The National Basketball Association announced Monday that Pascal Siakam has been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played Nov. 5-11. He becomes the eighth player in franchise history to earn player of the week honours, joining DeMar DeRozan (10 times), Vince Carter (seven times), Chris Bosh (seven times), Kyle Lowry (four times), Mike James, Jalen Rose and Lou Williams.
In three games last week Siakam averaged a team-high 20.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, shot .724 (21-for-29) from the field and .983 (15-for-16) at the free throw line. The Raptors improved their record to an NBA-best 12-1 overall and were one of three undefeated teams last week along with the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers.
Siakam began the week by contributing 16 points and seven rebounds Nov. 5 at Utah as the Raptors won 124-111 on the second night of a back-to-back. He followed up with 21 points on 8-of-11 (.727) shooting Nov. 7 at Sacramento, helping Toronto sweep a four-game Western Conference road trip for the first time in franchise history. Siakam then scored a career-high 23 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 at the free throw line during Torontoʼs 128-112 win Nov. 12 vs. New York.
Siakam, a native of Cameroon, was selected 27th overall by the Raptors in the 2016 NBA Draft. He is averaging a career-best 13.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and shooting .634 from the field in 13 games (12 starts) this season.
One of the best developments, New Orleans only made 13 miscues last night. They had typically been marred by turnovers on too many occasions, eclipsing that amount in some halves throughout the completed portion of the schedule.
The next item on the checklist called for good defense and, lo and behold, mission accomplished! The Raptors entered the matchup ranked second in offensive rating (116.5) and third in points per game (117.9), but the Pelicans held Toronto to 110 points, which only two other teams had previously done this season.
All wasn’t perfect though. The Raptors had open opportunities from deep, but they were uncharacteristically unable to capitalize, shooting 29 percent from three-point range. But the Pels, however, did not allow Toronto many easy looks inside, and brought help on post-up/pick-and-roll looks making Toronto work hard for every opportunity they encountered. A few were even emphatically rejected.
It’s no surprise, of course, even to those who wondered exactly where Leonard’s game would be after not playing much basketball for the past 18 months, that the veteran has made such a positive impact on the Raps. He’s a legitimate superstar without a hole in his game at either end of the court, and when you’re best offensive player is also your best defender, well, the effect of such a player on the rest of the team is usually substantial.
That the Raps have been nearly as good with Leonard missing back-to-backs and not playing every game, however, is the surprise. Instead of Leonard leaving a massive hole in the lineup when he’s out, Toronto just sort of morphs into a slightly different version of itself, putting out other four-man units of “3-and-D” players that have made this team almost impossible to defend and difficult to attack in the early days of the season.
When the Raps made the deal that sent DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio along with Jakob Poeltl to get Leonard, the risk factor from a Toronto standpoint was that while DeRozan had years to go on a long-term contract, Leonard might bolt as a free agent at the end of the season. In other words, the Raptors might only get one season out of him after giving up so much. If they won the championship, sure, it would still be worth it, but trading for a superstar and then watching him walk would deal a devastating blow to the franchise from which it would take years to recover.
Pelicans Guard E’Twaun Moore
Seems like one of those night’s when everything was going well:
“Just making plays in the paint, taking what the defense gave me. AD (Anthony Davis) and Julius (Randle) did a good job of screening and getting me open. I had the hot hand so I just kept trying to make plays and help us get the win.”
Was there a point you knew it was going to be a good night?
“I was in a good rhythm, anytime you are in a good rhythm and feeling good, you have to take it and be aggressive. I had the hot hand so they kept coming to me and relying on me, so I just tried to keep making plays and it worked out for us.”
What does this win say about the team given the quality of Toronto?
“We knew they were a good team and we had to be ready to play – match the energy of their starters and their bench, they did a good job of coming in and picking up the pace so it was a good win. Especially on the road, anytime you can get a win on the road, it helps.”
