Yuta Watanabe made the first start of his NBA career Wednesday for a depleted Toronto Raptors squad in a 129-105 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
The third-year forward went scoreless but grabbed four rebounds in 11 minutes after five Raptors players, including star forward Pascal Siakam, were ruled out under the league’s coronavirus safety protocols.
Toronto was also missing head coach Nick Nurse and five members of his staff at Tampa’s Amalie Arena following a positive test result and contact tracing measures among the team.
The Raptors were originally scheduled to play Detroit on Tuesday before they were forced to postpone the game.
Watanabe shot 0-for-3, including 0-for-2 from outside, as he tried to help Toronto fill the hole left by the absence of Siakam, as well as regular starters O.G. Anunoby and Fred VanVleet.
The Japan international, who is on a two-way contract that splits his time between Toronto and their minor-league affiliate, has impressed in short bursts this season for the 17-18 Raptors.
Through 22 games, Watanabe has averaged 2.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in 12.2 minutes following his offseason move from the Memphis Grizzlies, where he spent the first two years of his NBA career on a two-way deal.
But Watanabe had perhaps his most memorable moment in the eyes of many NBA fans this season by being on the wrong end of a monster dunk by Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards in Toronto’s 86-82 win on Feb. 19.
Some pundits have already dubbed Edwards’ eye-catching slam over Watanabe at Minnesota’s Target Center the “dunk of the year.”
The Raptors have made Tampa, Florida, their temporary home this season while the coronavirus pandemic limits travel between the United States and Canada.
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