Raptors take down Thunder in historic night for Montreal hoops

by Holly MacKenzie

The Toronto Raptors were part of NBA history once again. The team’s 112-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday featured three NBA players from Montreal in the starting lineup for the first time ever. Chris Boucher and Khem Birch started for the Raptors, while Lu Dort started for the Thunder in the game.

And to be clear; The Montrealers didn’t just start in Sunday’s game, they starred in it, too.

Boucher led the way with a 31-point, 12-rebound double-double where he set a career-high for threes made in a game, shooting 6-for-9 from beyond the arc, while Dort led the Thunder with 29 points on 9-for-15 shooting. Birch finished with seven points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, a block and a crucial screen that led to an open three for Boucher to seal the victory.

“Aw man this was historic,” Birch said. “This is something I'll tell my kids about in the future. Hopefully there will be more [of these games] in the future, but right now it’s a historic night. I’m happy that we got the W.”

The Raptors got the win thanks to a flurry from Boucher who scored 10 points in the final 2:50 of the game. Things were close throughout as the Thunder led by three after one and seven at the half. A dunk from Freddie Gillespie gave the Raptors a one-point lead, 81-80, heading into the fourth. The score remained close in the final frame, with the teams trading leads before a three-pointer from Boucher with 2:27 put the Raptors ahead 105-102, and gave Toronto the lead for good.

After the game, during Boucher’s walk-off TV interview, he directed his words to any youth watching the game from home.

“We’ve come so far,” Boucher said. “People from Montreal, all the kids, this is to show you it’s possible. We have three guys from Montreal in the league at the same time. This one is for all the kids, all the people in Montreal with aspirations to play basketball. It’s really possible. You’ve just gotta have dedication and work hard.”

The Raptors got the win on Sunday despite being without four starters. The team was without Kyle Lowry (rest), Pascal Siakam (left shoulder) Fred VanVleet (left hip) and OG Anunoby (left calf). Jalen Harris (right hip) was also sidelined. Toronto started Malachi Flynn, Paul Watson and Gary Trent Jr. in addition to Boucher and Birch. 

Trent scored 23 points and had five steals while rookie Flynn finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Yuta Watanabe had another solid game off the bench, scoring 10 points and adding four rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes. In addition to his six threes, Boucher was 10-for-16 from the floor.

“The game is a lot easier when I let it come to me,” Boucher said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m jacking and trigger happy and usually that’s when I play the worst games. Gary found me in the corner [at the end of the game for a three] which was a great pass… It was really a team effort. We all played hard.”

Boucher relished the opportunity to play against Dort, who he’s known since childhood. The two shared a moment on the court after the game with fellow Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who didn’t play for the Thunder due to injury, joining them.

 

“I was definitely happy about this game, knowing he was playing,” Boucher said about Dort. ”Last time we were [in Oklahoma City] he wasn’t playing. It definitely put some pep in my step, especially because he got it going at the beginning of the game. With me, him and Khem, that’s three guys from Montreal. I think there’s a lot of pride, a lot of energy about that game.”

This was Birch’s fourth game with Toronto since signing with the team after spending the previous four years with the Orlando Magic.

“I just feel like we’re trying to make a push right now,” Birch said. “I think there’s a lot of chemistry [here]. We didn't have four of our starters right now and we still got a W. I feel like the system we have is easy for guys to come in and show their skills and also get wins. Nick Nurse put in a really good system here.”

As Birch continues to get comfortable expanding his game within that system, Boucher is one of many young Raptors players who has taken advantage of every opportunity to show off and develop his skills. 

“I just want to show what I can do for my game and let the kids believe in it,” he said. “Be better than me. I don't want them to be like me, I want them to be better than me.”

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