Now, that’s the Pascal Siakam that we know.
Pascal Siakam broke out of his slump and rediscovered his All-Star form, taking over the game to overcome an early deficit and, later in the game, to play keep-away against the Spurs, as Toronto maintained good vibes with their third straight win heading into the trade deadline.
Siakam made eight straight shots in the first half, and it took coach Greg Popovich more than a quarter to send multiple bodies to make him miss. Siakam ended up with an All-Star calibre performance of 37 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists.
It may not look like it on the boxscore, but Scottie Barnes was more engaged throughout the game, and his 10 points, nine boards, and four dimes underrate his performance tonight. However, Chris Boucher was the life of the party this evening. The chaotic, erratic, and up-and-down pace played through his strengths, and his fingerprints were all over the place. He finished the night with 18 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks off the bench.
Keldon Johnson paced the Spurs with 22 points and seven boards, while old friend and a Raptors player-of-interest Jakob Poeltl had a pedestrian 12 points and seven boards. Suppose the fanbase is watching Poeltl for the first time in a while. In that case, the outrage for giving up assets for him is justifiable. He barely factored in the game defensively and had very little offense on the offensive end. Heck, Barnes took him to the post a couple of times with ease.
It was a little shaky start for Toronto, as they were sloppy with the ball and could not get in front of Keldon Johnson. The good news? Scottie Barnes looked more engaged to start the game, and Pascal Siakam’s got more pep in his step. The Raptors overcame an early deficit, and Siakam’s perfect first quarter fueled a 14-0 run to take a 27-17 lead. Fred VanVleet’s acrobatic layups capped off an excellent finish to the quarter, giving the Raptors a 34-24 lead after the first period.
Unfortunately, the Raptors’ transition lineup could not match the effort in the first quarter, as the offense looked stagnant and half a step slower defensively. The Spurs’ bench gave the Raptors the fits. Raptors’ old friend Stanley Johnson was an immovable object in the post, while the Raptors’ defense made Keita Bates-Diop look like an All-Star as the Spurs took a 47-45 lead. Spurs started to show more bodies whenever Siakam touched the ball in the second period, so Barnes went to work, easily posting up Jakob Poeltl in back-to-back possessions. The Raptors managed to take the Spurs’ momentum away but only managed to keep a slim margin at the half, with a 57-54 lead.
The Raptors’ starters were all about business to start the second half, methodically going off on a 13-6 run at the heels of Siakam’s stellar consecutive buckets, forcing coach Popovich to call for time. Was that timeout to inform the guys about the tank job? Who knows. At the end of the way, we know that the Spurs could not stop the Raptors from breaking this game wide open, with Trent Jr., Barnes, and Siakam taking turns to build an 18-point lead late in the third period.
The game switched to a chaotic pace late in the third, but not the Agent of Chaos that the Raptors wanted, as both teams combined for seven points over the last three minutes of the quarter. The Spurs never really threatened the Raptors from here on, but the hosts didn’t do enough to put them away and allow the bench to close out. Coach Nurse really had to play Siakam the entire fourth period against these Spurs so that they could keep them away at arm’s length.
Tonight’s game is another exhibit A, showing that this team doesn’t have enough past their core players. Coach Nurse had to ride Pascal Siakam for 40 minutes, Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes for 37 and 39 minutes, respectively, to get a professional win against the Spurs. Perhaps, because the team had two days’ worth of rest, Nurse felt compelled to play Siakam the entire fourth quarter to fend off the Spurs.
Is this the last time we’ll see this core group together? What can we interpret from the players’ pre-postgame outfits? Despite the energetic pace of the game, there is a sombre mood around the Raptors tonight. On a side note, the Raptors’ win, coupled with the Indiana Pacers’ loss, puts the Raptors back in the play-in position. Would that factor in the decision of the front office? Or is this a “play-in for what?!” ending coming up soon?
Up Next: The Raptors remain the centre of the trade deadline tomorrow, Thursday, February 9, 2023, at 3:00 PM EST. From there, we’ll figure out who we’ll have on the roster against the Utah Jazz on Friday.