The Toronto Raptors fell to the New Orleans Pelicans at home Monday. To make matters worse, they also lost sharpshooter C.J. Miles to an adductor strain.
Miles suffered the injury just eight minutes into the game and was forced to leave. He never returned after scoring only three points.
In the fourth quarter, after a pair of steals from Wright and VanVleet got the Pelicans’ lead down to six, it felt like Toronto still had a chance. They’d eventually switch over to a small-ball frontcourt lineup of Siakam, Leonard, and Anunoby to try and stay in front of New Orleans. Time and again down the stretch it felt like the Raptors would put it together, like they’d find the magic combination to put themselves over the top. It has happened before — but not tonight.
Now, some of the final outcome could be chalked up to it being just one of those nights. Nurse certainly wasn’t in a dour mood after the game. The Raptors were well off their usual average from three-point range three; they also got very little from their starting backcourt, which is also well off the norm; even Kawhi didn’t look himself. Still, it’s hard to ignore how New Orleans was able to bully their way to some of those points — it was instructive.
“A cold shower,” said Jonas Valanciunas (who had a rough 2-point night) when asked what the Raptors can take away from such a loss. “You take a cold shower. They played well. We didn’t match their energy, we didn’t match them in transition, their speed. They were on us. It’s kind of sad, but we gotta learn: do not underestimate anybody, and all the teams in this league are capable. So we just gotta regroup, it’s just one game. It happens.”
“It just felt like we were just not quite with much pace and readiness on defence wasn’t good enough,” said Nurse. “And I give them a lot of credit and you know this is going to happen in this league. They’re going to see a team that was 12-1, right? They’re coming in after a couple of wins, they’re very talented, they were ultra-focused and they made a lot of shots and they played great.
Those details aside, if the Raptors (12-2) somehow end up playing for a title, we can assume that the acquisition of Leonard will be a big reason why. And the late-career surge of Kyle Lowry will be essential – his 1-of-9 showing Monday evidence of what happens when he struggles while commanding the good ship Raptors. Danny Green’s arrival as the central casting veteran role player with championship experience will matter, too, and don’t forget about the revival of Serge Ibaka.
None of them were in top form against the Pelicans and – predictably – Toronto struggled.
The Raptors got out to a cold start that they could not overcome. They shot 2-for-12 from deep in the first quarter and remained cold for the rest of the contest. They finished the game shooting 39-for-97 from the field (40.2 percent) and 13-for-45 from three (28.9 percent), the second-worst shooting night they’ve had all season. Kyle Lowry, Danny Green and Jonas Valanciunas shot a combined 2-for-16 from the field 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.
On the other side of things, the Pelicans simply could not miss. They shot a ridiculous 54.5 percent from the field making 54 of their 99 field goal attempts on the night. They also converted 10 of their 27 three-point attempts, good for 37.0 percent. This was the second-best shooting game the Pelicans have had this season.
When the Raptors made a quick push early in the fourth quarter, the Pelicans were able to respond right away. They shot 13-for-20 from the field in the final frame behind a perfect 4-for-4 shooting from Anthony Davis and 5-for-6 shooting from E’Twaun Moore to seal the tough road win in Toronto.
Out of the gates: Toronto trailed at the half for just a fourth time this season, by a score of 66-61. It was the most points the Raptors have allowed in any half this year, thanks in large part to Toronto’s paltry defence allowing the Pelicans, who consistently beat the home team down the court, to shoot 58 per cent from the field. Four players finished the half with 10 or more points, led by Moore’s tally of 17. The Raptors’ starting backcourt didn’t do much to help counter that, either: Kyle Lowry and Danny Green combined for just two points in the first 24 minutes, going 0-for-6 from the field. The pair finished the night with seven points, though Lowry did put up a team-high 11 assists.
