The Toronto Raptors returned from vacation tonight with aplomb, surging out to a 24 point first half lead over the Phoenix Suns. Then they allowed themselves to briefly resume their vacation in the second half, before the felt the heat from the Suns and slammed the door shut in response. They ultimately secured a 118-101 victory, a victory punctuated by a season high 13 blocked shots, and a spectacular 37 point outburst from their newly minted All-Star, Pascal Siakam.
Early on, though, both teams looked like they were feeling some lingering effects of their holidays, especially on the offensive end. Defensively, Pascal Siakam blocked a Devin Booker corner three on the first play of the game (one of five jumpers the Raptors would block over the course of the game), and Serge Ibaka absolutely demolished a Kelly Oubre hook shot a few possessions later.
It was on the other end that the Raptors floundered: Kyle Lowry committed a pair of careless early turnovers, and OG Anunoby blew a wide open dunk. The Suns were hardly much better, as the teams started a combined 1-of-11 from the field. The play of their two bigs helped stabilize things for the Raps, as Siakam and Ibaka would scored 17 and 6 points in the first respectively, including a combined 18 of the Raptors’ first 20 points. While Ibaka was efficient, Siakam was simply unbelievable, drilling pull-up threes and posting the Suns’ smaller wing defenders into oblivion. That superlative frontcourt performance was enough to overcome the rest of the team’s slow start, and the Raptors concluded the first leading 31 to 23.
Pascal Siakam dropped 17 points in the first quarter! pic.twitter.com/QASev2M5ZY— TSN (@TSN_Sports) February 22, 2020
The second quarter began with Terence Davis making his presence felt. Davis scored 11 first half points en-route to 14 in the game, with most of them coming in transition, as he finished off Kyle Lowry hit-aheads around the rim and drilled catch-and-shoot threes when no one picked him up on the break.
The second quarter also saw Drake, who was sitting courtside, chime in on the broadcast, as he made note that Fred VanVleet had apparently been picking up a little sun (and I’m not talking about hitting Ricky Rubio with a full-court press).
Meanwhile, the Raptors’ opened up a lead as wide as 26; Anunoby threw down a few dunks and Lowry seemingly turned around his rough start with a renewed focus on playmaking, notching 7 first half assists. Siakam checked back in and drilled a pair of threes, Fred VanVleet followed with a three of his own, and everyone’s friend Aubrey Graham hit a salsa dance and regaled the broadcast booth with stories of the men’s league he plays in alongside Justin Bieber. All things told the Raptors’ held a 67-43 lead at halftime, led by Siakam with his 25 first-half points.
The Suns started the second half with a small push, capitalizing on Raptor turnovers, most of them by an uncharacteristically careless Kyle Lowry who ended up with 6 turnovers to his 10 assists on the night. Warning bells only really started to go off once Serge Ibaka picked up his 5th foul on a tic-tac play that Nick Nurse unsuccessfully attempted to challenge. The margin never got closer than 13, though, as the Raptors stemmed the bleeding by going small with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in place of Ibaka. Though they still struggled to score, the nimbler lineup did a better job getting back and defending the break, as they consistently forced the Suns into giveaways of their own. All things told, despite Ibaka’s foul trouble and despite a pair of technicals being dished out to Nick Nurse and Lowry respectively, the Raptors entered the final quarter with a relatively comfortable 93 to 78 lead.
A short way into the 4th the lead felt a little less comfortable. Again turnovers reared their ugly head, and the lead was slashed all the way to down to 6. Despite the slide Chris Boucher stood out early in the quarter, he recorded a pair of remarkable blocks, and would ultimately end up with 4 blocks in the game despite playing just 13 minutes.
A Nick Nurse timeout helped settle the Raptors’ down briefly. Some pick-and-rolls yielded free throws aplenty for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, while on the other end RHJ defended DeAndre Ayton about as well as you could expect him to, given the half-foot height advantage Ayton has over him. Hollis-Jefferson would end the game with 10 points, part of a balanced attack that saw seven Raptors score in double-figures. The Raptors’ eventually began to feel Hollis-Jefferson’s detrimental impact on their spacing however, and Nurse finally called on Ibaka to play with 5 fouls. Ibaka banked in a three shortly thereafter to push the lead back into double-digits.
Then Pascal Siakam re-asserted himself, racking up baskets in transition that would bring his point total to 37 on the night to go along with 12 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks. An All-Star performance. That push from Siakam paired with a couple buckets from Lowry, and suddenly the chaos that marked much of the second half began to dissipate, as Raptors finally put their foot down. The score moved to 118-101 in favour of the Raps, and it would stay there until the end of the game, as both teams emptied their bench with a minute left.
The second half was unexpectedly topsy-turvy, but hopefully Siakam can build on this game and reverse the slow slip his numbers saw as the first half of the season wore on. He’ll be in tough to make that happen in the Raptors’ next few games though, given the matchups. The Pacers have size on the inside, and Giannis and the first place Bucks loom on Tuesday, but for now the Raptors can enjoy what’s left of their time in the Sun.