Though Masai Ujiri has been bold making moves, there’s always been the deal-breakers.
As the Raptors have swung for the fences, acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol in huge deals with multiple pieces, Ujiri was steadfast in keeping his best young pieces. That belief will pay off beyond just a Wednesday night in February, but this was a nice poetic win to reflect on the value of keeping the future while building for the present.
Ujiri was never going to trade Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to make a 2019 playoff run more viable. Tonight, Siakam had a career-high 44 points, Anunoby had a career-high 22 off the bench, and the Raptors needed every bit of their young studs’ scoring in a 129-120 win over Washington.
The win takes Toronto into the All-Star Break on a six-game win streak, dating back to after a loss to Milwaukee that feels like it happened in a different dimension. The Raptors head into the break at 43-16, while the Wizards fall to 24-34 with the loss.
Talking about this game has to start with Siakam’s performance. Along with 44 points on 15-for-25 shooting (4-for-5 from three), Siakam had ten rebounds, two assists, three blocks and was a game-high +24.
PASCAL SIAKAM IS VERY GOOD AT BASKETBALL pic.twitter.com/UoRciD1UzH— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 14, 2019
Without Kawhi Leonard in the lineup — knee soreness flared up again — Siakam’s energy was needed to counteract some poor performances from the Raptors depth. Besides three minutes from Chris Boucher and a garbage time minute from Jordan Loyd, the Raptors rolled with an eight-man rotation — one of whom was Jeremy Lin, who had eight points, five rebounds, and five assists in a pretty good performance for someone who joined the team earlier in the afternoon.
They also needed what they got from Anunoby, who had a great two-way game for Toronto. Ably guarding Bradley Beal for important stretches of the game, Anunoby made four timely triples and was a +18 while on the floor.
In support, Kyle Lowry was a maestro — throwing no less than four lob attempts in the first quarter — as he racked up 13 assists to go with 14 points.
Washington was led by 28 points from Beal, who got the benefit of 15 free throw attempts to bolster his line. Jeff Green added 23 points on 14 shots.
Early on, it looked like the Wizards were up to their old, depressing ways. They started 0-for-5 from the field, but quickly sparked up to make 6-of-7, turning an early 11-2 Raptors lead into a 16-14 game. On Toronto’s side, Lowry was obsessive with pushing the pace and was looking for teammates from the get-go. Very few plays throughout this game saw Lowry playing a score-first game — he was always aware of where his teammates were on the floor.
Taking a four-point lead into the second quarter, Nick Nurse gave us the first look at a lineup with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka sharing the floor. The results were kind of a wash, as a frontcourt of Jabari Parker, Jeff Green, and Thomas Bryant surprisingly won the minutes they played on the floor. Green was especially hot, scoring 15 of his 23 in the first half.
Late in the frame, two critical threes from Anunoby gave the Raptors a 49-46 lead. Frustrations mounted, though, as the whistles started to come fast and furious. Lowry picked up his third foul, Nurse took a technical, and Washington capitalized at the charity stripe to take a 65-59 lead into halftime.
The Wizards then followed that up with a wicked stretch to start the third. A quick spurt game them an 80-68 lead. That’s when the Siakam show really started in earnest, though. A few energy plays started out and a Lowry three would cap a 13-0 run to make it 81-80. By the end of the quarter, the Raptors had gone on an extended 35-13 run to take a 103-93 lead into the fourth.
In that fourth, the Raptors would do an excellent job defensively to keep the Wizards at bay. As the clock winded down, fans at Scotiabank Arena got to scoreboard-watching as Siakam approached 40. When he did, Kyle Lowry went to the bench demanding the young man get a curtain call. And so he did.
The first Raptors game coming out of the break is a huge one, as they’ll host DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs on February 22.