Coming back late: There were moments in the second half when it looked like Toronto’s bench, which outscored the Pelicans’ bench 42-20, might just claw their team back into the game. Arguably the loudest roar of the night came at the 11-minute mark in the fourth quarter after a Delon Wright steal lead to a pump fake from Jonas Valanciunas and an open three for Fred VanVleet, bringing the Raptors within six points. But New Orleans held it’s composure and, after head coach Alvin Gentry called a timeout, went on a 6-0 run that put them back in the drivers seat.
“It will be different being on that side, and I would be disingenuous to say it’s not going to feel funny,” Casey said by phone from Detroit where he’s the new head coach of the Pistons.
“Any human being worth his salt knows it’ll be a different feeling, a funny feeling. But I think once the game starts and they throw it up, it will be one of 82. And I’m sure it’s going to be the same for the players from the other side too.”
Casey hardly sounded resentful during a wide-ranging conversation about his new life in Michigan, why he chose not to sit out a year, how his Pistons team is similar to the Raptors he inherited in 2011 and what he thinks of the new-look NBA-leading Raptors.
The Raptors fired Casey after a franchise-best 59-win regular season in Toronto, which was followed by a second-round playoff sweep by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. He was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year and then the 61-year-old landed what was reported as the longest and most lucrative contract of his coaching career worth some US$7-million each year for five years.
E’Twaun Moore had a season-high 30 points for the Pelicans (7-6) while Jrue Holiday tied season-highs with 29 points and 14 assists. Anthony Davis had 25 points and a season-high 20 rebounds, the fifth 20-20 game of his career.
The Pelicans starters combined for 106 points and shot 60 per cent (45-of-75) from the field. New Orleans scored 72 points in the paint, 30 more than the Raptors.
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry enjoyed his team’s third win in a row but declined to put too much on it.
“We’ve got 69 more [games] to go. I’ll talk to you after the 69th one,” he said.
Gentry’s respect for the Raptors has not wavered.
“It’s one loss. This is a great team that we played. They’re a really great team. Nick has done a great job with these guys … We played really well tonight and we beat then.”
“It’s a good win for us on the road against a very good team. That’s really all it is,” he added.
Kawhi Leonard had 20 points for Toronto while Serge Ibaka added 19. Ibaka has now scored in double figures in 13 consecutive games, the third-longest streak of his career and longest since 2014.
Dwane Casey woke up Monday morning thinking about the Toronto Raptors.
But the Detroit Pistons coach said if there was any trepidation about Wednesday’s return to Toronto, it was more about facing the league’s hottest team and less about being back in the place from which he’d been unceremoniously punted six months ago.
“It will be different being on that side of the bench but I would be disingenuous to say it’s not going to feel funny,” Casey said in a phone interview. “But the reason I say I woke up this morning is because we stubbed our toe against Charlotte, and I thought about who we have next and it has to be the Toronto Raptors, and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, they’re a good team.’
“Any human being worth his salt will say it’ll be a different feeling, a funny feeling, but I think once the game starts and they throw it up, it will be one of 82 and I’m sure it’s going to be the same for the players from the other side too.”
The 61-year-old coach led the Raptors to a franchise-best 59-win season, but paid the price for their second-round dispatch by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. A month after his firing, he won the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA’s coach of the year, and signed a five-year deal with Detroit worth about $7 million US per season.
Casey said he hasn’t spoken to any Raptors since the season began — both because he has his own team to worry about, and out of respect for Toronto’s season. But he’s watched from afar, and feels proud of the growth he’s seen in the players.
During Monday’s call, it was announced that Pascal Siakam was the Eastern Conference player of the week.
“I knew from the first day he worked out for us in Buffalo. He couldn’t throw rice in the ocean out of a rowboat at that time,” Casey said in his classic southern, homespun vernacular. “But now to see him making shots and playing. The kid has an NBA motor, and I knew that, and his heart and spirit are in the right place. The sky is the limit for him.”
A move to the bench hasn’t had a negative impact on Valanciunas’ game.
