After acing the test of surviving a brief injury to Fred VanVleet, the Toronto Raptors were met with a new, even more difficult challenge: playing without Pascal Siakam for at least two weeks.
The Raptors have played two games without the All-NBA forward since his groin injury: a home-and-home on back-to-back nights against the Chicago Bulls. Each team won their respective home game, with the Raptors notably looking gassed during the second leg in Chicago. Without their primary offensive engine who also provides important defensive support, it’s on the rest of the team to pick up the slack and keep the Raptors on a winning pace.
The Raptors’ upcoming stretch of games is forgiving compared to their opening slate: their next four games are against the Rockets, Thunder, Pacers, and Pistons.
Tonight’s opponent, the Houston Rockets, are 2-9 to start the season. Their two wins came against the Orlando Magic — who are tied for last-place at 2-9 — and the Utah Jazz who are *checks notes* first in the Western Conference. Make no mistake, the Rockets have some exciting pieces and Jalen Green is a future star. But they’re still a very young roster in the early stages of a rebuild, and their defence is 27th in points allowed per game. They’re a favourable opponent for the Siakam-less Raptors – but without the talent of Siakam, the Raptors can’t sleepwalk to a victory.
Details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30pm EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent, O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Christian Koloko
Houston – Kevin Porter, Jalen Green, Eric Gordon, Jabari Smith, Alperen Şengün
Toronto – Pascal Siakam (groin – out), Khem Birch (knee – out), Justin Champagnie (back – questionable)
Houston – Jae’Sean Tate (ankle – out), Bruno Fernando (kneecap – out)
Nick Nurse vs. Jalen Green
If you’ve watched a Toronto Raptors game in the last three years, you are aware that Nick Nurse is a brilliant, beautiful psychopath who gets off on shutting down opposing superstars, be it in the Eastern Conference Finals or a Monday night in early November. This week’s back-to-back against Chicago was an excellent example — the Raptors’ defense held DeMar DeRozan to nine shot attempts on Sunday, and just nine points on six shot attempts Monday. On Sunday, the Raptors’ defensive efforts helped propel them to a nice win. On Monday, their hard double-teaming of DeRozan allowed Zach LaVine to go off for 30 points.
Jalen Green, who scored 34 points on 12/18 shooting Monday, is poised to be the next target of the Raptors’ swarming defense. Green, who was selected two picks before Scottie Barnes, is already a dynamic scorer averaging 20.8 points per game and leading the team in usage rate. Kevin Porter Jr. is a skilled scorer, but the Rockets don’t have a second option who can be counted on to punish the Raptors like LaVine did. Green is going to be seeing a lot of double-teams — and even worse, a whole lot of O.G. Anunoby (more on him soon).
All eyes on Scottie
One of the players tasked with stopping Jalen Green is Scottie Barnes, his former teammate from the U19 World Cup. With Siakam out of the lineup, the brunt of the offensive creation responsibilities fall upon Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes. Barnes had a poor performance Monday, finishing with five points on 2/9 shooting. Duds like that are to be expected of second-year players, plus Barnes seems to be hampered by a tweaked ankle. But when Siakam doesn’t play, the Raptors are increasingly dependent on Barnes’ ability to attack the defense and turn paint touches into buckets — not just for others, but for himself. Even during a tough game, though, Scottie showed that he can do just that:
O.G. AnunDPObY (I’ll workshop that)
O.G. Anunoby has 28 steals over his last five games, and is averaging 3.1 steals through 11 games this season. Dejounte Murray is second with 2.5. Those steal numbers don’t even include the turnovers that Anunoby forces with his incredible feel, size, and strength. Anunoby is a ball-hawk, an All-Defense level cornerback around whom no pass can be deemed safe.
Not only is he a top-level disruptor who can legitimately guard one through five, but his steals create a ton of offense — the Raptors lead the league in points off turnovers and fastbreak points. That’s especially important for a team missing their top player in the halfcourt. Watching Anunoby guard ball-handlers is mesmerizing, but it’s just as impressive to watch him feel the game off the ball and beat the offense with his quick rotations. Let the DPOY buzz commence.