Fred VanVleet was the talk of the town on Thursday night after the Toronto Raptors knocked off the Milwaukee Bucks. Tonight against the Washington Wizards, Pascal Siakam reminded the proverbial town that hey, he’s pretty good too!
Siakam scored 31 points, including 17 in a dominant second quarter, as the Raptors led for all but the first two minutes of the game and defeated the Wizards 102-90.
Chris Boucher led a rejuvenated bench unit for Toronto, dropping in 14 points and picking up six rebounds. Precious Achiuwa led the Raptors with 14 boards.
Kantavious Caldwell-Pope had 26 in the losing effort for the Wizards. Bradley Beal added 14, on just 4-of-12 shooting, and Montrezl Harrell hauled in 14 rebounds.
Siakam was the story of the second quarter, but before he could light it up, Toronto’s bench decided to reintroduce itself. A definite weakness of late, the subs sure didn’t show it tonight, as a Scottie Barnes-led lineup featuring Dalano Banton, Svi Mykhailiuk, Yuta Watanabe and Chris Boucher outscored the Wizards 17-6 in the first 4:15 of the quarter. It was reminiscent of the old Lowry+bench line-ups that routinely dominated opposing second units!
When Siakam came back in, though, phew — he didn’t waste any time. He quickly sized up any opponent the Wizards put in front of him — usually Kantavious Caldwell-Pope or Kyle Kuzma, and almost always in single coverage — and found a way to score, either by taking the ball into the post or smoothly dropping a fadeaway. He hit all seven of his second-quarter field goals on his way to a 17-point quarter, as the Raptors pushed their lead to as many as 25.
Post-game, Nick Nurse said he was really pleased with the way Siakam was “dictating” tonight; Nurse said Siakam played with a good tempo, under control, and that he really liked how he was turning to see everything “below” him. That in turn gives him a good feel for where everyone is. he said they’ve been working on that more — facing the hoop more, running fewer actions with his back to the hoop. Clearly it worked tonight!
The other story tonight was the resurgence of Toronto’s aggressive, smothering defense — especially in the first quarter. They were flying all over the floor, contesting shots and packing the paint — you know, the Nick Nurse blueprint, actually fully realized. They held the Wizards to a mere 12 first quarter points — a season low for an opponent — and held their own on the boards too, outrebounding Washington 16-15 in the frame.
Nurse said the defense was really “connected” tonight, and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. Most of the Wizards’ shots were contested, he said, and it started with the starting five but every guy that came in off the bench brought the same energy. Nurse reiterated that defesne is almost always about energy and effort; one of the ways that energy shows up is in what Nurse called “rounding” — even when you get beat off the dribble, an aggressive pursuit on the offensive player’s hip can force his drive into a wider arc — and towards the help.
Nurse also praised the second unit, and Dalano Banton specifically, for their play tonight. Banton was “awesome,” he said, good defensively but also good running the team, getting guys shots and getting some of his own too. And a nice side benefit of the bench playing well was that it allowed Fred VanVleet extra rest time — VanVleet played a mere 33 minutes tonight.
When Precious Achiuwa fouled Daniel Gafford on the opening tip, and the officials called two more fouls in the next 64 seconds, it started to feel like it was gonna be a looooong night. It didn’t help that nobody scored for the first 1:40.
But as both teams settled in, it quickly became apparent that one team wasn’t ready for the early evening start.
The Raptors jumped out to a 14-4 lead, and were getting pretty much whatever they wanted on offense, including this ridiculous… something…? from VanVleet:
Fred also unleashed the killer crossover a couple plays later, losing Bradley Beal and finding Gary Trent Jr. for a three.
Pascal Siakam didn’t light up the box score early, as he hit only one of his first six shots. But he was agressive from the tip, with six foul shot attempts in the first; he’d finish with 12 in the game.
The third quarter saw Caldwell-Pope do his best to bring the Wizards back into it, as he attacked every chance he got on his way to 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting. But for every mini Wizards run, the Raptors had an answer, whether it was a VanVleet three, a Banton-to-Boucher sequence for a Boucher and-1, or a couple of Scottie Barnes midrange jumpers.
The Wizards once again cut the lead to 12 about halfway through the fourth, but a VanVleet jumper and three Siakam free throws pushed it back to 17, and the Wizards wouldn’t get any closer until garbage time.
The Raptors will host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.