— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 26, 2022
Two — Pascal Siakam was sharp as the de facto point guard. VanVleet’s absence is always hard to overcome, but the added factor of missing Barnes’ secondary playmaking left Siakam as the decision-maker on almost every play. The Hornets unsurprisingly chose to double team Siakam, frequently sending two players to the ball just in an effort to take him out of the equation, but he just kept making the right passes.
It helped that inconsistent shooters like Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, and Dalano Banton were knocking down outside shots, but a lot of that was thanks to the time and space afforded to them from Siakam’s astute playmaking. In between his 12 assists, Siakam also scored 24 points and came one rebound shy of a triple-double in what was a dominant showing to bail the Raptors out of a tight spot.
Almost inevitably, when an athlete takes a leap in a team sport, he or she will talk about the game slowing down for them. Sometimes, you can even see it on the outside.
If you were watching Pascal Siakam against the Charlotte Hornets Tuesday night, you saw it happen frequently. Wherever he was on the floor, when Siakam had the ball, he was manipulating the defence — and better still, reacting to that manipulation — in real time. At the top of the key, Siakam witnessed the defence compress as Dalano Banton cut across the paint, leaving Chris Boucher open in the corner. When he got the ball in the paint with three Hornets around him, he got in a power-up position and saw the defenders were going to nominally remain in his passing lanes, so he went up and drew a foul. When he was greeted by a double-team, there was no sprinting back to the 3-point arc to relieve the pressure. There was just careful surveying of the court for the proper pass.
“I’ve been working with Earl (Watson, Toronto Raptors assistant coach). We always watch film, and something he tells me is to be patient, and I can see that in myself. I feel like I always have an advantage, and I want to (make my move) right away,” Siakam said after matching a career high with 12 assists, adding 24 points and nine rebounds in a 125-113 win.
“But I think just being patient, watching the defence, and the more comfortable with help (I get), the better I’ll get with reads. We’ve been working a lot on being patient and not going too fast or too slow, just being in that mid-mode and just knowing where to go, getting to my spots.”
On a night when the Raptors were without two gifted playmakers in Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes, they needed that type of composure from Siakam. The Hornets are rather indifferent to sound defence, but the Raptors have been a wretched offensive team of late, and they were without two starters, including their most prolific shooter on a team without many.
Lately, it has been natural to wonder how much Goran Dragic would be helping the team. To be sure, any productive player, especially one on the perimeter, would be a meaningful addition given how much the main Raptors — especially VanVleet — are playing. However, that’s not necessarily because they need another classic point guard to organize the offence. They need secondary creation and shooting, sure, but Siakam has been just fine as a primary decision-maker, with or without VanVleet on the floor.
“I just think his control of it, his rhythm and his tempo and his composure with it right now is pretty good,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Siakam. “We saw something a little different tonight. They started double-teaming him from up top, and for the most part, we made the right reads.
But it was the Raptors workhorses who stepped up as much as anyone. Siakam has been nothing short of brilliant since the beginning of December and proved against the Hornets that he’s as much a part of VanVleet and the Raptors’ success as the reverse. He took command offensively from the opening moments and never let up. Flipping easily between point guard duties and power forward duties, the 2020 All-Star finished with a career-high 12 assists and just missed his second career triple-double while adding 24 points and nine rebounds in 39 minutes.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable,” said Siakam of his role as the Raptors’ second point guard. “I think the more I do it the better I get, like anything that I do. I feel like if I put my mind to it, work hard at it, watch film and get the reps then I believe I can get better at it, and that’s what I’m doing. Just continuing to get better, trying to make reads and just understanding where everybody is out on the floor. Just knowing that I’m going to get the attention regardless, so I think making the plays comes naturally because they’re open most of the time.”
Gary Trent Jr. – who was miserable against Portland on Sunday – was letting it fly like only six guys had shown up for his men’ league game and helped the Raptors get off to a strong start with 13 first quarter points on his way to a season-high 32 points, while OG Anunoby added 24 points and seven rebounds.
The Raptors started the fourth quarter with a 19-point lead, but things had looked dicey in the third as the Hornets started the quarter on a 14-2 run that cut the Raptors’ lead to three. But Toronto didn’t panic, even without the calming presence of VanVleet.
It was rookie Banton who stopped the bleeding as he snaked a pick-and-roll and hit a 15-foot jumper, flashing that G-League confidence. Chris Boucher – who has also found his game of late coming off the bench but started in place of Barnes on Tuesday – nailed a three and the Raptors later used an 11-2 run to keep Charlotte at arm’s length
Anunoby walked into a triple from the top of the circle early in the fourth quarter and Boucher – who is hitting 58 per cent from three over his past five games after a miserable start to the season – hit another and the Raptors were up 22 with 11 minutes to play.
