The Toronto Raptors have been finding success as of late, but if one thing was certain in their 86-81 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, it’s that the terror of blown leads can still haunt them.
Coming off two straight wins against the contending Milwaukee Bucks, the Raptors headed into their second night of a back-to-back with plenty of confidence. The last time the Raptors took on the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves, they suffered an unfortunate four-point loss last Sunday. This time around, though, they seemed ready to flip the narrative.
With Kyle Lowry and OG Anunoby out, the Raptors had to make some shifts in their starting lineup again. Most notably, Chris Boucher made his first NBA start and in doing so, became just the third Canadian to start for the Raptors following Jamaal Magloire and Cory Joseph. And it didn’t take long for the homegrown talent to get going.
Toronto started off the game hot offensively, with Normal Powell and DeAndre’ Bembry leading the way, scoring eight and six points respectively. The Wolves on the other hand, looked a step slow, with Toronto holding them to only 15 points, which included a 17-6 run for the Raps to end the quarter.
In the second frame, it was more of the same. The Raptors came out like the offensive beast we’ve come to know recently, led once again by Powell, who decided to continue on with his scoring clinic. Powell singlehandedly drove a 9-0 run to start the quarter, ultimately ending the second with 22 points, while shooting 7-for-13 from the field.
I’d just like to take a moment to really admire Powell’s significant jump in performance this season. Especially in Lowry’s absence, he has soaked up every bit of opportunity and stepped up in the shot-making department. Powell finished the game with a career-high 31 points while shooting 10-for-19 (and 6-of-10 from three). During this latest run, he has solidified himself as a predictable leader on this team and a foundational piece for the Raptors’ offensive prowess.
The second half was where things took a dip for the worse, Toronto started the third quarter off routinely, with Fred VanVleet picking up his scoring after a cold first half and the Raptors growing their lead to 19 points. But nearing the midway point of the third, the Raptors started slipping up, allowing the Timberwolves to go on a 16-0 run and coughing up the lead. In all, the Raptors didn’t score a field goal for over eight minutes in the quarter.
For the most part, the Raptors looked sloppy in that frame and with every missed shot, their frustration clearly grew. This was on full display when both VanVleet and Powell picked up a pair of technical fouls nearing the quarter’s end. Toronto’s shooting woes put them in an obvious funk, and it ended up hurting them on both ends of the court. It was honestly tough to watch at times, especially as we witnessed careless mistakes, like a Matt Thomas pass that flew way out of bounds. Eventually, the horror hit its peak when 2020 first overall pick Anthony Edwards posterized poor Yuta Watanabe.
The Raptors ended the quarter hanging by a thread. On top of the countless missed shots, five turnovers by the Raps were also a real killer. Toronto would have loved to redo that quarter. Nevertheless, somehow, the Raptors were only down six points as they headed into the fourth.
Unfortunately in the final frame, the Raps’ shooting woes carried over, and the Wolves extended their lead eight points. But Toronto battled hard and kept the game close, eventually tying it up at 81. With some astounding all-over-the-place defense from Pascal Siakam, and a clutch shot from Terence Davis, the Raps managed to claw their way back over the top, eventually closing out the game with a hard-fought victory.
If I had to describe that win in one word, I’d go with: ugly. The Raptors should have had the win secured heading into the second half, but as we’ve witnessed before, blown leads are not a foreign concept this season. Yes, the team was playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and shorthanded, but there were no excuses for some of sloppy play. Putting together a 13-point third quarter should have been the dagger for Toronto if they hadn’t pulled together when it counted.
Other than Powell, Toronto’s backbone for the night was Siakam, who on top of his 10 points, really did contribute tremendously on the defensive end with nine rebounds, three blocks, and a steal. Siakam has not only started to return to the type of elite-calibre player we all know and love, but he has also sharpened his skill-set to a satisfying degree.
In this case, while Siakam’s offensive efforts tonight were subpar, and his 40 percent shooting from the field a slight dip, his defensive presence was felt throughout. Fred VanVleet also had a tough night getting his offense going, shooting a horrid 4-for-20 from the field, finishing the night with a line of 12-3-7. Still, both players were the guys we wanted to see on the floor to end the game.
For the Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns led the charge with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Malik Beasley also contributed 13 points on the night. It was a valiant effort by the league-worst Timberwolves who have really given the Raptors a hard time this year. Nonetheless, Toronto overcame its struggles and held on for the W.
Toronto has now improved to 15-15 and are .500 for the first time since opening night. They’ll be looking to ride with that confidence and extend their three-game win streak at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.