It was the last Toronto Raptors game on 2022 and a lot was on the line for the team as they welcomed the Phoenix Suns. On a second night of a back to back, the Raptors were trying to avoid their third loss of the week.
If you’ve been under a rock, or unplugged for the holidays, it’s been a rough month for the Raptors. They may have broken their six game losing streak against the New York Knicks thanks to a 52 point performance from Pascal Siakam, but things haven’t been sunshine and roses since.
They were able to grab another win in Cleveland right after, but this week has been nothing but losses for Toronto — and things have been getting tumultuous.
On top of the losses, Coach Nick Nurse called out Chris Boucher publicly for needing to play better, the team waived Justin Champagnie immediately post-game last night, and apparently today’s pre-game team meeting was very intense.
Soooo, the end of the year vibes are interesting to say the least. Luckily, and spoiler alert (as if you haven’t read the headline), things got better tonight.
In terms of injuries, Fred VanVleet and Precious Achiuwa were both ruled OUT pre-game along with Otto Porter Jr. who is still nursing that dislocated toe. VanVleet is considered to be day to day while Achiuwa could be back as early as next week from his ankle injury.
On the Suns’ side, Devin Booker injured his groin earlier in the week and will be out for the next little bit. That is a huge loss for the Suns who rely on him for points.
The first quarter started off in a refreshing way for the Raptors. Energy was high, and they were quite active on defence. Forcing nine turnovers as opposed to committing one themselves.
Pascal Siakam got off to a hot start, scoring nine in the quarter, and Trent Jr. got off a couple as well. The Raptors led 33-24 at the end of the first.
That quickly turned around as the Suns caught up and then some in the second quarter. A quick couple of three pointers from Damian Lee, and some missed opportunities from the Raptors had the Suns back in the running, and fast.
Another sour note was O.G. Anunoby picking up his fourth foul in the first half and having to sit, causing the Raptors to lose their best defender.
Yet, the Raptors were able to keep the lead at the end of the half, thanks to 15 points from Siakam, 12 from Anunoby, and 11 from Gary Trent Jr.
More highlights included the Raptors forcing 15 turnovers on the Suns which resulted in 10 points for them. On the other hand, the Raptors only committed four turnovers resulting in zero points for the Suns.
Raptors led 53-51 at the half.
Raptors lead 53-51 at the half— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) December 31, 2022
Siakam has 15, next is Anunoby with 12 and Trent Jr. with 11
The second half started out HOT HOT HOT for Gary Trent Jr. who make back to back steals, a four point play, and a MASSIVE dunk (resulting in a tech). He was up to 19 points by this point and providing much needed offensive relief to Pascal Siakam.
The Raptors pulled away for their largest lead thus far in the night with 11 over Phoenix. That faltered when O.G. Anunoby committed the offensive foul and had to sit on the bench with five personal fouls on the game.
Trent Jr. continued to make it rain, getting up to 23 points by the middle of the third quarter. His confidence was up, and it was noticeable based on the fancy passes he was making — which is completely acceptable. Give me all the GTJ swagger, I love it.
The Raptors ended the third up 86-77, with Gary Trent Jr. leading all scorers at 29 points.
Jeff Dowtin Jr. had a great burst where he sent an excellent extra pass a play and then immediately got the steal and the lay up. He consistently takes advantage of the minutes he is given and could be a great young asset off the bench for the Raptors.
It unfortunately became close near the end at 95-94, which isn’t ideal for a Raptors team that has had trouble closing out and defending down the stretch. Nerves were high from everyone.
Scottie Barnes made a HUGE three to push the Raptors to 104-101 minutes later and it became clear this was going to be a fight to the finish.
Christian Koloko made his OWN clutch three right after and the Raptors were up 107-101. He said after the game that he shot it with confidence because he’s been working on those shots in practice. He knew the coaches would support his decision because they’ve seen the work.
He also mentioned thanking Gary Trent Jr. for trusting in him to make that shot, and said he appreciated the support and celebrations from his teammates when he made it.
Which, for a team that has been accused of lacking chemistry in the last month, is very nice to hear — and those shots are nice to see go in from a team that has struggled from behind the arc.
In a tense final minute of play, the Raptors tried to defend their four point lead. Helped along by Siakam who made one free throw, and Barnes who got the rebound to bring it up to 111-104.
The Raptors are able to hold on and get a MUCH needed win, 113-104 against the Phoenix Suns.
They’ll now have a few days off to rest and ring in the new year before playing a hot Indiana Pacers team on Monday.
One of the biggest highlights in this game was Gary Trent Jr. who scored 35 points, two assists and five rebounds. He got the start as VanVleet was out again due to back soreness, after leading the bench for the last little while.
Curious to see if 1) Fred is still out Monday and 2) what the line up looks like if he IS back in. I assume Gary continues to get his starting position if Fred is out. He was also incredibly active on defense, getting three steals on the game.
Another highlight for the Raptors was forcing turnovers on the Suns. In the end they forced 27 turnovers which resulted in 34 points for Toronto. They only committed 12 turnovers themselves resulting in seven points for the Suns.
Compared to last night’s game, this was an incredible effort from the Raptors. They went from being literally defense-less to winning a game through defense on a back to back. Good vibes all around. Pop the bubbly a day early if you’d like. They aren’t out of the woods yet, but we’ll see what 2023 brings.
The best part is that the team is going into the New Year in the W column. Let’s see how they match up to the Indiana Pacers Monday night 7:00 p.m. on Sportsnet.