TORONTO — O.G. Anunoby scored eight of the Toronto Raptors’ final dozen points on Saturday, all but single-handedly wrestling the win out of the Mavericks’ clutches.
“He wanted ’em to go in so bad, he started willing those ones in,” coach Nick Nurse said of Anunoby’s late baskets.
Anunoby finished with 26 points and nine rebounds — and played great defence on Luka Doncic — while Fred VanVleet bounced back from an illness to score 26 points, and the depleted Raptors beat Dallas 105-100 on Saturday.
“I think (Anunoby) is gonna sleep good tonight, he was at a lot of minutes (43), a lot of work,” Nurse said. “It was good to let him go toe-to-toe with one of the league’s best and good that he could make the plays at the other end, at the same time.”
Doncic led the Mavericks (9-9) with 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
Chris Boucher finished with 22 points, including a big basket in the dying seconds, for Toronto (10-9). Juancho Hernangomez scored 10 points.
If there’s a silver lining to the absence of Raptors all-star Pascal Siakam (strained adductor), it’s the emergence of Anunoby as one of the team’s most reliable players.
“He’s been kind of our primary guy for the last week, two weeks and we’re going to need him to have that same aggressiveness even when Pascal gets back so it gives us different threats,” VanVleet said. “I just love his approach to the game and just laying everything out there on the line.
“He’s coming in early working on his game. He’s been a complete pro this year and I’m just proud of him and how far he’s come as a player.”
He’s also popular among opponents apparently. Doncic inadvertently sent Anunoby sprawling under the net on one play, then reached out a hand to tug him back onto his feet.
“I think (Anunoby) is probably one of the nicest dudes in the league,” Doncic said. “He never talks trash, he never does anything. I tripped him, not on purpose, so that’s why I helped him up.”
Anunoby, upon hearing Doncic’s comments, replied: “He’s one of the nicest guys in the league, too. He doesn’t trash talk, either.”
The Raptors have been slammed by injuries and illness. They started their 10th different lineup on Saturday in 19 games. VanVleet had missed three of the previous five games with a non-COVID illness. The Raptors remain without Siakam, Scottie Barnes (knee sprain), Precious Achiuwa (ankle sprain), Dalano Banton (ankle sprain), Otto Porter Jr. (dislocated toe), and Justin Champagnie (back soreness).
And they looked like they were in for a long night after a terrible start Saturday. But they clawed their way back, taking their first lead early in the second quarter, and were up by as many as 11 points late in the third. Anunoby and VanVleet combined for 16 points in the third and Toronto led 81-73 to start the fourth.
Dallas reclaimed the lead, but when Boucher threw down a one-handed alley-oop dunk from VanVleet with 6:57 to play, the basket put Toronto up 90-85.
Anunoby scored six straight points to put the Raptors up by a point before Boucher was fouled on a jumper with 31.4 seconds to play, falling to the floor. The Montreal native waved his arms up and down for the Scotiabank Arena fans — who were on their feet — to cheer. They delightedly obliged.
“The crowd in Toronto is a special thing and when you can get them involved in the game, it feels like a sixth player,” Boucher said. “so I just wanted them to show that we’re happy that they’re there and they’re cheering us on.”
Doncic replied with a jumper, then Thaddeus Young hit two free throws for a three-point Toronto lead with 16.6 seconds to play. Dorian Finney-Smith tossed an errant pass with 5.0 seconds left straight into the hands of Young, and that was the game.
Anunoby takes pride in guarding the league’s best, summing up his night of hounding Doncic as: “You just have to stay on high alert, knowing the ball is going to him, knowing that you’re probably gonna get screened, you have to fight over. It takes a lot of focus.”
The Raptors stumbled out to a horrible start and trailed by 15 points midway through the first quarter. The Mavs were so dominant that Dwight Powell stopped to tie his shoe for an entire Dallas possession and the Mavs still scored on it.
Boucher provided a big spark off the bench with 10 points and six rebounds, and the Raptors closed the first with a 17-7 run and trailed just 29-24 to start the second.
Toronto continued to eat away at the deficit and Boucher’s floater 1:09 into the second half gave the Raptors their first lead. Anunoby converted a three-point play 57 seconds before halftime putting Toronto up by seven, and the Raptors led 54-52 at the break.
GOOD GUY POWELL: Raptors coach Nick Nurse had kind words for Toronto native Dwight Powell, who he’s coached on the Canadian team.
“He’s a great person. High character, hard-working, no-nonsense type of guy. He plays really hard, he plays to win, he cares about his teammates and he kinda keeps getting better,” Nurse said. “He’s a great team player.”
Powell started for the Mavs but played just 14 minutes, scoring eight points.
TIP-INS: The Raptors wore their black and gold city edition jerseys. VanVleet had on gold shoes.
UP NEXT: Toronto hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday to cap this three-game homestand.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.