Pascal Siakam last night:
✅ 39 PTS
✅ 11 REB
✅ 7 AST
✅ 3 STL
✅ 15-23 FG
— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) November 14, 2023
The Raptors deserve praise, with Barnes and Chris Boucher flying around the court to force turnovers by Washington. It wasn’t the desired road map to a win, head coach Darko Rajaković said.
“We fixed (our defence) at halftime. I talked to the players, and I told them, ‘I don’t expect you to go out there and win the game, but I expect you to go out there and play with joy, play with fun and compete at a much higher level.’
“We ended up winning the game tonight, but to be honest with you, I prefer not to dig up a hole of 19 points at halftime and then have to work double hard in the second half.”
It was bizarre, to the core. No Raptors starter hit a 3-pointer, with the team hitting just four. That was understandable, with the Raptors missing Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr.
The defensive performance early was less forgivable. The Wizards, who had the 19th-ranked offence coming into the game, scored on each of their first 11 possessions, save for one turnover.
There has been a desire to view Anunoby, Barnes and Siakam as elite defenders, but what Anunoby does is the most fundamentally essential part of the three. Maybe he’s not Jrue Holiday, but Anunoby is maybe the next-best “shutdown cornerback” in the NBA. Barnes and Siakam can make special plays, but usually away from the ball. Heading into the game, the Raptors were 10.5 points per 100 stingier with Anunoby on the floor compared to off it. That’s notable because Anunoby tends to be on the floor against the opposition’s best players.
“We’re showing signs of greatness, and we are also showing areas that we need to improve and get better,” Rajaković said before the game. “It really goes from game to game. I think our constant is that we’ve got to do a better job of protecting the paint. I think that on-ball defence a lot of times is very solid. … But I think overall, how do we protect the paint better? Because we’re not great at changing shots at the rim and blocking shots. So that’s why we got to do our work on the front end of all our defence.”
The Raptors’ offensive woes led to some easy Wizards buckets, but that excuses only some of it. The Raptors came in with the league’s eighth-best defence. There have been moments when they’ve looked better than that. There was some low-hanging fruit in terms of pure effort, such as Barnes hanging around with his arms in the air while Bilal Coulibaly got his own offensive rebound. This was not the Raptors at their sharpest. On one play, Tyus Jones crept open on the sideline, and nobody bothered to challenge his floater. Another Jones 3 was uncontested when Barnes and Gradey Dick miscommunicated while recovering on a cross-court pass. They were also the victims of several back cuts.
In theory, the NBA invented the in-season tournament for nights like this.
We’ll see if the marketing muscle the league has put behind its latest brainchild — a tournament played within the regular-season schedule with a trophy and everything — will pay off and deliver a new property that captures fans’ imaginations during the sleepier part of the schedule.
Because, let’s face it, Raptors-Wizards on a Monday night in November, a contest between two road-weary teams that look poised to churn through the lower half of the standing for most of the season, can only move the needle so much.
But, hey, then the game starts and after roughly 30 minutes of turgid basketball the home team mounts a comeback from down 23 points in the third quarter, holding the visitors without a field goal and just a single point for the final seven-and-a-half minutes of the game, Pascal Siakam goes bananas in the second half and somehow the Raptors squeeze out a win they seemed determined to give away. Good times were had, absolutely.
The Raptors’ 111-107 win over the Washington Wizards lifted them to 5-5 on the season and gets their four-game homestand off to a good start, just when disaster was looming. The Wizards dropped to 2-8. Siakam was a one-man offence when Toronto needed him most, as he scored a season-high 39 points — 29 in the second half — while adding 11 rebounds and seven assists.
The Raptors defence finally showed up in the fourth quarter, after going missing for most of the game. Falling into such deep holes so early is not a formula that’s sustainable, but it was the fourth-largest comeback in franchise history, and featured a 21-1 closing run, so “entertaining” in the same way losing your wallet and finding it with all your credit cards and ID intact is both horrible and exhilarating. The Raptors came back from down 19 points in the fourth quarter just last week.
It’s a dangerous living.
As Siakam put it:
“… You want to come back [but] it’s like every possession … feels like it weighs a lot. Like any mistake. And it’s like the crowd won’t help you, either. It’s like, ‘Ooooohhh.’ And everything feels like you are getting stabbed every second, every time something happens.”
The Wizards coughed up 22 turnovers on the night. The Raptors overcame a 4-of-19 night from three by winning the possession battle, looking a lot they like they did a year ago at times.
They had little choice. O.G Anunoby, who cut one of the fingers on his shooting hand doing “household chores” on Sunday, sat this one out, as did Gary Trent Jr., who missed his second game with plantar fasciitis. The Raptors clearly missed them, but that they struggled so mightily against Washington while missing one starter and a key reserve speaks more to the Raptors’ lack of depth than any other factor.
The Play-In Tournament was invented to keep hope alive down the stretch for weaker teams. That’s been a success.
But the in-season tournament has some heavier lifting to do.
