Whether you believe in the eye test or analytics, the Toronto Raptors are trending in the right direction.
Despite a woeful record — 2-7 coming into Monday’s game — the Raptors are finally coming together. They’re getting good play out of Pascal Siakam, who is passing better than he ever has in the team’s offensive schemes. They’re getting ample scoring and playmaking from their backcourt. OG Anunoby has given them more predictable production. Chris Boucher has been a revelation.
Yet, even with their play improving, there still hasn’t been enough for the Raptors to win games. That was once again the case tonight, as Toronto controlled much of the proceedings against the Blazers, but saw another Siakam buzzer-beater rim out and another notch added to the loss column. The Raptors are 2-8 now, losing to Portland 112-111.
Leading by double digits twice in this one (oof), the Raptors were up by seven with 6:37 left before a flurry of scoring by Carmelo Anthony tied it up. In the final moments, CJ McCollum made this tough jumper over Fred VanVleet to give Portland their game-winner.
The Raptors got a good look with their final set. Pascal Siakam turned to post up Robert Covington and spun into a great look in the middle of the paint. He undercooked the shot by just a hair, though, and wasn’t able to corral his own miss — losing by just inches, exactly how Sunday’s loss to the Warriors ended up looking.
It’s unfortunate too, because what ended up hanging over Siakam’s tremendous performance on Sunday was his miss at the end. He was even better tonight, and deserved better than his first career triple-double being an afterthought to a heartbreaking finish. Siakam was all over the floor, scoring 22 points (9-of-17), grabbing 13 rebounds, and passing for ten assists — some of the latter like we’ve never seen from Pascal.
Siakam’s triple-double is the first by a Raptors player not named Kyle Lowry since 2012, when Jose Calderon did it. (If you enjoy stats that express how woeful much of Raptors franchise history is, you’ll love the list of players with triple-doubles).
Pascal Siakam has the 27th triple-double i Raptors franchise history. pic.twitter.com/tFTHQ1fiQz— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 12, 2021
Siakam wasn’t alone, either. The six best Raptors have played like it on this Western Conference road trip and the scoring was balanced again tonight. OG Anunoby and Kyle Lowry had 18 points each, though Lowry looked a bit worse for wear on a back-to-back, shooting 5-for-17 and making two uncharacteristic mistakes late in the fourth quarter. Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet were also in double digits with 10 points a piece.
Then there was the birthday boy, Chris Boucher. The Montréal native didn’t get the start (that went to a woeful Alex Len, who had zero points on one shot), but played brilliantly again off the bench. His 20 points came on just 12 shots, including 5-for-8 from three, and he made some great plays on defense — tallying three blocks, all three as spectacular as this one.
Boucher had timely shots too, including a three-pointer at 5:30 to push the Raptors lead to seven. At that point, it felt like losing was unlikely, but would hurt that much more given how well Toronto was playing. Unfortunately, that’s how it played out.
For Portland’s part, their backcourt was as excellent as usual. McCollum led all scorers with 30 points, while Damian Lillard had a quiet (if that’s possible) 23 on 16 shots. Carmelo Anthony, who continues to torture the Raptors while in a Blazers uniform, matched Boucher’s 20 off the bench — half of which came in the last 5:16 of the fourth.
It should never have been as bleak as it ended up. The Raptors opened the game with Siakam scoring eight of the team’s first ten, abusing Covington in the half court and making decisive moves in semi-transition. Amassing 10/6/3 in the first nine minutes alone, Pascal led Toronto to a 24-13 lead early and a 32-21 margin at the end of one.
The transition to the bench went smoothly for the Raptors to start the second thanks to Boucher, as two triples kept the lead safely in double digits. Stanley Johnson and Norm Powell weren’t as solid as their centre on the offensive end, but Johnson was capable on defense and once again showed flashes of success there guarding McCollum and Lillard. The Blazers cut the lead down before halftime, though, but also lost some capability when starting centre Jusuf Nurkic left the game with a quad injury.
To start the third, Anunoby exploded for a personal 8-0 run, making two threes and finishing a transition layup.
Even though McCollum heated up in the frame, the Raptors still made timely shots to keep the Blazers at bay. VanVleet made two three-pointers in the last 2:30 of the quarter to give Toronto a ten-point margin heading to the fourth.
It was there where the Raptors slowly started to lose their iron grasp on the game. What was a great defensive performance slipped with a transition lineup to start the fourth, as Terence Davis, Johnson, and Powell struggled to keep a tight grip on Portland’s scorers. Nick Nurse went back to his starters quickly, and fatigue started to become apparent late in the game.
Still, the Raptors salvaged another opportunity to win the game at the buzzer. Their top players are in the range of playoff basketball. What they need now is for some other guys to join in, and for the late-game execution to tighten up just a bit.
They’re 2-8, but you can see the gears slowly starting to churn. It’s just a matter of time.