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Chris Boucher Explains How The Worst Game of His Career Changed his Life – Sports Illustrated

Remember that December 26th game against the Cleveland Cavaliers? You know, the one in which the Toronto Raptors took the court with four so-called regulars and four other guys they met on the bus ride over to the arena. It’s OK if you don’t.

“Most of all of us turned it off mentally,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse joked as he reflected on the night.

It was ugly.

But for Chris Boucher, it was quite possibly the most important game of his NBA life.

Coming into the night, Boucher saw an opportunity. With all of Toronto’s best players out, Boucher thought he could be The Guy for the Raptors. He, like so many others in the NBA, figured he was just an increased role away from being a star. So he set out to prove it, trying over and over again as one contested three-pointer turned into another which turned into an off-the-dribble jumper that went nowhere. Mix in five turnovers, 6-for-19 shooting from the field, a spoonful of humble pie, and it’s easy to see why Boucher won’t soon forget that faithful night.

“It was one of the worst games ever. My family, they wanted to shut down the TV,” Boucher said Friday. “I remember shooting 2-for-10 (from three-point range), and I was like, oh, I’m finally going to be the No. 1 guy, the go-to guy, and I didn’t realize how hard it is to be that guy, day out and day in.

“It definitely changed my life. It changed my perspective. I realized I never want to be in that position again.”

It was natural for Boucher to think he could do it. He’d come off a career year in 2020-21, averaging 13.6 points per game while shooting 51.4% from the floor and 38.3% from three-point range. In a contract year this season, Boucher was gunning for those numbers again. As Khem Birch said earlier in the season, it’s the box score numbers that get you paid.

But not with the Raptors. To Nurse, those big Boucher stats last season were meaningless. They were empty numbers, the kind you see good players on the league’s worst teams put up.

“Somebody had to score last year, you know what I mean?” Nurse said.

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All the Raptors have ever wanted from Boucher is for him to play his role consistently. They don’t care about the pick-and-pop threes and the out-of-nowhere blocked three-pointers if they come with those painful mistakes he’s has been known to make at both ends of the court. It’s reliability Nurse demands.

That night in Cleveland killed Boucher’s dream of ever being the go-to guy. It forced him to reevaluate things, and when he did, he became the kind of player Toronto had been begging him to be.

Sure, his box score numbers may be down from last year and his shooting may have taken a dive, but this new Chris Boucher has taken his game to a whole new level.

“It’s not even close. A thousand percent. It’s not even close,” Fred VanVleet said of Boucher’s improved play. “You’ve got to watch it, too. You can talk numbers all day. But you’ve still got to watch the game and watch the impact and the enthusiasm and attention to detail and executing the game plan. He’s been a thousand times better this year than he was last year without the big numbers.

“What he’s meant for our bench unit, coming in and blocking shots and making threes, he’s been incredible for an extended period of time now.”

On Thursday night, in the biggest game of the season for Toronto ironically against those same Cavaliers, Boucher was a difference-maker for the Raptors. He played 33 minutes of reliable basketball, grabbed eight rebounds, swiped three steals, and shot 6-for-12 from the floor with a pair of three-pointers. 

At 29 years old, Boucher is finally comfortable in his own skin. Instead of focusing on the stats and the upcoming contract, he’s found a groove by focusing on the one thing that really matters.

“Just with the wins,” he said. “We got a lot of wins where I didn’t score very much but I did a lot of the defensive side, those rebounds and those steals is all stuff I couldn’t do last year. … You can see it helps the team.”

Further Reading

Raptors expected to re-sign Armoni Brooks as team gets excited about his developmental future

Raptors discuss Thad Young’s impact on and off the court

Raptors prove they’re ready for anything with playoff-like win over the Cavaliers