Thursday’s 139-120 win will not go down as one of the better Raptors performances during their now eight-game winning streak. In fact it’s probably the worst they’ve played since losing to Portland way back on January 23rd. But it’s indicative of where this team is on its growth curve that even with a lackluster defensive effort, and without Fred VanVleet, the Raptors comfortably dispatched the truly pathetic Houston Rockets without much if any tension. That, my friends, is what we call “margin for error,” and it’s a wonderful thing. Try-harding your way to wins is fun; the ability to shift into cruise control from time to time makes that winning sustainable.
You tend to have such insurance when your best player is as good as the Raptors’ is right now. What Pascal Siakam is doing is way more than some mid-season heater; he’s reached a point of complete control. Houston’s collection of wretched defenders stood less of a chance against him on Thursday than the humps the Thunder rolled out to guard him just 24 hours prior. Over the course of an utterly dominant first half, Siakam poured in an easy 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Whatever he wanted, he got.
There were moments in this game when the Raptors’ offense ground to a halt, even against Houston’s bottom-ranked defense. As a rule, those stretches coincided with Siakam’s rest pockets. Like clockwork, his return to the floor restored crispness to Toronto’s attack while solidifying things on the other end as well. You’d be hard-pressed to name 10 players who’ve been better in the entire league since the beginning of 2022. He finished with an easy 30 points, three boards and four assists in just 32 minutes of action, albeit it would have been 35 had he not fouled out late.
Without his usual co-star in VanVleet, Siakam was gonna need a little support, and Gary Trent Jr. very much obliged. Squaring off against an opposing backcourt of Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. — a pair of dudes hoping to have GTJ’s sauce one day — Trent poured in 42 points on 15-of-26 shooting, an uncharacterstic portion of which came at the rim or at the free-throw line. I’ll reiterate: the Rockets are very bad at playing defense. After Siakam fouled out and the Rockets vaguely threatened a late game comeback, it was Trent with some timely shotmaking who buried Houston’s chances for good. He also finished with five steals, giving him ten total swipes in the last two nights.
While Siakam and Trent were Toronto’s horses in this one, they weren’t totally alone in their efforts to beat Houston. Their fellow starters OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa all ranged from fine to unremarkable, but thanks to a trio of reserves with pop the Raptors survived a rare off night from the collective starting group. Dalano Banton brought a little shimmy and lot of shake over his 20 minutes of action, routinely breaking down a Rockets defense that really didn’t seem to have a clue what to do with his long and graceful strides. Banton filled the sheet with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go along with four boards, three assists and a sterling +17 — tied for second on the team with Chris Boucher (16 points, four offensive rebounds) and Khem Birch, trailing only Malachi Flynn’s +23. With Thad Young on his way to Toronto and likely in the lineup as soon as Saturday night against Denver, it seems some of the team’s fringe rotation guys heard the footsteps on Thursday. Young will probably get run ahead of all of the Raptors bench hands save for Boucher and Achiuwa, but if his arrival boots up the competitive engines for players nine through 15 on the roster, that can only be a good thing.
Flynn’s shotmaking — the skill he’s simply gonna have to bring to the table to stay relevant on this team — was especially impressive in this one. He self-created a three near the end of a possession in thef first half, mosied his way into the paint for an mid-ranger in the fourth, and canned an impossible off balance three in the very late going to help seal the victory. Flynn hasn’t often seized opportunities when they’ve presented themselves this year; it was cool to see him do it on a night where VanVleet was on the sidelines and his ball-handling pop was in demand. He finished with a tidy 8-4-3 with two steals in 22 minutes.
With how deeply unserious the Rockets are, there’s really not too much else to pull from this game as far as tangible takeaways go. So instead of leaving off on some sort of profound point about the Raptors’ way forward with the trade deadline now come and gone, I’ll leave you with the three best highlights from the game. If we’re being honest here, they’re all anyone stands a chance of remebering from this most lopsided of midweek tilts.
- Yuta is never getting dunked on again. Anthony Edwards, you’ve created a rim protecting monster. That said, I’m a little bummed Yuta spoiled that Alperen Şengün behind-the-back wizard pass.
2. Your nightly Scottie Barnes no-look pass, now with 100% more oop.
Cool guys don't look at assists pic.twitter.com/OHxNKa6TbM— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) February 11, 2022
3. Jalen Green is going to be extremely fun for a very long time. The gloating on a dunk to cut his team’s deficit to 11 does have some troubly Bradley Beal energy to it, however.
Toronto’s back at it looking for a ninth-straight win against Denver on Saturday, with Young likely to make his debut.