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Raptors defense locks in, seals 117-112 victory over Suns

In another entertaining Suns-Raptors game, Gary Trent Jr. exploded for 40 points, and Scottie Barnes stole every pass thrown near him

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

Gary Trent Jr. was on fire from downtown tonight, but in the end, it was a critical defensive rebound and ice-in-his-veins free throw shooting that helped seal the Toronto Raptors’ 117-112 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

The last time the Raptors and Suns faced off, the two teams from opposite coasts gave us one of the most entertaining games of the year. Tonight was almost as fun — although it didn’t see the Raptor getting in a feud with Devin Booker, it did give us great performances from Trent, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes.

Trent’s unofficial nickname since the All-Star break had been “the slumping Gary Trent,” but he shook that off tonight in a big way, breaking out for 40 points and eight made three-pointers. The Raptors needed every bucket to outscore the Suns, the league’s best team, but the team complemented Trent’s outburst with some clutch defensive plays.

Trailing 107-105 — having given up a 14-point fourth quarter lead — the Raptors leaned on their aggressive schemes to make the difference.

First, they forced Cameron Payne into an off balance three, enabling a Trent runout that resulted in two free throws. Then, the Raptors signature trap forced a bad Payne pass that Scottie Barnes picked off; that turnover resulted in another Trent drive, that Khem Birch cleaned up, giving the Raptors a 109-107 lead.

The trap then led to a bad Devin Booker pass that (deja vu alert) Barnes picked off — and this one Barnes took himself for the coast-to-coast dunk.

The trap then led to (deja vu alert x2) a bad Booker pass that Siakam picked off and took coast to coast!

The Suns, naturally, weren’t about to go quietly. A Booker three and two made Payne free throws kept the game close, and after Mikal Bridges blocked a Siakam jumper, the Suns had the ball with a chance to take the lead.

A bad Booker shot ended up in Bridges’ hands, but his momentum carried him out of bounds, and in trying to save the ball, Bridges threw it right to Barnes. Trent hit two more free throws to give the raptors a three-point lead.

Trent then secured the defensive rebound on another Booker miss, and hit two more free throws to seal it.

Siakam didn’t have a great shooting night (10-for-24), but eh still scored 25 — and perhaps more important, notched 10 assists against two turnovers. Scottie Barnes chipped in with 15 points and six boards, and ended up with five steals.

Payne led the Suns with 24, and Booker added 22 along with seven assists.

The beginning of this one wasn’t nearly as exciting as the end, as the two teams started the game 0-for-8 from downtown. The Raptors shot just 35% through the first 18 minutes, but used an 8-0 second chance points advantage to build a 30-24 lead after one quarter.

The second quarter was where Trent really got his groove back. He missed his first three shots of the game, quite badly in fact, but in the second, everything seemed to reset for him. He hit five straight shots at one point, including three three-pointers, helping Toronto maintain that six point lead.

Credit needs to go to Pascal Siakam for the stretch, too; Siakam’s patience when facing double-teams and hedges has been extraordinary this year. On the second of Trent’s threes, Siakam started the possession with the ball at the top of the circle. Trent screened, twice, but the Suns fought through each, sending the second defender out to Siakam as Trent sprinted to the left wing. Siakam looked the second defender off, but the Suns hedged again.

Siakam kept his dribble alive the whole time, and as he backed in from the right wing, the second defender finally committed — and Siakam promptly found Trent for the triple.

All told, Trent finished the first half with 18 points, notching four of his six three-point attempts. Siakam, for his part, missed seven of his 10 field goals — but made up for it with six assists.

The Raptors gave us a couple of an unusual first half stats too, for them. For one, the bench actually scored — well, not a lot, but more than the Suns’ bench, winning the bench scoring battle 12-2. For another, the Raptors — usually a subpar team on the defensive glass — didn’t let the Suns grab a single offensive rebound! Toronto’s 13-0 advantage in second chance points was a huge reason why they were up four at the half.

This seems as good a time as any to give a shoutout to former Raptor Bismack Biyombo, who’s going to donate his entire salary from this season to build a hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Biz only played one season with the Raptors, but with his fantastic play in the 2016 playoffs, I’m comfortable calling him one of Our Guys. It’s a wonderful gesture, and Raptors fans are proud of you, Bismack!

Back to the game, Trent started the second half same way he did the first — like a house on fire. He hit his first three shots, two of them three-pointers, as the Raptors withstood an early surge from the Suns to maintain a four-point lead

Scottie Barnes made his presence known on both ends of the floor once again — and in transition too, tossing his usual array of extraneous and highly entertaining no-look passes. His activity on the defensive end sparked two early third-quarter fast breaks for Toronto, one of which led to a Trent three.

The Raptors used a 7-0 run — one that included two Phoenix technicals, one on Jae Crowder and one on Payne — to build their largest lead, 78-71, with three minutes to go in the third. Then, things go testy.

After Devin Booked lost the ball in the lane, Precious Achiuwa took it the other way, racing out for a breakaway — and Devin Booker and Torrey Craig combined to clobber Precious as he gathered the ball. It looked worse than it was full speed; on the replay, it looked to me like Craig’s hard foul slowed Achiuwa down enough for Booker, who was sprinting back on the play, to collide with him.

Booker was assessed a flagrant-1, and Achiuwa — who was prone on the floor for a good minute — managed to knock down both. VanVleet then drained a three on the ensuing possession, making it a five-point play, and giving the Raptors an 83-71 lead.

The final 90 seconds of the third were a flurry. The Raptors pushed the lead to 16 after another Trent three and a beautiful Siakam spin and bucket in the lane. Suns closed the quarter with a Booker three and two Aaron Holiday free throws, and — after a Precious three — another Holiday three. But Pascal Siakam responded with a three of his own off the dribble, giving the Raptors a 96-82 lead heading into the fourth.

It was a 40-point third. Siakam and Trent combined for 25 in the frame, on 9-of-12 shooting.

The Raptors bench couldn’t carry the momentum to start the fourth though. The Suns started big, with Javale McGee and Biyombo, and the Raptors — with a lineup of Dalano Banton, Fred VanVleet, Precious Achiuwa Thad Young and Scottie Barnes — couldn’t get anything going. They missed their first four shots, committed an offensive foul, and committed a shot clock violation, as the Suns scored eight straight to close the lead to 96-90.

Even when Siakam and Trent returned, things didn’t go the Raptors’ way — including the whistle. Trent committed and offensive foul shooting a three — they either got him with the leg kick, or the follow through, but either way, it looked questionable to me. Then Siakam was hit with a loose ball foul, as the Suns closed the lead to four.

Then the whistle flipped! Biyombo committed two straight fouls (Our Guy, remember), and then Booker fouled Barnes on a drive.

While I was certainly happy to see the calls even out, the constant whistles in the fourth did rob an otherwise very enjoyable game of its momentum.

And guess what? Then it was the Biyombo show! Biz came up with a massive block on a Barnes layup attempt after a sweet Thad Young dish, and that led to a Mikal Bridges bucket the other way. And two plays later, Biz followed a Booker miss to tie the score at 102.

On the ensuing Raptors possession, Trent was once again called for an foul on his follow through — and this one was upgraded to a flagrant-1. This one seems even stranger than the first one, as Payne was flying at Trent, not giving him any room to come down.

Payne hit one of two, setting up the sensational finish described above.

Achiuwa led all bench scorers with 11 points. Fred VanVleet had a bit of a tough one, offensively — perhaps offset by his excellent defensive effort on Booker — but at least he only played 38 minutes!

The Raptors will need every ounce of rest they can get, as they now head to Denver to play the Nuggets tomorrow night.