56 shoes, continued his poor stint coming off the bench. Parker went 1-for-12 for two points against the Clips, and missed all four of his 3-point attempts.
  • With the 105-98 win, L.A. is now just one and a half games out of the playoffs with only a blundering Wolves team ahead of the Clips.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge suffered a left knee contusion in San Antonio’s 116-106 loss to the Wizards and did not return to the game. Amid all the Kawhi Leonard drama of late, the Spurs big is thriving: LMA is seventh in scoring since the All-Star break and averaged 34.8 points and 9.3 rebounds as last week’s Western Conference Player of the Week. He’s essential in the Spurs’ final seven games—San Antonio’s loss gives the team a shaky grip on the sixth seed in the West.
  • Miami has won six of its past 11. With Milwaukee’s 105-98 loss to the Clippers, the Bucks and Heat swap the seventh and eighth spots in the East.

Play of the Night

Wade, if LeBron ever asks him to come back to Cleveland:

The two Banana Boaters have played 30 head-to-head games; after Tuesday’s Heat win, both have won 15.

Also, a reminder that Nikola Jokic isn’t the only Serbian visionary: