The vibes were immaculate well before tip-off.
Joy was evident all over Pascal Siakam’s face as he did his classic yell before running out the tunnel. It was his first game since slipping on a wet spot in Dallas on November 4th. The Raptors went 5-5 in his absence but the quality of play on both sides of the ball had fallen off drastically.
It took only 90 seconds of game time for Spicy P to declare his return official.
Of course it was the vintage spin moves.
Toronto had the fourth best offensive rating with Pascal during the first nine games this season. The Raptors operated amongst the bottom half of the league without him. One of the things Siakam had done so well to begin the year was simply bail out a possession when a bucket was needed. He’s become nearly automatic in the high post and midrange area, which was on full display in the second quarter.
Siakam finished with 18 points, 17 of them coming in the first half.
Pascal then turned to his playmaking, where he dished out four of his five assists in the second half. The Raptors’ shot nearly 10 percent worse from three with Siakam sidelined (37.9 to 28.2). Having him out there to draw defenses is part of the reason Toronto made of 12 of their 28 treys on Monday.
Siakam also had the assist of the night, a beautiful touch pass in midair to O.G. Anunoby.
While Pascal talked about working off the rust and getting his legs back after the game, Anunoby and Fred VanVleet said Siakam looked like he didn’t miss any time at all.
Then there was Scottie Barnes, who was in full stan mode.
Adjusting to Spida
Donovan Mitchell torched the Raptors in the season opener for 31 points and nine assists. While some of that was due to expanded responsibilities from Darius Garland’s early game injury, Mitchell drove at will to score for himself or create for teammates.
Here are some examples from that game.
This is where the ever growing Anunoby DPOY campaign kicks in. Unlike those highlights above, O.G. guarded Mitchell for the majority of yesterday’s contest. The result was:
- A season-low eight points, snapping an 121 game streak of scoring in double figures
- A season-low 11 shot attempts
- Two assists
- A game worst minus-21
These are end of possession looks, but those driving lanes simply weren’t there. The screening actions didn’t work, albeit not having Jarrett Allen available makes matters worse. Cleveland shot only 7-38 from three.
With Mitchell completely stifled, Anunoby found some time to throw in a curveball and block Dean Wade too. Because why not?
Overall, the Raptors held Cleveland to 88 points, a season best total.
“Our defence was so good tonight, they were searching pretty hard for the right play all throughout the possessions. And when they didn’t make it we would cover it up and they would have to do it all over again.Nick Nurse
Not the usual starting lineup
With the Raptors having their five best players available for the first time since October 28 (game six of the season), one would just assume the regular lineup would be intact.
Not so fast.
Instead Nurse went with Juancho Hernangomez and Thaddeus Young instead of Gary Trent Jr. and Barnes. Nurse’s reasoning for that postgame was to balance the lineup and not have guys returning at the same time all playing together.
Juancho and Thad especially have put together a string of solid games. Nothing was more beautiful than this hook up in the second quarter.
Barnes wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about coming off the bench but he still played 27 minutes, more than Young or Hernangomez. Trent was right behind him with 26. Both scored in double figures and provided great energy on both ends.
Both posted season-highs on the stat sheet. Gary with rebounds (seven) and Scottie in blocks (three). While one would expect the typical five to begin next game, the Raptors are tied with the Lakers for the most starting lineups this season with 11. You just never know with Nurse.
Up next: The Big Easy. N’awlins on Wednesday baby!