Six months ago, it would have been unfathomable to think Precious Achiuwa would be where he was on Wednesday night – at the free-throw line with the biggest game of the year on the line, seconds to go in a draw. It was such a stressful and important moment that he had to face at any time in his career.
It didn’t go well — the 22-year-old missed two foul shots — but this entire Raptors season has been about learning lessons and gaining experience. Nobody promised that they would all turn out perfectly.
“That’s the heartbreak of this game and what makes it so great,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said after Toronto’s 104-101 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. “He’s a huge reason why we were even in the picture…with his defense, his rim cut…he had a blocked shot and some big dunks. He was 9 for 11 from the field. Off the bench, it’s incredible.
“For a young man to have such a performance is important for him. He’s going to lose some sleep on free throws, like we all do. We’ve all been there, but we have to bounce back and improve.
The Raptors’ season backdrop ended with the play of Achiuwa, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. They were the least playoff experienced players of the team’s main players in Games 2 and 3, and the more chances they have, the better. things should be long term.
The trio’s combined 70 points on Wednesday – Achiuwa had 20, Trent 24 and Anunoby 26 – and the mere fact that they were key parts of a stressful learning experience – could ultimately make the Game 3 loss a step away. ahead.
“I think every game is a learning experience,” Anunoby said. “You can improve with every game, win or loss, and I think (Achiuwa and Trent) both played amazing and that will help catapult their careers.”
When that happens again, Achiuwa and the Raptors will be better off for the pain and anguish caused by Wednesday.
“The first time I play meaningful minutes in the playoffs, I just learned,” Achiuwa said. “Moving on, just getting better. I know I’ll be back here many times in my career…it’s a learning experience for me.
It’s still hard to take. The scale of the Raptors’ work is indescribable — no NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series — and the lingering sting of an overtime loss at the buzzer will linger.
There are likely strategic moves that can be made, although being tied with two seconds left in overtime would suggest the Raptors played very well for much of Wednesday. This will be the mental side worth watching in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon.
“Yeah, well, there are no moral wins right now,” VanVleet said. “We can sit back once it’s all said and done… and enjoy and have an optimistic outlook, but right now we’re still in the trenches, still in the fight.
“We have to bring even more fights in a few days. There is no place to look around and feel sorry for yourself.
Achiuwa’s presence on the field late in the game is an example of the growth some Raptors have seen no matter when or how far this season ends. Achiuwa, who played nearly 36 minutes in the playoff home opener, was light years ahead of the temperamental sophomore big man who first showed up at camp. coaching.
“He’s worked really hard on his shooting and his free throws this year, he’s going to keep working on that,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I’m really proud of the way he played.
“I don’t want him to live in that game for sure because he was really, really efficient and powerful there (Wednesday). And that is exactly what is happening. Man, you go out and play this game, you’re gonna get into situations like this and you’re gonna live and die by the results.
Nurse has spoken throughout the season about the need for reps, tough situations and pressure and how they show young players what it’s really like in the toughest times. They had one, it didn’t go well. They need others.
“Look,” Nurse said, “we need more games. We have to find a way to dig in there Saturday afternoon and figure out how to get more games because I think you can see, one more time, obviously precious time for Precious, OG, Chris (Boucher).
“These guys need those moments.”
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