The Washington Wizards lost their grip on a 23-point second-half lead, and lost to the Toronto Raptors to run their losing streak to three and fall to 2-8 on the season. The game itself was competitive, especially in the second half, entertaining and educational.
Before I go too deep into on-the-court escapades and whatnot, I have to give a shoutout to the superb Toronto Raptors broadcast. They made liberal use of unique and intriguing camera angles without getting pretentious or missing action, and their blurred background, focus-shifting shots coming in and out breaks was fascinating to watch.
One of the coolest shots was used during free throws. The camera was set at a level that included the heads of fans sitting at floor level. They blurred the heads and move the camera in a manner that was thoroughly engrossing. And then they cut quickly back to standard shots to avoid missing any of the action.
Former Raptors guard Alvin Williams gave a clinic on being an analyst who’s definitely rooting for his team, definitely focused on the Raptors, and still providing real analysis and insight without cheerleading, lying, or BSing his audience. He thoughtfully explained why the Raptors were losing, criticized the players, said what they needed to do to win, and the dissected what they were doing well during the comeback.
Back to the game, the Wizards held a significant lead most of the game. Toronto led 7-6 just two minutes into the game, and then didn’t pull ahead again until 8 seconds remained in the contest.
here was hope again as the Raptors brought it within five. They were able to get a few crucial stops, but a few messy mistakes stopped them from getting ahead quicker. With 1:23 in the game, the Raptors had it within two points. Chris Boucher tied it with 51 seconds to go.
With 7.6 seconds to go, Pascal Siakam brings the Raptors up 109-107. The Wizards foul Schroder, who makes both free throws… Raptors win?? Raptors win!
After the game, Darko Rajakovic said that the team did a much better job in the second half than the first. He also said that he told the players at half, “I don’t expect you to go out and win the game, but I expect you to go out and play with joy — they seemed to respond.”
He also mentioned that he doesn’t want this (this being having to comeback from 20+ deficit) to be normal, but he was proud of the team for showing their character in this situation.
He also shared that the ceremonial post-game chain was given to Chris Boucher tonight. He told the media he had his “John Cena moment” with it.
Boucher ended the game with seven points, two assists, six rebounds, three blocks and was +14. Pascal Siakam finished with 39 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and three steals.
Kyle Kuzma also did what he could to try and get the win for the Wizards. He scored 33 points, three assists and three rebounds.
Overall, it was a weird, rollercoaster of a win for the Raptors, but a win is a win.
At the 10-game mark, Toronto is, well, still maddening. After falling behind by as many as 23 points to the lowly Washington Wizards, Pascal Siakam played hero, pulling the Raptors all the way back before nailing a step-back floater over Jordan Poole to clinch a 111-107 victory on Monday.
“I work on that shot every day,” said Siakam. “I just feel like that shot is always there for me and I work on it every single day and, obviously, luckily it went in, but, to me, it’s just about I’m doing something that’s not out of what I do. That’s shot is always there for me and I’d take it 100 times out of 100.”
Siakam was the only constant for Toronto. While everyone else struggled to get much of anything going most of the night, the Raptors’ All-Star forward wouldn’t go away. He had that Kyle Lowry-esque determination, as Chris Boucher tabbed said, likening Siakam’s sticktoitiveness to Lowry’s heroics when Toronto overcame a 30-point deficit in 2019. This 23-point comeback was merely the fourth-biggest in franchise history.
“It always seems like he can win the game,” Boucher said of Siakam. “He drove us all the way there. Obviously, it shows how competitive he is but also how much he loves this team.”
Siakam looked like his old self, getting into the paint and picking apart mismatches. Even without his three-point shot falling, he dominated Washington with a season-high 39 points to go with 11 rebounds and seven assists.
If there had been one overwhelming positive for Toronto coming into Monday night it was the defense. The Raptors came into the game with the seventh-best defensive rating if you remove garbage time and the fifth-best half-court defense. So far, it’d been the calling card for this group who had ridden their stout defensive game plan to success in transition.
That, however, was not the case against the Wizards, at least not early. Even against one of the NBA’s worst teams, Toronto couldn’t get stops. The absence of OG Anunoby proved costly as Kyle Kuzma carved up the Raptors, scoring 19 of his 34 points in the first half. The Wizards as a team shot 63% from the floor and nailed seven three-pointers, pulling ahead by as many as 19 before halftime.
It didn’t help that Toronto’s offense continued to be a mess with the offensive issues spilling over to exacerbate the defensive woes. Without Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr., the Raptors had almost no floor spacing, allowing the Wizards to pack the paint and force Toronto into tough jump shots. Gradey Dick nailed Toronto’s only two first-half three-pointers but the rest of the Raptors’ bench couldn’t provide much of anything.
Ten games do not an NBA season make, but it’s long enough for trends that need to be addressed to emerge.
And even as the Raptors put together a shocking comeback to steal a 111-107 win over the Washington Wizards on Monday night, there are flaws that have to get fixed. No starter made a three-pointer, Toronto committed 19 turnovers and won only because of a monster 39-point, 11-rebound game from Pascal Siakam.
