The Toronto Raptors have looked like a wayward team this season, but every so often their old identity shows up. A team that once prided itself on playing energetic defense night after night, there’s been a shaken confidence in 2020-21 — whether it’s due to injuries, the circumstances of playing in Tampa, or a ridiculous schedule that doesn’t allow for practice.
Personnel has something to do with it too. There were no easy answers after losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol for nothing in free agency, but the result was worse than expected. Alex Len didn’t last long, Chris Boucher seems better suited for the four, and Aron Baynes has been a constant source of frustration. Bench wings like Terence Davis and Matt Thomas never popped in their minutes on the floor. The Raptors looked like a team in its own head, especially when bench players had to take a leading role.
So, give the team some credit for where they find themselves now. The Raptors have a handful of fresh blood and the vigour that can provide was on full display Wednesday. In a 117-112 win over the Spurs, Toronto had one of their most balanced scoring games of the year, even with Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr. and DeAndre’ Bembry all sitting due to injury — six players scored in double digits, and nine of ten rotation players got in the box score in a positive way.
The win moves the Raptors to 22-34 and, paired with a Bulls loss to the Magic, moves them within a game of the ten seed.
Leading the way in 34 minutes was OG Anunoby. Playing at shooting guard in a supersized starting unit along with Malachi Flynn, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch, and Chris Boucher, Anunoby played to his position’s strengths, making 3-of-4 threes in the first quarter on his way to 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting overall.
Can't forget to box out that man pic.twitter.com/JtFLmKEWjI— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 15, 2021
Anunoby also added four rebounds, three assists, and two steals, doing an excellent job as the primary matchup on DeMar DeRozan — who was held to a modest 19 points on 11 shots.
The other everyday Raptors starter was pretty good too, as Pascal Siakam had 20 points — albeit on an inefficient 7-for-20 shooting night. He made his impact elsewhere, though, pulling down 11 of the team’s season-high 54 rebounds.
Oh yeah, remember when the Raptors couldn’t get a board to save their lives? Those new guys are completely changing the story on that area of weakness for Toronto. In his first start with Toronto, Khem Birch had six boards and a pair of effortless blocks, making a strong presence in the middle, even when matched up with noted strong lad Jakob Poeltl.
G-League convert Freddie Gillespie had the best game of his ten-day contract too (possibly lining himself up for another), snagging eight rebounds — five offensive — to go with nine points. Chris Boucher, while not a new face, led the team with 12 rebounds and looked really solid as a natural four both with the starters and with Gillespie off the bench.
The Spurs, meanwhile, kept this game entertaining with a strong shooting display. They were led by 25 points from Dejounte Murray and 23 off the bench from Patty Mills. Even though they went 42.5 percent from distance as a team, San Antonio couldn’t overcome a -12 rebounding differential — the key stat in this Raptors win.
Still, the Spurs started on the right foot with a lead in the first quarter. DeRozan was up to his old tricks, pulling Birch up on a free throw line pump fake to put San Antonio up seven in the first five minutes. Anunoby had the response for Toronto, though, scoring eight of the team’s first ten.
Out of the first timeout, a Boucher put back dunk and three-pointer spurred an 11-0 run to give Toronto the lead. Though a hot start for Patty Mills (4-of-5) gave San Antonio the lead back, this back-and-forth battle carried through much of the first half.
In Toronto’s first bench minutes, Nick Nurse went weird — which was pretty much necessitated by who he had at his disposal tonight — playing Stanley Johnson and Yuta Watanabe with OG, Siakam, and Birch. Thankfully, the large lineup popped, as Watanabe looked especially energetic on both ends of the floor. With 11 points and four boards off the pine, he was instrumental in getting some downhill drives going, and set off great possessions for the Raptors on multiple occasions throughout the game.
As the first half waned, Toronto’s offense started to stutter a bit. A 10-for-20 half from three helped San Antonio too, narrowing the Raptors lead to just one point heading into halftime.
In the second half, the Spurs went just cold enough to put the Raptors ahead for good. Toronto opened on a 7-1 run, with Malachi Flynn making some great decisions in the pick and roll, working off Birch. Flynn has turned heads on this back-to-back and once again played well, despite an off night shooting, tallying 16 points, seven assists, and four rebounds. Building their lead to as much as eight, the Raptors withstood runs from the Spurs through the fourth thanks to continued impassioned play, eventually finishing off the win and snapping their two-game losing skid.
Next up, Toronto will take on the Magic on Friday night.