The Raptors started their season with a tough slate of games, all against Eastern Conference playoff teams (and the Cavs, who are sure to become one this year). The games were mostly tight, but after capping the stretch off with a massive win against Atlanta, the Raptors carried that momentum into their first Western Conference matchup as they steamrolled the San Antonio Spurs, 143-100.
Through two weeks of the 2022-23 NBA season, the Spurs have been one of the handful of fun — and slightly confounding — teams that have jumped out to winning records (5-2 before tonight) despite a roster that looks primed for Victor Wembanyama. Well, the Raptors did the Spurs’ lottery odds a favour tonight.
The Spurs, already sporting one of the league’s most lacklustre rosters, were without two of their top players in Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell. Their leading scorer was Keita Bates-Diop, who tied for their lead in minutes with Zach Collins. It’s... not a good team. BUT, that doesn’t negate just how damn good the Raptors looked tonight. With the Tampa season still visible in the rearview, it felt comforting to watch a good old fashioned beatdown versus a bottom-feeding team.
The direction of the game was foreshadowed by the first possession, which ended with OG Anunoby intercepting a Spurs pass and taking it home for the dunk. (OG’s good for at least one of those per game.) The Raptors leapt out to a 9-0 lead, which included another OG steal and a Barnes catch-and-shoot three. Barnes also hit Christian Koloko with an alley-oop on a pick-and-roll — I would like 50 Barnes-Koloko pick-and-rolls per game, please.
(Former Raptor alert: Jakob Poeltl solidly defended Siakam, then Trent for a full possession, — those are two tough players to guard! It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up, assuming the Spurs make a trade. Good player.)
The Spurs managed to keep up in the first quarter thanks to a 10-0 run and some Doug McDermott threes. The Raptors were having it easy on offense, but the Spurs were hustling and hitting shots, making it 32-31 Raptors heading into the second.
Siakam, the player of the game, had a big first quarter, finishing with seven points and five assists. He knocked down some tough midrange shots and reached the paint with ease, but also made great passes out of his inevitable double teams. All five Spurs defenders were in the paint one possession, but Siakam countered by kicking out to an open Dalano Banton who knocked down the three. (Banton finished the night 3-for-3 from behind the arc.) While Siakam was dominant on offense from the get-go, Anunoby was incredible on defense, picking up three steals and a block in the first.
The Raptors’ offense carried over into the second quarter, but with Boucher’s injection of energy off the bench, their hustle plays and incresingly intense defense allowed them to pull away. After a pair of Otto Porter Jr. free throw makes — happy season debut to Otto! — the Raptors ran a sudden full-court press forcing the Spurs to call a timeout. This happened with eight minutes left in the second quarter. They played press after the timeout too!
Chris Boucher was magnificent in the second quarter — he hit a few threes, took a charge right before halftime, and had a few nice fast-break plays (one that he took himself with a controlled dribble, another ending in a Trent layup, and one that he finished with a Euro step).
OG steal, Boucher euro-step, Raps rolling pic.twitter.com/DLXDlh3tvQ— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) November 3, 2022
Scottie Barnes had a few Nick Nurse-approved takes to the basket, including a play where he simply big-boyed Bates-Diop and finished off the glass. Bates-Diop also sagged off Siakam quite a bit, but instead of settling for the three, Siakam just took up the space himself and beat the defender with a dribble move in the paint.
By halftime, the Raptors had extended their lead to 64-49 — but in the third quarter they blew the doors off the Spurs, winning the frame 40-21. In familiar fashion, the quarter began with Trent picking off a Spurs pass, who gave it to O.G. for the fast-break slam. Defense leading to offense was the main theme of this game. The Raptors punished every errant pass with their length and athleticism in transition, dominating the Spurs 41-12 in fast-break points, and 31-8 in points off turnovers.
Barnes was also very active on defense in the third, blocking a corner three which, of course, led to a transition and-one for Siakam.
Koloko had another nice block in this one, but a few of his own inside attempts were blocked. He’s already such a smooth and agile player with good positioning instincts — some added strength will help him elevate as a scoring threat against bigger defenders.
With Fred VanVleet out, the Raptors got to experiment with a lot of huge, funky lineups. They stuck with Koloko as the starting five alongside Siakam, Barnes, Anunoby, and Trent. Another fun lineup to watch was their all-bench opening unit for the fourth quarter: Dalano Banton, Otto Porter Jr., Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, and Khem Birch. I don’t remember much of what they did on offense, but I do recall Boucher intercepting a pass and Porter leaping to break up another one. They played two minutes together and wreaked havoc with their length.
Up 34 heading into the fourth, the Raptors’ starters experienced a rare luxury in the Nick Nurse era: not touching the court in the fourth quarter. Each of the five starters finished with 28 or fewer played, which, if you’ve been following along, never happens. Blowouts are a beautiful thing!
The fourth quarter allowed Nurse to give some of the veterans run. Thad Young has been getting DNPs but played eight minutes in the fourth. O.G.’s defensive tenacity seemed to be infectious, as both Young and Birch jumped passes leading to dunks. Precious Achiuwa was able to pad his numbers in the fourth, and surely had some fun as the best player on the court.
Needed a 4th quarter highlight. So heres a Precious and-1 pic.twitter.com/KBus6HCLdL— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) November 3, 2022
Otto Porter also hit a catch-and-shoot three in the fourth. This particular shot put them up 134-87 so, you know, low stakes. But it was nice to finally see it happen — hopefully, the first of many.
No, the shorthanded Spurs were not a scary opponent. In fact, that might’ve been the least scary roster in the league. But the good teams are supposed to beat up on the bad ones, and the Raptors thoroughly outclassed the Spurs. That’s exactly how you want a playoff team to play a basement-dwelling opponent.
On an individual level, Chris Boucher, who finished with 17 points and eight boards, continues to be the Raptors’ key ingredient off the bench. Gary Trent Jr. put on a show with his signature difficult shot-making, putting up 24 points. Anunoby scored 18 but more importantly, played legitimately Defensive Player of the Year-level defense — he now has 11 steals over the last two games. Scottie Barnes excelled in the point guard role, and continues to use no-look passes and pass-fakes to manipulate defenses in ways nobody else on the roster does. He also flung some beautiful outlet passes, and finished with 15 points, four rebounds, and five assists.
Finally, Pascal Siakam continued his streak of eight consecutive 20+ point games to open the season, as well as his seventh consecutive game with 20-5-5. He finished with 22, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists, good for his second triple double of the season. These stats were all accumulated in three quarters.
It’s one thing to beat the ‘22-23 Spurs, but it’s another to beat them by 43. It all started with the team’s chaotic defense and Siakam’s offensive creation, tonight. And that’s really the identity of this team.