It is one thing to have a young player assert himself in a game and enjoy individual success.
It’s quite another when that same player does so and that individual success leads directly to team success.
That was the case for Raptors’ forward Scottie Barnes on Sunday in San Antonio when he absolutely ripped the spotlight off expected rookie of the year Victor Wembanyama and put it on himself leading his team to one of the most impressive comebacks in franchise history.
This was a statement game for Barnes the way Wembanyama made his own statement a game earlier in an overtime win over Phoenix that saw him put up an astounding 38 points but for totally different reasons.
Barnes has had bigger scoring nights than the 30 he had in Sunday’s win, but his performance in this particular game seemed far bigger than any previous to this.
In terms of Raptors wins, this 123-116 OT win over the Spurs didn’t touch last week’s tour de force over the Milwaukee Bucks and that roster.
That win, given the level of competition, was impressive on another level completely.
The win Sunday afternoon was a thrilling ride back from a self-inflicted wound that threatened to turn what could be the only truly winnable game on this four-game trip into a bottoming out loss at the worst possible time.
Barnes though was having none of that.
He didn’t do it alone by any measure. Barnes’ fourth quarter was a thing of beauty and the primary reason the Raptors got into overtime to even have the chance to win, but without OG Anunoby’s defensive job on Victor Wembanyama or even some key moments provided by Otto Porter Jr in that fourth, this game doesn’t end with the Raptors’ celebrating.
And we’ll suggest here that celebration may be one we all look back on as a key moment in the realization of how this team will operate for years to come.
The question of leadership on this team has been one that has been lingering and tossed around since this team first got together.
The early consensus was it was going to be shared mantle with the likes of returning vets like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby having their role in it along with that of an incoming vet like point guard Dennis Schroder and of course the growing leadership role of still emerging talent and future cornerstone Barnes.
Barnes though appears to have moved the timeline up considerably.
This is not the first game this season he has taken a game over by himself for minutes at a time, but this time felt different, particularly in that fourth quarter as the Raptors whittled away at a 17-point deficit with just 12 minutes of regulation remaining.
Barnes was everywhere in that fourth quarter, leaving his man to come over and help Anunoby, who did the lion’s share of the work on Wembanyama, thwart the big Frenchman, pulling down rebounds and sprinting up the floor in transition to give the Raptors every possible advantage he could.
Offensively he hit big shot after big shot, none bigger than his game-tying three pointer with 37 seconds remaining in the game.
Leaders thrive in those pressure moments and Barnes was at his best when his team needed him most.
I asked Barnes about the change in leadership with Fred VanVleet no longer on the roster back on Media Day before the team even got to training camp, and he knew then he was going to be a big part of it.
“There’s more opportunities for me to step into that leadership role,” he said. “I feel like that’s something I’m really trying to step into. I don’t think it’s going to be that hard to be a leader. I feel I can lead. It’s just about me using my voice and being able to play hard and just being more focused on my job on the floor. And then, of course, we got some more vets on our team as well. These guys have been through it all so they can help out a lot as well.”
But talking about it is one thing and showing it in the game is another and that was why Sunday just may be one of those games we all look back on and say, ‘Yup, that was the moment.’”