Typically Summer League coaching duties are handled by an up-and-coming assistant, but in 2018, Nurse, newly minted as the Raptors head coach, wanted to run the bench to sharpen up his game-calling after spending the previous five years as Dwane Casey’s assistant. It was his decision who saw the floor out of his 12-man roster of prospects and suspects, and through the first two games of a five-game schedule, Boucher wasn’t one of them. “This is opportunity basketball for these guys,” Nurse said at the time. “The windows are short sometimes but when they’re out there they gotta take advantage of them.” Boucher was worried his window wouldn’t open.
“That was the lowest of lows,” says Permut of those first two games. “You get waived by Golden State and then you get two DNP-CDs [did not play-coach’s decision] in Summer League … I remember sitting in his hotel room with him and him just being discouraged, and he was wondering, ‘What can I do to get on the court?’ The night after the second game we basically decided, ‘Stay the course, stay locked in, you’re going to get an opportunity and when you do, make the most of it.’”
Boucher got his foot in the door in Game 3 and showed some promise, knocking down a pair of threes and challenging some shots at the rim. There were some jittery mistakes, too, but nothing fatal. “I didn’t think he looked that out of place out there,” Nurse said afterwards. “He did okay. We’ll give him another look.”
Boucher’s ‘lose yourself’ moment came in Game 4 against Denver. In 22 minutes off the bench, he had six blocks and scored 12 points on seven shots, including two more made threes, while adding two steals. His energy changed the momentum of the game and the Raptors came back for the win. “It was awesome,” gushed Nurse to reporters afterwards. “He did it all out there. How many blocks did he have? He had six officially, but it felt like 12. He banged an alley-oop, he hit a three. He was having fun out there. When I took him out with a minute to go, it was a good smile, you know what I mean? It was one of those really good smiles from a player for an opportunity seized.” Winn was watching, both pleased and relieved. “To me, that’s the pivot point in his Raptors career,” he says. “If he doesn’t do it then, what happens? That was big.”