Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 118-101 win over the Phoenix Suns.
One — Routine: Were there moments of rust? Of course. That is to be expected following a nine-day break. But for the most part, this was business as usual for the defending champions. Credit to the Suns for lingering around, but all it took was one hard push from the Raptors to pull away in the fourth. Admittedly, this game should have been a blowout if the Raptors were in form, but a 17-point win is nothing to scoff at.
Two — Dominant: A rejuvenated Pascal Siakam is bad news for the rest of the NBA. Siakam was everywhere on both ends, tallied 37 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and played one of his best games of the season. Siakam established early on that the Suns could not guard him without sending a double team, and his confidence grew from there. He overwhelmed defenders with his post-ups, but more encouraging still was the return of his face-up game where Siakam produced a stepback three among other highlight sequences. His motor was also high on defense, where he opened the game by blocking a three, and was consistently a hinderance with his help at the rim. Part of the transition to being a No. 1 option is the endurance that it takes to deliver night after night. Siakam was noticeably sluggish (by his standards, at least) heading into the All-Star break, and hopefully he can maintain this level moving forward.
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Three — Fade: The only knock on Siakam’s game is that it comes in spurts. Siakam was on fire in the first half, but he faded into the background in the third quarter. Part of that is on his teammates in terms of not always prioritizing Siakam, but whatever it is, that consistency needs to be there. It took Siakam ripping down a rebound and calling his own number for him to reassert himself in the fourth quarter. Against most teams, Siakam is a walking mismatch, and the offense should flow through him consistently.
Four — Anticipation: Neutralizing Devin Booker in the pick-and-roll is the key to beating the Suns, and the Raptors coaching staff prepared an excellent game plan. Booker saw double teams every trip down, and the Raptors knew his habit of picking out cross-court passes. Toronto’s wing defenders were a step ahead in their rotations, which produced four blocked threes and a handful of turnovers where a Suns player moved their pivot foot or stepped out of bounds trying to attack the closeout. Booker still got his numbers with 21 points and eight assists, but the majority of those came in transition or through the occasional defensive breakdown. One of the strengths of Toronto’s defense is that it has an uncanny ability to force opponents away from their No. 1 options, and that is a credit to the coaching staff for having the player well prepared.
Five — Disjointed: This was a rare off-night for Kyle Lowry, who was uncharacteristically sloppy in his execution. His scoring comes and goes, which is normal for a 33-year-old point guard, but this is one of the few times all season where Lowry has been out of control. Lowry riding officials is nothing new, but he got lost in trying to spite the whistle and the offense lost their rhythm because of it. Granted, the officiating was inconsistent and frustrating, but Lowry had done such a good job of staying focused this season that it was noticeable when he slipped into old habits.
Six — Neutralized: If anybody had a gripe with the officials, it should have been Serge Ibaka, who was slapped with four fouls in the third quarter. Ibaka urged Nurse to challenge on his fourth foul, but Nurse resisted. When Ibaka picked up his fifth a minute later on a routine battle for post position, Nurse hopped off the bench in anger to challenge the play, only to pick up a technical foul and for his challenge to be denied. When Ibaka did finally check back in, he immediately banked in a three, then came up with a handful of stops in the post against Deandre Ayton to clinch the win.
Seven — Quirky: There’s a strange role reversal going on in the second unit, where the smaller Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is playing as a center, while the taller Chris Boucher serves as the power forward. Defensively, Hollis-Jefferson offers more of a deterrence in the post since he can effectively front the pass and hold his position when the pass does arrive, whereas Boucher is prone to being run over. Offensively, Hollis-Jefferson’s total lack of outside shooting means Boucher is better off spacing the floor while Hollis-Jefferson bobs in and out of gaps to sneak in a layup. It’s a strange alignment, but it’s working. Hollis-Jefferson has held his own as a small ball center against two No. 1 overall picks in Ayton and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Eight — Worrisome: Hollis-Jefferson and Boucher will need to hold the fort down for the foreseeable future, as it seems that Marc Gasol still needs more time in his recovery from a persistent hamstring issue. Nurse initially hinted that Gasol’s return was imminent, but changed his tune a day later where he was simply hopeful for Gasol to get “8-to-12 games” before the start of the playoffs. If his injury continues to linger, it would make sense for the Raptors to grab an insurance big in the buyout market.
Nine — Thriving: OG Anunoby is the unsung hero from tonight’s game. Save for two layups that were left on the rim, this is exactly the impact that you want to see from Anunoby. Defensively, he was great at the point of attack on Booker, and the Suns exhausted every effort to switch that matchup, while Anunoby also collected four blocks, including at least two blocked jumpers. Offensively, Anunoby found the right moments to pop in for cuts, and stretched the floor in transition.
Ten — Opportunistic: Terence Davis continues to thrive playing off the ball with either one of Lowry or Fred VanVleet. Davis was great as a fast-break target for Lowry early on, and he carried the scoring load for the second unit by spotting up for threes. The consistency isn’t always there, but Davis is admirably filling Norman Powell’s role as a microwave scorer off the bench.
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