If anything, it suits the Lithuanian better.
As the No. 1 scoring option on the second unit, Valanciunas has seen his usage rate jump to a career-high 25.9 percent. He’s making the most of those opportunities with averages of 26.0 points, 14.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per 36 minutes, the best marks of his career.
Valanciunas has always been a load for teams to handle on the low block, so giving him an extended run against second units gives the Raptors a tremendous advantage. That much becomes clear when you look at the numbers: Valanciunas ranks near the top of the league in post scoring this season with 29 points and he’s in a class of his own in making 13 of his 16 shot attempts with his back to the basket.
Valanciunas is still doing all of the other things that make him one of the better centres in the league, too, such as attacking the offensive glass and spacing the court with his always improving jump shot.
The combination gives him the tools to play off of Fred VanVleet as a reserve and Kyle Lowry as a starter. Toronto’s points guards have set him up on more than half of his assisted buckets this season, most coming out of pick-and-rolls.
Whether or not he ultimately starts too many games to be considered a true reserve remains to be seen, but Valanciunas is building a legitimate case for Sixth Man of the Year in the early going. To go along with the career numbers across the board, the Raptors continue to outscore their opponents by a large margin with Valanciunas on the court.
There’s no reason to expect that to change anytime soon either with the Bench Mob rounding into form again.
It was an undefeated week for the 12-1 Raptors, who haven’t won a game by fewer than seven points since the first week of the season. One among many promising notes for Toronto: No matter which combination of forwards and big men head coach Nick Nurse assembles around Kyle Lowry, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, the Raps are decimating the competition. No other three-man unit in the league with more than 200 minutes has outperformed this Raps’ winning trio. — Arnovitz
The designation as Raptors ambassador was one DeRozan took immense pride in. He helped shift the conversation about the culture of basketball in Toronto, even as he couldn’t get the franchise past the LeBron James roadblock in the Eastern Conference. DeRozan has always been outspoken about his loyalty to Toronto. He famously bypassed meeting with his hometown Lakers or any other team when his free agency arrived two summers ago. “I am Toronto,” he declared after re-signing with the Raptors. He wanted to achieve things in the city that no other player had accomplished. He wanted to see his jersey in the rafters.
Then, in a flash, his life in the North was upended. On July 18, the team followed up its firing of coach Dwane Casey by dealing DeRozan, big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick for a discontented Kawhi Leonard along with Danny Green. DeRozan found out about the trade after getting out of a screening of The Equalizer 2, featuring Denzel Washington. Upon leaving the movie theater in Los Angeles late into the night, he checked his phone. “[I] was wondering why I was getting missed calls,” he says.
He was hungry, so he went to get something to eat at a Jack in the Box. In the parking lot, he got the call telling him he had just been traded to San Antonio. “It just caught me off guard,” he says. “I sat in the Jack in the Box parking lot for, like, two hours just trying to process it all, like just trying to process the whole thing, and it just tripped me out honestly, just trying to figure it out, but that’s how I found out. Midnight, sitting in the Jack in the Box parking lot for about two hours till I went home.”
Players of DeRozan’s caliber—Olympian, four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA—work for years to pilot their futures. James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade put themselves in a position to join forces in Miami. Leonard willed his departure from San Antonio. Paul George orchestrated the same power move in leaving Indiana for Oklahoma City. Jimmy Butler forced his way out of Minnesota.
But DeRozan, during his tenure with the Raptors, put his energy more into his future as a part of, not distinct from, his team. He poured his time—nine years—and emotions into lifting a franchise toward respectability.
“You work to want to have that privilege, but to me, reality hit, saying you really don’t have control over that privilege,” DeRozan says. “Just because I say I’m going to go walk outside doesn’t mean I can dictate if I’m going to be able to make it up the street or not. That’s how it hit me. … No matter what you do, you really don’t have control of nothing. You gotta be ready and prepared for anything that comes.