The Toronto Raptors don’t need any more confidence boosts, really.
They’ve locked down a playoff spot, avoiding the pesky (and stressful) play-in tournament. They’ve seen their go-to player turn into an unstoppable force, as Pascal Siakam continues to elevate his game since the All-Star break. They’ve settled into a playoff-ready rotation, with Thad Young, Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa all in iron clad roles off the bench.
Heck, they’ve got Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby getting some extra rest with their position in hand.
There’s very little to worry about, but that doesn’t mean a late season win over the Philadelphia 76ers isn’t as sweet as it should be. On Thursday, the Raptors shed an early 17-2 deficit, outscoring Philadelphia 117-97 the rest of the way to earn the win at Scotiabank Arena, 119-114.
On a night where there were other headlines, Pascal Siakam stands above the rest. With 37 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, Siakam had the fourth 30-point triple double in Raptors franchise history and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record with my second recap of the week, was in his bag throughout the game tonight.
The tweet going around is that Siakam is the master of ethical 30-point games, and tonight was the perfect example of that bizarre adjective. While only shooting 1-for-7 from three, Siakam was 13-for-21 from inside the arc, and showed the Sixers that they’ll be in a real pickle for any potential playoff games north of the border. The only real matchup for Siakam on Philadelphia’s roster is Matisse Thybulle, who, as was revealed this week, is unvaccinated and ineligible to play in Canada.
Without Thybulle, the Sixers had Tobias Harris and a motley crew of guards trying to guard Pascal and, after watching him pour in bank shots for 30 minutes, gave Joel Embiid the assignment down the stretch. The MVP candidate did his ready best — daring Siakam to shoot in the midst of a playoff workload of 37 minutes, scoring 30 — but Pascal beat him too, notably pushing a floater over Embiid’s outstretched arm with five minutes to go to stop a 9-0 Sixers run before scoring Toronto’s last four points to seal the win.
Siakam’s success alone should have Raptors fans salivating, especially when you consider the team’s alternative first round matchups — Boston, who have already shown (albeit in 2020) that they have the personnel to bother Pascal, and Milwaukee, who have possibly the best wing defender in the league (when he switches on) in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Half a series of Thybulle looks pretty sweet in comparison.
The Raptors weren’t only building confidence there, though. Tonight’s game featured an odd amount of Precious Achiuwa and James Harden going after each other. Surprisingly, it was Precious winning the matchup, as he went 7-for-11 from the field — including a jaw-dropping pull-up transition three — for 20 points.
And this is why you have to let Precious Achiuwa be Precious Achiuwa sometimes I guess. pic.twitter.com/UYmcLS6lF8— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) April 8, 2022
On the other end, Harden continued to call for switches that put Precious on him in one-on-one situations. Admittedly, he did get by a handful of times — but the vast majority resulted in hurried, unsuccessful trips. The Sixers have to have some level of concern over Harden, especially after his bland performance tonight — 13 points, 15 assists, 3-for-12 shooting — as he was relegated to a skip pass maestro in a matchup where he needed to score in volume, especially when leading lineups with Embiid on the bench.
Red hot shooting nights from Tyrese Maxey (4-for-5 from three) and Danny Green (6-for-7) covered up an eye-opening Harden performance, one where the Raptors got plenty of film heading into a potential playoff matchup.
It wasn’t all rosy for Toronto, though, as they did get off to a slow start. Right after getting his championship ring, Danny Green set off a 17-0 Sixers run with an early three-pointer that spanned a Nick Nurse timeout. With Philly red hot from outside, the Raptors started to settle the tempo by establishing Siakam — making the early realization that nobody would be able to guard him. A big frame of 11 points, six rebounds and two assists from Pascal helped cut the Sixers lead to single-digits before the end of the quarter, before threes from Chris Boucher and Gary Trent Jr. gave Toronto the lead back early in the second.
Let’s pause and talk about Trent Jr. here. In possibly the most invisible 30-point game in Raptors history, his support was crucial to Toronto’s win — and will undoubtedly be lost to a flashy Siakam game where the Raptors star only scored seven more points. It feels like Gary has more of these games than anyone on the roster, where he pours in points in various lineups — starters and bench — to prop up Toronto when other players are sitting out. He deserves a paragraph for his performance tonight, and this is that paragraph.
A long stretch of Embiid on the bench in the second quarter helped the Raptors open up a 9-1 run, but his return stabilized the visitors in a big way. With a jumper and a block on Siakam at the buzzer, the Sixers centre helped his team enter halftime with a 60-56 lead.
The third was played mostly even, as Embiid played nearly the entire frame and the teams traded blows — including a handful of sloppy turnovers.
At the start of the fourth, it was Scottie Barnes leading the offense with Siakam on the bench — hitting a three and a jump shot in quick succession to extend Toronto’s lead. Doc Rivers would bring Embiid back at the 8:57 mark, ensuring a long stretch for his star player, but when Siakam returned shortly after, it was Toronto’s lead man stealing the show. Getting into the paint at every opportunity, Pascal put the game away on an and-one put back with 32 seconds left, where he grabbed his tenth rebound and sealed the triple double performance.
Next up, the Raptors finish a home back-to-back against the Houston Rockets tomorrow night.