Making it count: Stanley Johnson and Jalen Harris record career-highs against Bulls

by Holly MacKenzie

Stanley Johnson is making every minute count. With three games remaining in this Toronto Raptors season, Johnson poured in a career-high night against the Chicago Bulls. The Raptors fell to the Bulls 114-102 on Thursday, but not for a lack of effort from Johnson who finished with a career-high 35 points on 12-for-22 field goals. Johnson also added 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals without a turnover in a team-high 43 minutes.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said after the game.

There are now just two games remaining on the slate for the Raptors, including Friday’s back-to-back against the Dallas Mavericks and then a Sunday matinee against the Indiana Pacers. Johnson is determined to get as much out of each game as possible. As the season winds down, despite it ending before any of the Raptors would have liked, Johnson is reminding himself to keep the right perspective.

“I just feel like, you’ve got to be thankful for stuff,” he said after Thursday’s performance. “As a kid, I’d ask God, ‘Can you just please put me on an NBA team? If I can run the bench for 10 years I'll be the happiest [guy] in the world.’ Then you get to [age] 24 and you start getting ungrateful for things. 

“For me, it’s all about being grateful,” he continued. “I don't know how to make a cool metaphor out of this, but I just thank God to be able to play basketball at this level. I thank God for great teammates. Even though it’s a tough season, we’ve been here for each other. No matter who is playing on any night, since I’ve been here we’ve given good effort, we’ve tried our hardest. We’ve played good basketball. That's what it kind of comes down to for me.”

For head coach Nick Nurse, it was nice to see Johnson and his teammates put in solid performances on a night where the undermanned Raptors had just eight players available before losing Yuta Watanabe to an ankle sprain.

“[Stanley] really had a good one going and I think that you can look at all the numbers and stuff, but the one that stands out to me is no turnovers,” Nurse said. “He found a way to get [the ball] out when he was covered, made good passes and stuff. It was good to see. I think a lot of guys played solid tonight and I think we did it as a unit.”

Rookie Jalen Harris also scored a career-high, finishing with 17 points against the Bulls. After the game, he reflected on the unique start to his first NBA season and what he’s looking forward to in his first NBA offseason.

“I think just getting in with the guys, we didn’t really have a preseason this year, we had a short training camp, we really didn’t have a summer league process, we didn’t really get the development with the young guys coming in,” Harris said. “I’m looking forward to that more than anything, just building that chemistry and continuing to build on what we’ve got now.”

Though the postseason is out of reach for the Raptors this season, snapping a seven-year stretch of postseason appearances, for younger players on the roster especially, there’s still plenty to play for.

“I’ve been in a lot of jobs like this where you always think someone is watching,” Nurse said. “You never know who is watching and you get kind of a limited [number of] times to go out there and show what you’re capable of. [Stanley] took advantage of that for sure. I think that what we have seen from him in the last month, we’ve seen quite a few, a handful, of really good defensive performances on really good players.”

Though the team couldn’t pull out the win in Chicago, the night was an affirming one for Johnson.

“I like to say I am who I am,” he said. “I know who I am personally. That’s for everybody else to judge. But obviously you put a lot of work in, you put a lot of effort in, to get a positive result is always good. I shoot a lot of shots, I do a lot of stuff to be able to play a decent game, a good game. I’m happy.”

When it comes to this offseason and what’s next for Johnson, his plan is a simple one.

“I’m willing to work as hard as I possibly have to,” he said. “To be the best player I possibly can be.”

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