Yuta Watanabe continues to make the most of his minutes with the Toronto Raptors.
In Toronto's matchup with the Sacramento Kings on Friday, Watanabe had his best game yet in a Raptors uniform. In 24 minutes of play, he scored a career-high 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from 3-point range. He also pulled down six rebounds, dished out two assists and came up with two steals.
It wasn't enough for the Raptors to come away with the win - they dropped their third straight, losing to the Kings by a final score of 126-124 - but Watanabe played a big role in their late run that almost put them over the edge.
MORE: Eight takeaways from Toronto's loss to Sacramento
Toronto's run started following a basket from Richaun Holmes that stretched Sacramento's lead to 14 points with 8:53 to play in the fourth quarter. Watanabe got the Raptors going again with a well-timed cut to the basket when some miscommunication between De'Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes left him unguarded at the top of the perimeter.
Kings lead down to 12 points.
Seconds later, Watanabe helped the Raptors come up with two stops on Fox, who was Sacramento's second-leading scorer in the game with 24 points.
First, Watanabe slid over on one of Fox's drives and forced a jump ball. Second, he picked Fox up after losing the jump ball and moved his feet well enough for Fred VanVleet to swoop in for the steal.
Not long after, Watanabe forced another turnover, this time by doubling Barnes in the post and using his long arms to come up with the deflection, resulting in a pair of free throws for VanVleet, which he split.
Kings lead down to 11 points.
The Kings extended their lead back to 13 points on a pair of free throws from Barnes, but a nice rotation from Watanabe set DeAndre' Bembry up for a block on Barnes' first shot attempt.
Bembry knocked a 3-pointer down on the ensuing possession to make it a 10-point game again. Watanabe followed it up with a 3-pointer of his own to make it a single-digit game.
Kings lead down to seven points.
Lowry and Fox exchanged layups. Lowry also made a free throw following a technical foul on Fox to make it a six-point game with 5:08 to go.
The Raptors cut further into that lead courtesy of an offensive rebound from Watanabe...
...that led to a midrange pull-up from VanVleet.
Kings lead down to four points.
Watanabe was credited with another offensive rebound the next trip down, only the Raptors weren't able to capitalize on it.
Barnes responded with a 3-pointer, but two timely plays from VanVleet made it a three-point game with 1:50 to go.
That set Watanabe up to make his biggest play of the game, blowing by Tyrese Haliburton on the perimeter and making a runner over Hassan Whiteside in the paint.
Kings lead down to one point.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, that was the closest they got to taking the lead. On the next possession, Whiteside came up with an offensive rebound off of his own missed dunk and found Haliburton standing at the top of the perimeter for a wide open 3-pointer. Haliburton's triple gave the Kings a four-point lead with 44.3 seconds remaining, making it a free throw contest the rest of the way.
Still, the Raptors have to be encouraged by the play of Watanabe. With both Norman Powell and OG Anunoby sidelined with injuries, he played the entire final period alongside Lowry, VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. He scored seven points and recorded four rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, giving the Raptors a much-needed injection of energy.
"He played great, he played about as good as he could," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said of Watanabe's fourth quarter. "He was really battling on D, he was really battling on the glass, he made a couple kick-out shots, made a tough shot clock winding down drive to the basket, which was good to see. He was really, really good."
Whether or not Watanabe will continue to play as much as he has lately when the Raptors are at full strength again remains to be seen - his minutes have doubled over the last four games, from 9.4 to 18.8 - but it's now clear what he's capable of bringing to this team.
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