now an integral member of the Raptors second unit

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now an integral member of the Raptors second unit
« on: May 14, 2019, 06:52:44 am »
NEW ORLEANS - Greivis Vasquez, now an integral member of the Raptors second unit, has celebrated wins over each of his three former teams in the last two weeks but Wednesdays victory over the Pelicans brought an even wider smile to the jovial point guards face. He played a big part in Fridays upset win over Memphis - the team that drafted him - a week after defeating the Kings, the team that traded him Toronto. However, this one meant a little more, though it took him a couple minutes to admit it. "I just want to win," Vasquez said, initially downplaying his return to New Orleans after the Raptors overcame an abysmal start to knock off the undermanned Pelicans 107-100. Sandwiched between his brief time in Memphis and Sacramento, Vasquez spent two seasons playing for the New Orleans franchise, formally known as the Hornets. There he enjoyed his best moments, individually, of his career. "This is a very special place for me because they gave me the key, they labelled me a starting point guard, they gave me a chance to showcase my game," said Vasquez, who finished second in most improved voting with the Hornets last season, averaging a career-highs in points (13.9) and assists (9.0) before he was traded to Sacramento this past summer. "I was really angry when they traded me," he admitted. "I know its part of the business so that makes it a little sour when you come back but you always want to beat your former team." With the game in the balance down the stretch, Vasquez looked and played like a scorned man. The Raptors backup point guard, like the rest of his new team, got off to an unexpectedly slow start against a Pelicans club missing its best player, all-star forward and Vasquezs former running mate Anthony Davis. When Vasquez entered the game late in the first quarter, Toronto was already down by seven. That deficit would balloon to 13 a few minutes later, as the Pelicans had their way with the shorthanded Raptors in the paint, getting what they want, when and however they wanted it. The Raptors spent most of the second half clawing back, unable to get over the final hurdle until Vasquez vaulted them over it. With two minutes remaining on the clock and the score knotted up at 94 - Toronto had led for a total of 51 seconds in the game at that point - the former Hornet put the Raptors on top with one of his patented floaters. After misfiring on a three from the corner - one he thought he had made - moments later, Vasquez followed his shot, grabbed the rebound - Torontos 22nd offensive board of the night, a season-best - and covered the lay-up, also getting fouled on the play. After completing the three-point sequence, the Raptors found themselves up by five in a game they badly needed, having dropped their last two. They would not relinquish that lead. "I was blessed enough to be out there at the end of the game," said Vasquez, who scored nine of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. "Ive been wishing I could get out there at the end of these games and (Coach) gave me an opportunity." "I had a rough first half and then the second half I was on a mission," he continued. "I like close games. Im not afraid. I will never be afraid. I am the type of player who would risk everything. Thats how I got the (starting job) here in New Orleans. They saw me playing in Memphis against San Antonio and OKC in my rookie year and they thought I was a starting guard." The Pelicans missed just three shots in the opening quarter, dropping 32 points on the winded Raptors - playing in the second game of a back-to-back, having lost Tuesday in Atlanta - without Davis, their leading scorer. Shooting over 75 per cent until the latter half of the second quarter, New Orleans torched the visitors on dribble drives in the paint. "I didnt recognize the team in the first quarter," Dwane Casey said. "I told them they were playing like they were in a rec league in the summer time (but) we picked it up." The game began to turn midway through that frame, as the Raptors closed the half on a 23-10 run, hitting nine of their final 10 shots. Despite shooting 36-per-cent in the second half, the Raptors clawed and scraped their way back into the game. DeMar DeRozan carried them offensively, scoring 16 of his game-high 31 points in the second half and the team out-rebounded New Orleans 31-18, including a 14-2 advantage on the offensive boards. Amir Johnson - playing on a sore ankle, again - grabbed eight of his nine rebounds in the second half, Tyler Hansbrough - starting in place of the injured Jonas Valanciunas - pulled down eight of his season-high 13. Simply put, they wanted it more. "This game was about mental toughness, physical toughness more so than skill," said Casey. "No matter who youre playing you have to bring that each and every night and I thought our guys did." Undermanned frontcourt The Raptors were without two of their top three bigs in Valanciunas, who missed his first game of the season with a lower back