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Raptors’ Yuta Watanabe explains philosophy behind massive Dillon Brooks block

Yuta Watanabe Raptors block

Yuta Watanabe returned to the court for the Toronto Raptors in a big way Wednesday night.

With just under 11 minutes remaining the fourth quarter, and with the Raptors trailing the Memphis Grizzlies by one, Malachi Flynn sped to the corner to try and contest a Dillon Brooks three. Brooks patiently waited for Flynn to fly by, and then he darted along the baseline into the paint, rising up for a two-handed hammer.

Except it never came.

Suddenly, there was Watanabe, skying to meet him at the summit despite being fresh off a – calf injury that had kept him sidelined since the preseason. It was impossible in that moment (and for the entire night, really) to tell that he had ever been hobbled, though—the power and strength in his execution was breathtaking, managing to prevent the dunk with just one extended hand.

“I told you guys,” Watanabe said during Raptors post-game. “I jump anytime. If I have the chance 100 times I will jump 100 times. That’s what I do.”

Initially, the play was ruled a foul on Watanabe, but Raptors head coach Nick Nurse challenged the call immediately, and once officials went to review it was evident that the block was clean.

“I mean, thank god coach challenged the call and we won it,” Watanabe added. “But that’s something I can bring to the team—hustle, energy, stuff like that.”

While stopping Brooks cold in mid-air will deservedly get top-billing on all of the highlight reels, it wasn’t even the former Grizzly’s first rejection of the game. He had already flashed his marquee defensive instincts during his first stint in the game, when he swatted away a Tyus Jones floater attempt after he split two defenders to penetrate the paint.

“[It was] good to be back here,” Watanabe said. “Good to play against my old teammates. Everything was like perfect tonight.”

This, of course, isn’t the first time Watanabe’s made a dramatic defensive play for the Raptors (or attempted to make a play) at the rim. Last season, in a barnburner against the Orlando Magic, he leapt straight up to send back center Nikola Vucevic. He also, now rather infamously, tried to block the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards, though that one didn’t go quite as well.

Even so, Watanabe’s fearlessness and legitimate acumen for protecting the rim is part of what makes him such a likeable character, and what makes his role on the Raptors (who are lacking when it comes to backline defense) so vital.

“If I have more chances in the future,” Watanabe said, “I’m definitely jumping again and no matter what happens I’m just gonna keep hustling and keeping bringing energy to the team.”