For the night the Raptors shot 47 per cent from three and 52.4 per cent from, numbers they haven’t hit since Nov. 24.
It was an important game. The Raptors are now eighth in the East, 1.5 games behind the seventh-place Hornets.
The Hornets provided little resistance defensively to start the game against a very shorthanded Raptors team. That may or may not be related to the lack of fans in the building, which caused a striking lack of energy compared to the usual NBA game. The Raptors took just over half a quarter to score 18 points and force a James Borrego timeout. They only picked up the pace from there. They made five of their first six 3-point attempts and finished with 39 first quarter points. Meanwhile the Hornets shooting woes continued as they made just one of their first nine 3-point attempts. The Hornets lost PJ Washington early on as both he and Justin Champagnie got ejected for a dustup that was a result of several chippy plays on multiple trips up and down the floor. After one, the Hornets trailed by 12.
James Bouknight brought some early energy to the Hornets in the second quarter with aggressive defense and a couple of nice forays to the basket. The Hornets offense came to life, but they couldn’t get the stops on the other end to make it matter. It wasn’t just a matter of the Raptors making shots. The Hornets gave up a bunch of wide open looks and their transition defense was almost not existent. They gave up another 37 points in the second quarter and trailed 76-61 heading into the half.
The Hornets made a push with an 14-2 run to start the second half. The good times wouldn’t last though. The teams traded baskets for a few minutes before the Hornets went ice cold from the field. Miles Bridges threw down a dunk with 4:52 to play in the third. The Hornets wouldn’t make another shot from the field until LaMelo Ball made a jumper at the end-of-quarter buzzer. The Raptors went on a 17-3 run during the cold spell to essentially put the game out of reach.
The teams traded baskets for a big chunk of the fourth quarter as the Hornets failed to make the necessary push to make the game competitive. They played well defensively though, so there’s something to build on I guess.
The Hornets struggled to shoot again after their historically poor shooting night on Sunday, but it wasn’t quite as bad. They shot 10-of-31 from three, but a couple of late 3-pointers from JT Thor inflated that a touch. They countered the rough shooting night with aggressive downhill drives to the basket and a more concerted effort to push the pace. Those are things they can try to build on in the coming games. The defense needs to be better though. There was just no focus or attention to detail on that end in this game.
One rebound shy of a triple-double, Pascal had 24 points and 12 assists. While much of his damage was done in the first half, Siakam obviously kept the waters calm for the Raptors on both ends. He was vocal when his teammates were lagging — once looking bemused at Chris Boucher after the big man tested out a step back midrange jumper — and moved the ball elegantly, finding the creases in a leaky Hornets defense. Most notable has been his interior passes, and passes to the interior, which have allowed the Raptors to use him at point guard when VanVleet is out.
OG Anunoby would add 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting for the Raptors, while Flynn and Dalano Banton stepped up in the absence of VanVleet to combine for 21 off the bench.
The Hornets were led by 25 points from LaMelo Ball and 22 from Miles Bridges.
In the first quarter, it was Siakam scoring six of the first 13 points for the Raptors. As Toronto would go on to shoot 64% in the frame, there were really contributions up and down the lineup. Banton was the first player off the bench for Nick Nurse and while he played well, the rookie picked up three quick fouls. That brought in Flynn, who had a great drive for a layup and an open three-pointer to push the Raptors lead further.
The first was the Raps best quarter of the night, as they scored 39 points. Even a scuffle between Justin Champagnie and PJ Washington couldn’t get them off track, as both players were ejected — continuing a strange week where NBA referees have been handing out ejections like free candy.
In the second, the Raptors’ parade to the rim continued. By playing four out, Toronto put pressure on Mason Plumlee to be everywhere at once; when he fell out of rotation, there was often an open shot for the Raptors. The lead would increase to 15 points on a transition dunk by Precious Achiuwa, set up by Siakam, and Toronto would go into halftime with that margin as their lead.
We already covered the third above, but it’s also worth adding how Nurse managed the Hornets run. After a bad shot each for Achiuwa and Boucher gave the Hornets opportunities to get out and run — their best skill as a team — Nurse began to rotate minutes between those two, keeping one on the bench the rest of the game and inserting Banton despite his foul trouble.