sprain and Patrick Patterson, still out with an elbow injury. Valanciunas sustained the injury turning to set a screen in the third quarter of Tuesdays loss to the Hawks and was unable to suit up in New Orleans. Although his back is still tight, the Raptors centre underwent treatment before the game and plans to do the same during Thursdays off day, hoping to return on Friday at home to the Thunder. De Colos quiet impact Without attempting a single shot in the first half, only taking one in the game, Nando De Colo helped ignite the Raptors and change the game with his energy, effort and decision making. Logging 14 minutes, the most hes played since he was acquired from San Antonio at the trade deadline, De Colo was credited with sparking his new teams second-quarter run that cut their deficit from 14 to one going into intermission. "Oh man, he was unbelievable," Kyle Lowry said of De Colo, who went scoreless but added two rebounds and three assists. "You cant forget a guy like that. Thats what I always say, were 15 strong. Nando hasnt played that much but tonight he really changed the game, just moving, speed, defence, just his overall effort and knowledge of the game." Nearing a milestone on the road With the victory, the Raptors picked up their 18th road win of the season, most since the 2001-02 campaign and are getting closer to the franchise record of 20 set the year prior. Toronto has seven road games to go and can finish at or above .500 away from home for the first time in team history if they can win at least three of them. 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One of the leagues premier reserves at his position following the trade, the fourth-year forward appeared in 48 games for Toronto, starting seven, and averaging 9.1 points, 5.1 rebounds while shooting 48 per cent from the field and 41 per cent from three-point range. As a restricted free agent, the Raptors could have matched any offer Patterson received on the open market but retaining him was a priority for general manager Masai Ujiri and something he moved on quickly after agreeing to terms with Lowry late Wednesday night. Patterson figured to draw a fair amount of interest from teams around the league after jumpstarting his young career in Toronto. Although he struggled to begin the year with the Kings, Patterson emerged as a versatile, two-way player that can stretch the floor at the power forward position. He became especially valuable as starter Amir Johnson began to wear down, battling a myriad of injuries late in the season. Patterson, often the first player off the bench last year, is expected to have a bigger role with the Raptors in 2014-15 and beyond. Toronto had a record of 42-22 following the early-season trade that made Patterson a Raptor, finishing the campaign with a franchise-best 48 wins and division title en route to a seven-game, first round defeat in the playoffs. Shortly after extending the contract of head coach Dwane Casey in May, Ujiri expressed his desire to keep his team, one that exceeded all expectations a year ago, together going forward. "As far as Im concerned, keeping our core group going forwward, with Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez and Patterson and Nando, those guys are priorities for us," the Raptors GM had said.dddddddddddd "And if you want to build, I think a team where we have young players, we have to build continuity. When free agency comes, we have to attack our guys first." With that goal in mind the next order of business will be retaining Vasquez, also a restricted free agent, expected to be done soon. In an effort to create the cap space required to complete a deal with the back-up point guard and perhaps add another piece while maintaining future flexibility and avoiding luxury tax penalties, the Raptors have also traded veteran sharpshooter Steve Novak to the Utah Jazz, reports Yahoo Sports. Toronto will send a future second-round selection to the Jazz as a sweetener and take back the non-guarantted contract of guard Diante Garrett, who will be immediately waived, in order to unload the $7.2 million Novak is owed over the next two years. After the Lowry and Patterson signings are made official and assuming guards Julyan Stone and Dwight Buycks are also waived (their deals are non-guaranteed if voided before July 7 and July 22 respectively), the Raptors will have roughly $62 million committed to 10 players under contract for next season, not including Vasquez, free agent guard Nando De Colo and rookies Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira or DeAndre Daniels. Even after signing their rookies and inking Vasquez to a new deal, the Raptors should be able to use most of their mid-level exception to address another need on the roster and remain under the salary cap. Aided by the trade of Novak, Toronto should have max or near max cap space next summer, with only Lowry, Patterson, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and this years rookies on their books for the 2015-16 season. Novak was acquired in the trade that sent Andrea Bargnani to New York a year ago. 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