Early in the third quarter, you could see the ship starting to sway.
The Toronto Raptors had gone into halftime scoring an eye-popping 76 points, running through a poor defensive effort from the Charlotte Hornets for their best half of the season. Pascal Siakam had 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, Gary Trent Jr. had dropped in 15 points, and the team had a 22-15 advantage on the glass — winning in all areas of the game.
Even little-used Malachi Flynn was showing off, scoring nine points when foul trouble for Dalano Banton (and knee soreness for Fred VanVleet) necessitated him getting in.
The Hornets came to play to start the third, though. An 11-2 run got them right back into the game, dropping the Raptors’ lead to six, as a low energy Toronto unit started to make poor decisions. It was the team we saw in the Blazers game this past weekend, one that may be hitting a wall of fatigue with the All-Star Break still off in the distance.
Then, Toronto — namely Trent Jr. — rallied. Often a forgotten name among the All-Star hoopla surrounding Siakam and VanVleet, Trent Jr. excelled in an expanded role on Tuesday night. With Siakam on the bench and the Hornets pushing, Trent Jr. exploded for a dunk in transition. After that, he just kept the pace, scoring 14 of his 32 points in the third quarter alone to stretch the Raptors lead back into double digits, deflating the visiting Hornets.
Besides Trent Jr., Siakam was also excellent.
One rebound shy of a triple-double, Pascal had 24 points and 12 assists. While much of his damage was done in the first half, Siakam obviously kept the waters calm for the Raptors on both ends. He was vocal when his teammates were lagging — once looking bemused at Chris Boucher after the big man tested out a step back midrange jumper — and moved the ball elegantly, finding the creases in a leaky Hornets defense. Most notable has been his interior passes, and passes to the interior, which have allowed the Raptors to use him at point guard when VanVleet is out.
OG Anunoby would add 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting for the Raptors, while Flynn and Dalano Banton stepped up in the absence of VanVleet to combine for 21 off the bench.
The Hornets were led by 25 points from LaMelo Ball and 22 from Miles Bridges.
In the first quarter, it was Siakam scoring six of the first 13 points for the Raptors. As Toronto would go on to shoot 64% in the frame, there were really contributions up and down the lineup. Banton was the first player off the bench for Nick Nurse and while he played well, the rookie picked up three quick fouls. That brought in Flynn, who had a great drive for a layup and an open three-pointer to push the Raptors lead further.
The first was the Raps best quarter of the night, as they scored 39 points. Even a scuffle between Justin Champagnie and PJ Washington couldn’t get them off track, as both players were ejected — continuing a strange week where NBA referees have been handing out ejections like free candy.
In the second, the Raptors’ parade to the rim continued. By playing four out, Toronto put pressure on Mason Plumlee to be everywhere at once; when he fell out of rotation, there was often an open shot for the Raptors. The lead would increase to 15 points on a transition dunk by Precious Achiuwa, set up by Siakam, and Toronto would go into halftime with that margin as their lead.
We already covered the third above, but it’s also worth adding how Nurse managed the Hornets run. After a bad shot each for Achiuwa and Boucher gave the Hornets opportunities to get out and run — their best skill as a team — Nurse began to rotate minutes between those two, keeping one on the bench the rest of the game and inserting Banton despite his foul trouble.
The move worked, as Boucher returned to doing more work around the edges, where he can really succeed — rather than hunting his own shot — and it allowed more touches for Trent Jr., who was red hot all night.
Consecutive threes by Boucher and Anunoby opened the fourth and pushed the Raptors lead to 22. They were able to bring their bench in under four minutes, a welcome sight for a team on the front end of a back-to-back that has them going to Chicago on Wednesday.
In all, Siakam led the team with 39 minutes, but 26 minutes from Flynn, 17 from Banton and 22 from Yuta Watanabe kept tonight’s big three (Pascal, OG and Gary) relatively fresh.
The matchup with the Bulls is set for 8 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night.