Welp. This one hurt. Entering tonight’s contest on a five-game losing streak, the Toronto Raptors – who suddenly find themselves in trade machines everywhere – were desperate for a win. They fought hard, pushing the game to overtime, and Siakam was absolutely incredible. It looked like they might just sneak out of Philly with a victory. But ultimately the Raptors came up short, and on this kind of streak, it’s tough to care about the quality of the loss. (That being said, this was a much better effort than Sunday!)
In a bit of positive news, O.G. Anunoby made his return tonight from a hip injury. With Gary Trent out, Nick Nurse went with a starting unit of VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, Barnes, and Hernangomez. Scottie Barnes drew the initial Joel Embiid assignment, but fouled Embiid twice within the first three minutes. Embiid put the Raptors in the penalty with 4:24 left in the quarter. Turns out it’s pretty tough to guard that guy without 1) a real center (missing Marc Gasol right about now), or 2) crisp defensive rotations.
The Raptors looked pretty sloppy early on, and Anunoby appeared understandably rusty, turning the ball over a couple times. But after going down 19-8, Siakam put his foot down and led the Raptors to an 11-0 run. Embiid’s presence was a clear rim deterrent, which is unfortunate for a team that can’t hit threes. But Siakam drew some fouls, VanVleet hit a three, and Malachi Flynn hit a floater over the outstretched arm of Joel Embiid(!!) – and the Raptors won the first quarter 23-22.
Things got ugly in the second. The defense looked unfocused as they gave up open three after open three after easy layup, allowing 10 points in the first 90 seconds. Normal defensive rebounds by the Sixers turned into fast-breaks and easy Montrezl Harrell layups, which is the mark of unacceptable defensive positioning and communication. Because of the roster’s dearth of scorers, Gary Trent’s absence was quite noticeable as the offense sputtered.
The Raptors just looked out of sync in the second quarter, and few plays encapsulate that better than this squandered two-on-one fastbreak opportunity:
By the time Siakam checked back in, there was a lot of cleaning up to do. The Sixers’ bench just got whatever they wanted, and won the first-half non-Embiid minutes by 11. Meanwhile, the Raptors shot 3/17 from beyond the arc in the half, which meant Boucher had no shortage of offensive rebounding opportunities!
Siakam finished the half with 15 points, three boards, and three assists, and kept the team afloat. Toronto lost the half 57-46, but that deficit could’ve easily been larger.
Khem Birch started the second half in place of Juancho Hernangomez because, you know, Joel Embiid is large. Of course, Embiid started the half with a three and a thunderous dunk, but the Raptors responded with a really strong quarter. Siakam very much carried the offense, hitting threes, getting mid-range jumpers over PJ Tucker (including an and-one), and firing nice passes. At one point, he hit a three, then drew a moving screen by Embiid as he fought over the pick. Anunoby seemed to find his rhythm in this quarter, hitting a corner three and later drawing a foul attacking the basket. But this really was Pascal Siakam’s quarter. Fittingly, Nurse subbed Siakam in for the final seven seconds, and the forward nailed a three to tie the game at 78. Siakam scored 16 points to help dig the Raptors out of their deficit, and the team was 6/12 on threes for the quarter. Shooting!
Nurse kept Siakam in to start the fourth quarter, which makes sense because the team looks lost without him. The Sixers responded by sending hard double teams, but Siakam navigated them beautifully, registering a couple hockey assists. Nurse rolled with a lineup of VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, Chris Boucher, and Thad Young for a good chunk, and the Raptors looked nothing like they did in the second. Boucher hit a step-back three over James Harden, because why not, and later attacked a closeout before flipping it to Young for a layup. The lineup played some stifling defense. On one possession, three guys swarmed PJ Tucker under the basket and forced a three-second violation, or as Alvin Williams called it on the broadcast, “an eighteen, nineteen, twenty-second violation.”
But the Raptors wore down a bit, and after some poor decisions and defensive breakdowns, found themselves trailing 99-97 with a couple possessions left. The Sixers had a chance to ice it, but Anunoby defended forced a miss by Harden. Siakam took the rebound full-court for a beautiful, game-tying scoop shot against Tucker. Then on the final possession, Siakam defended Embiid and forced him into a long, contested two. Siakam ended regulation with 38 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists.
The Raptors slipped up in overtime, giving up a handful of open threes and missing all of theirs. Down 104-101, the Raptors had multiple chances to claw back. Nick Nurse bought them an extra possession when he made potentially the best challenge call of his career, wiping out a potential four-point play by Tobias Harris due to an illegal screen by Tucker. But the offense looked stagnant and played some ugly possessions as Embiid took his defense to another level. Siakam attempted a game-tying three at the buzzer – no dice.
Without Siakam, the Raptors would’ve had no business being down three at the end of overtime. Their bench play in the second quarter was lackadaisical to say the least, and only three players – Siakam, Anunoby, and Boucher – scored in double digits.
VanVleet scored nine points, shot 3/15, and went 2/11 from three including a couple open attempts during overtime. He made a couple good defensive plays and did a nice job of bothering Embiid, but VanVleet needs to do better for the Raptors to win this game. The same could be said for Scottie Barnes, who scored six points on nine field goal attempts.
Pascal Siakam outscored the other four starters 38-35. The Raptors looked good for multiple stretches during this game, showing some flashes of good defense and fluid ball movement. They went up against an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid, and came up just short. If they play this hard going forward, the Raptors will snap their losing streak soon enough. But to piece wins together and climb back up the Eastern Conference standings, Siakam can’t be the only player scoring.