Pascal Siakam, the Raptors’ latest franchise centrepiece, is really good. Against a hapless team like the New York Knicks, a squad desperate to form an identity beyond, well, haplessness, his goodness stands out. No matter which player was guarding Siakam, or how much of the team’s defensive attention he had, the Knicks were unable to bother him — not consistently, not really, and definitely not enough to win. Instead, Siakam casually torched New York for 31 points in 30 minutes on the way to a comfortable 126-98 win, Toronto’s fifth in a row.
As an extra frame of reference here, consider the start to the game. The opening quarter of Wednesday night’s contest featured Canadian youngster RJ Barrett doing his best to get his squad a win. In the first quarter, he and Julius Randle actually pumped the Knicks up to an 10-point lead. Coincidentally, the Raptors managed to shoot just 39 percent in the frame (and 3-of-13 from three). It was around this time two things occurred: the second quarter began with the Knicks pushing their lead to 11; and Siakam decided he’d had enough.
In that second quarter, with Toronto briefly staring at their largest deficit of the game, Siakam did his thing. In 10 minutes of action, he dropped 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including a pair of threes, and totally demoralized the Knicks in the process. By the end of the second, Toronto had outscored the Knicks 37-17 and the score had flipped to 58-46 for the Raps.
Pascal’s numbers tell one side of the story. The other side is a tale best told by considering Siakam’s penchant for continuously finding new ways to stunt on his opponents. Here it was a straight-on driving lay-up with a Euro-step finish, followed by a pull-up 21-footer under pressure, and then his second three of the game. Then, assuming you’ve figured him out, Siakam changed it up again: it was back to a floater in the lane after a steal, then another 3 — don’t forget the off-ball action during which he found Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for an easy bucket — and then another wacky turnaround hook shot. Just one half in the books, but, thanks to Siakam, the game was already done.
In this, Siakam acts as the perfect fulcrum for a Raptors team that is both disciplined and ruled by chaos. We’ve made this joke before but Toronto has now turned their manic lineups into something of a feature instead of a bug. With Fred VanVleet orchestrating, the Raptors first let the bench unit settle into the game; then they flip the switch and run the bench-heavy lineup with Siakam, giving their opponents a different look. On the evening, VanVleet had a subdued 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, plus three rebounds and four assists, but once again his ability to set the tone worked wonders. Just look at the production of Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
When coupled with OG Anunoby and one of either FVV or Siakam, the Raptors have a unit that can hound players on defense, and dictate just enough offense to put teams away. Against the Knicks, that’s easier to do than against most teams, but still: it suggests a growing confidence in the Raptors’ trio of new players thrust into even newer roles. While Siakam and FVV led the way, and Anunoby supplied the secondary action (including 13 points and 12 rebounds, with three 3s), Toronto just kept pouring it on.
For the second unit, Davis led the way with another solid 15-point, 4-rebound, 5-assist night. TD was confident in the pick-and-roll, confident taking it to the rim, and confident when shooting the three (he was 3-of-8 on the night). His brother in chaos Boucher continued to do what he did best too: flying around the glass and bombing threes — good enough for a 13-12 double-double with five offensive boards. RHJ, meanwhile, filled every gap between the two and chipped in another 12 points. We’ll see where the trio ends up when Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Patrick McCaw — their three predecessors — return, but for now it’s been fun to watch the show.
It was also obvious to notice how contagious that wild energy was. While we know Norman Powell (with 7 quiet points) is definitely one to ride the lightning, it brought a smile to my face to see Marc Gasol expanding his range. The veteran big man only played 22 minutes, but by the third quarter, with the game firmly in hand, he was wagging his head this way and that to get cutters moving back and forth at the rim. Gasol had just three points, three rebounds, and three assists, but tell me this isn’t the smile of a guy having a good time.
That was Gasol’s only made bucket on the night and it put the Raptors up 23 with just under 18 minutes to go. A couple minutes later, Gasol subbed off, Toronto cleared its bench, giving time to Malcolm Miller (who exploded for 13 points in 13 minutes), Oshae Brissett, and Shamorie Ponds, who made his NBA debut with four points. Before the final buzzer the Raptors would grow the lead to as much as 34 points. So much for Barrett’s homecoming.
Toronto moves to 13-4 on the season, and continues its mind-blowing home winning streak against Atlantic division foes which now sits at 33-0. Folks, that’s entertainment.