Fittingly, it was a Siakam bucket in the paint with 7.6 seconds left that gave the Raptors the lead as they rallied from a 23-point deficit to open a four-game homestand.
Despite his season-high heroics, Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic awarded the team’s “person-of-the-game” chain to Chris Boucher.
Boucher was a force off the bench, with seven points, six rebounds, three blocks, and a plus-14 defensive rating in less than 21 minutes of play.
“Chris was unbelievable, man,” said Siakam. “Chris’s energy, whatever he brought to the game, he was blocking shots, finishing in transition, just playing solid basketball.
“Just his energy, I thought he deserved it for sure.”
Rajakovic said that when he awards someone the Raptors’ chain, it’s about more than statistics.
“(Boucher) was ready to go out there,” said Rajakovic. “It’s a long season. All the guys are going to be in rotation, out of rotation, starting, not starting.
“They’ve got to stay ready and that’s why tonight the chain went to Chris Boucher.”
Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher:
Siakam did everything but hit three-pointers in an offensive clinic. He also sparked his teammates when they were down big, leading them on and off the court in his highest-scoring game since last December. He also had four early assists and seven in all, plus three steals and 11 rebounds.
Boucher had seven points, six rebounds and three blocked shots in 20 game-changing minutes. He was at the forefront of the comeback, playing with boundless energy. Boucher seemed to be in the middle of just about every key play and this was one of his best games ever.
Barnes was a bit quiet until he turned his motor up a couple of notches in the fourth quarter. Barnes had eight points, five rebounds and three steals in the final quarter alone and five steals in all, including a crucial one late.
Jakob Poeltl, Gradey Dick, Precious Achiuwa:
The big men were solid, if unspectacular offensively, but far worse than usual defensively. Poeltl was an important outlet early when nothing was working offensively.
Dick broke out of a shooting slump with badly needed treys. He was also very active, picking up four rebounds and a couple of assists in a game where his team needed him to step up (because of the absences of OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr.).
The raw numbers may not mean that much this early in the season but there are trends emerging — OG Anunoby remains among the league leaders in deflections — and, anecdotally, the Raptors are not getting burned nearly as often as they did last season. They don’t switch as much and they don’t apply ball pressure everywhere on the court for every possession.
“We’re trying defensively to make teams beat us over the top, shoot contested tough shots off the dribble, over us, and not necessarily gamble and chase everybody off the line non-stop,” Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic said Monday.
“Switching is definitely something that we’re going to do and we will need to do more. It’s just how we’re doing it. How are you executing it? Knowing personnel, not everybody’s the same … Sometimes you need to just contain and make players shoot over you.”
There is room for improvement. The Raptors are in the bottom third in opposing team’s field-goal percentage.
“We’re showing signs of greatness and we are also showing areas that we need to improve and get better, it really goes from game to game,” Rajakovic said. “I think our constant is that we’ve got to do a better job of protecting the paint. I think that on-ball defence a lot of times is very solid … but I think, overall, how do we protect the paint better? Because we’re not great at changing shots at the rim and blocking shots.”
Despite Poeltl solving some of the Raptors’ biggest holes as an elite rebounder, screener, and rim protector, the trade came with its fair share of questions. Namely, was the ceiling on this Raptors team high enough to justify trading a future pick? And how was the offensive spacing going to work between Poeltl, Scottie Barnes, and Siakam?
With a new head coach and a full training camp and preseason to get adjusted, the Raptors have put Poeltl in more of a featured role as a screen-setter and decision-maker at the elbows in Darko Rajakovic’s European-style, pass-heavy offense this season — which is still a work in progress. They are trusting his advanced feel for the game and passing chops to make the most out of the limited spacing.
So far, so good, as Poeltl is averaging 10-9-2 and 1.8 STOCKS in just 25.3 minutes per game on a career-best 66.7 percent shooting through eight games of the season while anchoring their defense as a rim protector and rebounder. In fact, the Raptors are +4.8 points better per 100 possessions on defense with him on the court (and +0.2 overall), with opponents shooting 6.0 percentage points worse at the rim while grabbing 14.8 percent fewer offensive rebounds with Poeltl on the court.
“Jak is a great player, so whenever he is out there I wouldn’t say we feel safe, but safer knowing he’s there as a rim protector and rebounder,” OG Anunoby says.
“He’s huge,” Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic adds about Poeltl’s role. “He’s going to be a very important player for us now and, you know, until the last game he plays for the Raptors.”
As inspiring as the start of the Raptors season has been, the jury is still out on whether the Austrian big man can fit alongside Barnes and Siakam long term. And given that the Raptors owe a top-six protected pick to the Spurs this season as part of the trade, the stakes for how quickly and to what extent they figure it out are massive.
“Whatever that role may be, I’m going to try and do it to the best of my abilities,” Poeltl says. “If that’s front and center, if that’s like the main part of the offense, the defense, whatever, if it’s a small part, I think it all just builds together to a bigger picture.”
“And I think it’s important for us to all have that kind of mentality where we work together for one goal.”