It’s hard to know what to expect from the Raptors on a nightly basis. They’ll win games they seemingly have no business winning and lose games they’ve got no business losing, often playing up or down to the level of competition – the pitfalls of a young team. Over the last few weeks alone, they’ve gone toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best – beating the reigning champion Bucks and suffering hard-fought losses to Phoenix, Miami and Dallas – while also getting embarrassed by the likes of the Pistons and Blazers, a couple of sub-.500 teams missing their best player.
However, if you’re measuring them up against the teams in their tier, there’s cause for encouragement. With Tuesday’s win over Charlotte, the Raptors improved to 8-3 when facing the other five teams in that East logjam this season.
It was another unlikely victory, coming without three key rotation players. The Raptors were missing their starting point guard, , who was out due to knee soreness, and rookie Scottie Barnes, who, along with , had been handling the backup point guard duties. Barnes was a late scratch with swelling in his wrist, while remained out following nose surgery.
Even without a starter of their own, the injured , the Hornets came to Toronto having won seven of nine games, led by dynamic sophomore guard LaMelo Ball and emerging two-way star .
But the Raptors rose to the occasion. After being held to just 15 points on 19 per cent shooting in the first quarter of Sunday’s 114-105 loss to Portland a couple days earlier, they scored 39 on 62 per cent over the opening 12 minutes against Charlotte. They had 76 points through two quarters, the most they’ve scored in a half this season, and won handily, 125-113.
Without VanVleet, Nurse opted against starting a traditional point guard, putting the ball in Siakam’s hands instead, and he didn’t disappoint. The versatile forward looked like a natural initiating the offence. He was patient, but controlled the pace of play. He made great reads out of the post and used his trademark spin move to generate good looks for himself and his teammates.
“I think he really seems to have a good tempo to where he’s going,” Nurse said of Siakam, who scored 24 points, matched a career-high with 12 assists and finished one rebound shy of a triple-double. “He’s really composed. I think the spin moves are very under control… I think he’s creating some pretty good offence for us.”
The Raptors got 32 points from Gary Trent Jr. and 24 from , and the unexpected contributions of a couple forgotten reserve point guards, Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn – who combined for 21 points and six assists off the bench – helped mask the lack of depth that’s plagued them in recent weeks.
Once again, president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster watched from their seats in the middle of a fan-less Scotiabank Arena, evaluating where this team is at and what it needs with the February 10 trade deadline looming. Their goal for the duration of this season is crystalizing.
While they scoffed at the notion of chasing a play-in spot a year ago, deciding to play out their lost season in Tampa and chase lottery balls instead – which ultimately landed them Barnes as the fourth-overall pick – they’re of a different mindset this time around. This is a developing team, but one that wants to compete and continue putting its young players in high leverage situations to learn and grow.
“It really is valuable,” Nurse said. “The playoff [are] different and the experience that you gain there is, you can’t gain it anywhere else. It’s invaluable. Just from the intensity, the physicality, the game planning, the adjustments of going through it, you can’t place a value on what it means for guys to go through it.”
Operating without two starters — including the beating heart of the lineup in Fred VanVleet — the Raptors put on one of their best offensive showings of the season, blitzing the Charlotte Hornets 125-113 before another sea of empty Scotiabank Arena seats.
With seldom-used guards Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn dusted off and providing a scoring bonus, and with Gary Trent Jr. and Pascal Siakam doing a lot of heavy lifting, the Raptors beat one of the teams they are chasing in the middle of the Eastern Conference.
“It’s fun kind of being in this mix,” coach Nick Nurse said before the Raptors played the first in an odd eight-game stretch.
“You’re going to have to do the work against the people right around you. If you’re seeing them head to head, you can’t sit around all night hoping they lose when you’re watching the scores of other games. When you’ve got a chance to take them out yourselves, you’re going to have to do that more times than not.”
The Raptors will play Charlotte once more and Atlanta, Miami and Brooklyn twice each in about a two-week span. Given how tight the East is — six games separated fifth from 11th going into Tuesday — it’s a significant stretch. And it began in the most unlikely fashion, as the Raptors blitzed the Hornets from the opening tip and won easily.
“You could see right away that a lot of guys got completely different than (Sunday) night,” Nurse said in reference to a dreadful loss to Portland. “(It) just seemed like every time we were gonna shoot the other night it wasn’t going to go in. And everybody that stepped into one tonight, you thought they were going to make them.”
And it was a night of odd lineups and rotations, as it has been so often this season.
“It’s going to be another night of trying to figure out what it’s going to look like tonight, right?” Nurse said before the game. “So we’ll just we’ll just continue to try to zero in on the short term, which is: Whatever team we got out there on a specific night, we’ve got to get them to play hard and get them to play together, and try to figure out a way to get a win.”
