Right now, it’s very easy to believe in the Toronto Raptors.
About two weeks into their period of full health, save for Goran Dragic being away from the team, the Raptors are playing to their potential and their stars are playing like stars — basically every night they hit the floor too.
Toronto wrapped up its sixth straight win on Monday, beating the Hornets wire-to-wire, 116-101. This is the second six-game win streak for the Raptors this season and improves them to six games above .500 at 29-23. They sit a half game up on the Nets for the sixth seed in the East.
The Raptors, once again, did it through a balanced approach, albeit one led by Pascal Siakam. As he has through the start of 2022, Siakam forged the path, totalling 24 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and a block in a team-high 43 minutes.
There’s no other way to put it: the key to the Raptors’ consistency over this win streak has been all Siakam. He is often the most attended-to player on the floor, but he’s thriving in that pressure now. His ability to read defenses, find his own shot and lead in transition is at an elite level.
Even if he might not have the games and clout to be in the All-Star Game, nobody can argue that he’s playing at the level of a guy who should be starting in Cleveland right now, much less playing.
Toronto had three other players in their starting lineup with over 20 points on Monday, which brings up another fun stat.
For the FOURTH time this season and the 14th time in franchise history, the Raptors have four 20-point scorers. This has never happened more than twice in a season in franchise history prior to this season. https://t.co/2CLhgH724P— keeks (@keerthikau) February 8, 2022
Gary Trent Jr. was next in line, shooting 8-for-16 and scoring 24 points. The Charlotte Hornets are not an altogether prideful group defensively and the handful of times they left Trent Jr. wide open was probably the difference between a playoff team’s game plan and a play-in team, which is where Charlotte will likely end up. Gary had a lot of open looks in this game for someone who’s on a torrid pace. Happily, he gobbled up the opportunity.
Fred VanVleet also shot 50% to score 20 points, while adding five assists and five rebounds. OG Anunoby had 20 as well, making some critical plays to stop a Hornets run in the third quarter and wrestle momentum back Toronto’s way.
Miles Bridges had a game-high 25 points for Charlotte. The Raptors had an answer for freshly-minted All-Star LaMelo Ball, though, as the standout sophomore had just 15 points on 5-for-19 shooting in 44 minutes.
Toronto opened the game on a 7-2 run, capped by an OG three, and went on to shoot a ridiculous 66.7% from the field in the first quarter. There were hiccups on both sides in the frame, though. Scottie Barnes got into early foul trouble, picking up two and necessitating Precious Achiuwa’s entry just a couple minutes in. Charlotte’s was worse, as Gordon Hayward left the game with a left ankle sprain and didn’t return — a big loss for a team that also was without Hayward in their Jan. 25 matchup with the Raps.
Up 14 after one, the Raptors kept that lead mostly where it was through the second quarter. Siakam, as he’s done most of this season, put up big numbers in the first half before tapering off. At the break, he had 14 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Charlotte had some life in the third. Going on a 9-0 spurt early, they eventually clawed their way into a five-point deficit thanks to some ugly Toronto offense and a few resulting fast break buckets — the m.o. of this springy, young Hornets team.
The Raptors quickly put a stop to it, though. Three triples out of a timeout extended their lead back to 12, and while the Hornets would threaten again, the Raptors kept them at bay late in the third and throughout the fourth — even avoiding a dreaded fake comeback and earning 64 seconds of garbage time.
Next for the Raptors, a juicy opportunity to keep their win streak going as they visit the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.