After an evisceration of the Washington Wizards on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors traveled straight to Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Timberwolves. After starting the year middling near .500, the Timberwolves have fallen out of the playoff picture with a record of 15-26 coming into the game, and on a four -game losing streak.
The Raptors, meanwhile, were finally feeling healthy. Prior to the game, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star announced the starting five:
The good folks at Raptors PR keeping me up to speed, and thus you, too— Doug Smith: Raptors (@SmithRaps) January 19, 2020
They'll go old school and start
VanVleet, Lowry, Anunoby, Siakam and Gasol in Minnesota
After all the injuries, it was pleasing to see the Raptors starting the preferred lineup. Yet, the Raptors had held their own while those with injuries and they were looking to extend a short winning streak—their first consecutive wins in nearly a month—while continuing to get everyone back up to speed. Only a frisky Minnesota team, and perhaps some confusing officiating, stood in their way.
During the first quarter, both teams started hot from all over the floor. In particular, the Raptors were getting to the basket early and often as the defensive communication was off for the Timberwolves.
The Master Grifter Kyle Lowry had an excellent fake to get Shabazz Napier on his feet to draw a foul and frustrate Napier:
As the quarter neared its end, however, the defense from the Timberwolves tightened up and the shooting cooled for the Raptors, giving the Timberwolves a narrow 39-32 lead.
The hot shooting streak for the Timberwolves finally slowed in the second quarter and the Raptors slowly made their way back to a tie just under midway through the quarter. The quarter itself was mired with an increasing amount of whistles from the officials and calls that left both teams beside themselves.
At the very least, the Raptors stepped up their defense, but very little of it turned into transition baskets as the team only had two fast break points at the half.
Nearing the end of the quarter, both Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam were called for technical fouls after a couple of questionable calls and non-calls. Lowry, of all people, pulled the team aside after the exchange and got their emotions in check.
Despite the officials keeping the Timberwolves in the game—Minnesota was 15-for-18 from the line compared to the Raptors’ 5-for-6—the Raptors only trailed the Timberwolves by four at the half, 62-58.
Fred VanVleet and Jarrett Culver led all scorers with 16 points apiece. Pascal Siakam had ten and Lowry had 11, respectively.
The third quarter has been the quarter in which the Raptors have shined throughout the season and this third quarter was just the same.
The Raptors, particularly Lowry, started out with a vengeance.
Lowry hit two quick threes and suddenly they were up by a point. Additionally, the defense was homing in on Andrew Wiggins, stifling his ability to get space and forcing him to pass at times. Another three, this time from VanVleet, caused the Timberwolves to call a timeout near the nine minute mark.
The Raptors then weathered a Timberwolves run and started one of their own. It began with a three from Lowry after a quick rebound and dribble into the front court by Norman Powell. Then, Powell did some magic of his own in the lane and scored, making it 79-71. At that point, the Raptors had outscored the Timberwolves 21-9 in the third. They would go on to outscore them, 31-22.
Again, however, the Timberwolves stayed in the game and the quarter ended with the Raptors ahead 89-84. Kyle Lowry scored 17 points in the quarter and quickly became the spark in the Raptors’ offense.
In the final quarter, the Raptors continued to expand their lead as Minnesota began to collapse. Suddenly, the Raptors all started to click just as Minnesota was breaking down defensively and Toronto quickly made their way to a 20-point lead. They would lead by as many as 22 in the quarter.
VanVleet very much made his return worthwhile as he piled on the points in the fourth quarter. He finished with 29 points, four rebounds, two assists, and four steals. Furthermore, he finished with a team high plus-20 while shooting 7-for-8 from three.
Toronto finally buried Minnesota in the fourth and beat them 122-112 despite hometown officiating. Along with VanVleet, Lowry and Powell also hit the 20+ points mark, scoring 28 and 20, respectively. Siakam finished with 14 points, four rebounds, and three assists on a relatively quiet night from him.
After a high scoring game against the Wizards, the Raptors started out slow yet finished strong. Now that they are healthy, they can make a push for a higher seed in the Eastern Conference with a game against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, January 20th.
With the newfound health, we may finally begin to see just how high the ceiling is for these Toronto Raptors as they pass the halfway mark in the season.