The Toronto Raptors have done away with the traditional. Tuesday night was just the latest example of that. No Fred VanVleet, no problem. Just let the 6-foot-9 power forward Pascal Siakam play whatever you want to call the ‘point guard’ position these days. It’s how the Raptors overcame the loss of VanVleet against the Charlotte Hornets, playing big ball, if you will, to a 125-113 victory at Scotiabank Arena.
Siakam has fully stepped into the backup, emergency point guard spot for the Raptors this season. He’s reading defenses better than ever before and playmaking like a true do-it-all point forward. It was the next big step in his development and one Toronto has been trying to get out of him since last season.
“I don’t think I’m a traditional point guard by any means, but it’s about having that attention and making reads,” Siakam said. “I think the more I do it like the better I get, like anything that I do.”
He picked apart the Hornets’ defense with ease, hitting throwing lobs over top of the defense to hit OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa in the paint for easy layups, or drawing attention in the paint and finding kick-out passes for open three-point shooters. His 24 points were certainly impressive, but his 12 assists leading to 30 points for Toronto was the real gamechanger for the Raptors. He checked out of the game one rebound shy of his second career triple-double.
“I think he really seems to have a good tempo to where he’s going. He’s really composed, I think the spin moves, etc., are very under control,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “What I like, is just the composure. I think he’s taking it deep to spots and he’s got a size advantage; if he’s getting a shot off it’s usually a pretty good shot.”
Strange as that might seem, the Toronto Raptors set a season-high for points in a half without two of the team’s best players on Tuesday and cruised to a 125-113 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
Pascal Siakam stepped up with one of the finest games of his career (24 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists), Gary Trent Jr. was on fire and scored 32 and OG Anunoby was the team’s third scorer with at least 20 points — 24 in all — against one of the league’s worst defensive groups.
Charlotte came in ranked 26th in defensive efficiency, but one figured they’d put on a better showing considering who the Raptors were without.
Starter and potential all-star VanVleet was held out due to knee soreness, while rookie of the year candidate Barnes was a late scratch due to right wrist soreness.
“You could see right away that a lot of guys (looked) completely different than the other night (a bad loss against Portland),” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.
“Just seemed like every time we were gonna shoot the other night it wasn’t going to go in and everybody that stepped into one tonight, you though they were going to make them.”
Charlotte was without Gordon Hayward, but still brought a formidable group north of the border, at least offensively speaking. LaMelo Ball had 25 points, Miles Bridges 22, but 58% two-point shooting by the team wasn’t enough because of the leakage at the other end and poor three-point shooting (32%).
Toronto had lost 5-of-7 games heading in and took a dismal 4-18 record when VanVleet has sat over the last two seasons into the game.
“Certainly miss his perimeter shooting and just overall leadership, I’d imagine,” Nurse had said of VanVleet being out.
Except, surprisingly, not in this one. The team flirted with 50% three-point shooting, and didn’t really miss Barnes either.
It’s unclear if VanVleet will be ready for Wednesday’s game in Chicago, though he and Barnes will travel with the team.
Dalano Banton burst onto the scene this year like he was going to skip the growing pains and the gradual progress route all together and go directly from the draft to steady NBA minutes.
The Kipling Kid was the toast of Toronto, bringing energy off the bench and playing a starring role when the Raptors’ starters needed a rest.
But as the season went on and more of the veterans returned, Banton’s minutes started to dwindle. It could have been a tough pill to swallow but Banton took it all in stride and focussed on getting what he could out of his G-League run while staying ready for when the Raptors needed him.
Sunday marked just the third time he has hit the court in the past 10 games for the parent club and the first time he has hit double-digit minutes since the Raptors held that open call on Boxing Day and invited whoever was willing and able to field a team in that forgetful game in Cleveland with most of the team in protocols.
Banton said he has made progress regardless of the limited NBA minutes in his games with the Raptors 905.
“Playing in the G-League is not too far fetched from playing up here,” Banton said when he was asked if it was tough transitioning from one league to the other.
“Down there, we preach the same pillars and preach the same things on defence so, coming in, playing to our pillars and playing with energy, trying to let everything else fall into place.”
Banton knows how important those reps with the 905 are and he doesn’t take them for granted.
“Definitely, I’ll never not take an opportunity to play for Coach Mutombo and the 905,” he said. “It keeps me sharp, it keeps me ready to go and when I get opportunities to play like Saturday (when he had 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), coming in today I feel like I haven’t missed a beat, coming in running the same actions, trying to get guys involved and just do the little things … when you play at this level and you’re a young guy, you’re a rookie, you have to learn how to jell with other talented players and that’s what I feel like I’m trying to do right now.”
Toronto is one of just a handful of playoff-caliber teams with its full allotment of first-round picks. In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers are the only other teams in the playoff picture with all their first-round picks still at their disposal.
The Raptors don’t, however, have all their future second-round picks. The Richardson deal in 2019 cost them their 2022 second-round pick and the Marc Gasol deal cost Toronto its 2024 second-round pick.
That leaves Toronto in pretty good shape heading into the trade deadline. Second-round picks are pretty easy to acquire if need be. The Raptors turned Terence Davis and Matt Thomas into the second-round picks that became Dalano Banton and David Johnson at last year’s deadline.
But even with all those first-rounders, don’t expect the Raptors to package picks unless a superstar comes their way, especially considering Ujiri has never traded multiple first-round picks in a deal dating back to his days as the general manager of the Denver Nuggets.
This week: 14
Last week: 14
After an up-and-down road trip that saw Toronto go 2-3, the Raptors returned home and got smacked by the Trail Blazers on Sunday. Still, after all of the injuries they have suffered this season, the Raptors have to feel pretty good about sitting at .500 with a couple of weeks to go before the trade deadline. — Bontemps
This week: 17
Last week: 16
22-22, +0.4 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss at Heat, Loss at Mavs, Win at Wizards, Loss to Blazers
Promising lineup: Fred VanVleet | Scottie Barnes | OG Anunoby | Pascal Siakam | Chris Boucher | 26 minutes | -2.0 net rating
I know this is a negative net rating lineup for the Toronto Raptors, but it’s the one I want to highlight as promising. It’s barely played together this season because of injuries. It’s been getting better this week, and they’ve gone from a -5.6 net rating a couple of games ago to -2.0 after this week. I feel like this is going to be their best and most versatile lineup over the course of the rest of the regular season. VanVleet continues to play like an All-Star. Barnes isn’t doing what he did at the beginning of the season, but that’s because this lineup is crowded with playmakers now. If Boucher and Siakam can stay healthy and on the floor together, this will be the best unit for the Raptors.
Questionable lineup: Fred VanVleet | Gary Trent Jr. | Scottie Barnes | OG Anunoby | Pascal Siakam | 122 minutes | -6.4 net rating
Even with the interior issues the Raptors could have with this lineup, I don’t think they should be this bad. And it’s been trending worse this week going from essentially a coin flip to getting pretty thoroughly dominated. This lineup really struggles to rebound on defense and can’t end possessions. The lineup’s defensive rebounding rate is below 70 percent. To put that into context, they’d be the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA if this was all the time. The Clippers are 30th at 70.1 percent. The offense for this lineup hasn’t clicked either, and with this much firepower out there, they should be able to spread the floor better and create some havoc in the middle of the half court.
This week: 16
Last week: 13
Pace: 96.4 (26) OffRtg: 110.3 (12) DefRtg: 109.9 (18) NetRtg: +0.4 (15)
The Raptors’ shot profile has completely changed this season. Last season, they ranked fifth in the percentage of their shots (74%) that came from the restricted area or 3-point range. This season, they rank 26th (65%), having seen the league’s fifth-biggest drop in restricted-area rate and its biggest drop in 3-point rate. Taking less efficient shots and having shot worse than they did last season both inside and outside the arc, the Raptors rank 27th in effective field goal percentage (50.1%), with only the Thunder, Pistons and Magic having shot less effectively.
Taking care of the ball and grabbing a ton of offensive boards can only take an offense so far, and as the Raps have lost five of their last seven games (following a promising, six-game winning streak), they’ve been the least effective shooting team in the league (46.8%). Fred VanVleet (44.2% over those seven games) hit the go-ahead 3 in Washington on Friday, but has otherwise struggled, especially inside the arc.
Upon returning from a six-game absence, Gary Trent Jr. did take 18 of his 27 shots from beyond the arc over the weekend, and the Raptors’ loss to Portland on Sunday came with a season-high 54 3-point attempts. But that may have been, in part, a result of the 21-point deficit they faced less than eight minutes into the game.
The 2-5 stretch has dropped the Raptors back to .500 and seventh place in the East. Their visit from the Hornets on Tuesday will be the teams’ first meeting of the season.
“We see OG as a multidimensional athlete, and always pushing to become a better player and leader,” said Lourdes Seminario, Senior Director of Marketing at PepsiCo Canada. “We’re looking forward to fuelling his performance and creating a stronger link with basketball through our world-class athletes in Canada.”