'Good players' shine in Raptors' win over Spurs as trade deadline looms large

The Raptors have won three straight for just the second time all season, but it's likely too late to flip the script heading into Thursday's trade deadline.

The Toronto Raptors came away with a 112-98 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, but that does little to move the needle in comparison to the larger storyline looming over the team’s head.

The Raptors, much like the rest of the NBA, have their attention toward Thursday's trade deadline. Their matchup against the Spurs ultimately marked the final time we'll see this iteration of the Raptors, as they’ve been at the centre of a plethora of trade rumours. Hours following the game, the team reportedly struck a deal to acquire the Spurs' Jakob Poeltl in exchange for Khem Birch and draft picks.

“We have a lot of good players on a team that's not winning. So that's pretty much it,” said Fred VanVleet, who notes that his name’s been in trade rumours more than ever.

“We haven't played up to our standard this year. And so we put ourselves in this position. There's going to be probably every team in the league calling."

Against a Spurs team that’s now lost 10 straight to hold a 14-41 record, these matchups are supposed to be routine work for a win. However, the Raptors’ season has been anything but predictable. With the win, the team moves to 10th in the East — good enough for the last play-in spot — but it doesn’t cover up the fact the Raptors still hold their worst record through 56 games since the 2012-13 season.

What will this Raptors team look like post-deadline? We'll find out soon. (Getty)
What will this Raptors team look like post-deadline? We'll find out soon. (Getty)

In a league that doesn’t celebrate mediocrity, conversations around the Raptors have been centred around if GM Bobby Webster and President Masai Ujiri should blow up this roster, or add to one that surely does have its bright spots.

On Wednesday, we were reminded of those bright spots, as all five starters finished with double-digits, to go along with an 18-point double-double from Chris Boucher off the bench. It secured their third-straight win — a feat they’ve only accomplished twice this season.

"I think that as a team, with all the [trade] talks, we're doing a really good job of staying positive and staying together," said Boucher post-game.

Leading the way for the Raptors was Pascal Siakam, who, along with 10 rebounds and seven assists, finished with 38 points, ending a 13-game streak where he hasn’t eclipsed the 30-point mark. The six-foot-nine forward got straight to work against the Spurs, opening the first frame with 18 points on 7-7 shooting from the field.

“He showed he was really aware of what was available and was willing to take them right and just good tempo and rhythm for him tonight,” said Nurse, noting Pascal’s ability to get in a “great rhythm on his mid range.”

Fred VanVleet also chipped in with eight points in the first quarter, as he and Siakam together outscored the Spurs in the frame 26-24.

It helped the Raptors go on a 14-0 run at one point to take an early lead.

The Spurs’ defensive intensity got them back in the game in the second quarter, but the Raptors were able to regain their footing in the third quarter, going up by as much as 18 points. It was notably behind the play of Gary Trent Jr. and VanVleet, whose names continue to swirl in trade rumours.

Both are eligible to become free agents this summer. To go along with O.G. Anunoby — who missed his sixth straight game with a left wrist sprain — the trio have caught the attention of multiple teams with championship aspirations.

"We got a lot of guys that a lot of teams want and we're not in a great situation," said VanVleet. "So the front office will do their thing and they'll do what's best for the organization and the rest of us, you know, we'll come to work tomorrow, get a good practice and see what happens."

In the opposite direction, the Raptors' decision to acquire Poeltl doesn't come as a big surprise following the rumours associated with both teams. The big man was initially drafted by Toronto as a lottery pick, but was traded in the deal that landed them Kawhi Leonard in 2018.

The Raptors’ season has been hindered by not having a reliable big man in their lineup. In Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday, the Raptors did a solid job neutralizing Poeltl. Siakam attacked him consistently to make him work on defence, while on offence the Spurs’ centre finished with 12 points on 4-11 shooting.

Before the matchup, Nurse had high praise for the seven-foot-one centre.

“We loved him when he was here. Just a really good, smart, tough, hard worker,” said Nurse, noting his ability to set solid screens, rebound and protect the rim.

It remains to be seen if there will be any new faces joining Poeltl in Toronto as the Raptors return to Scotiabank Arena on Friday, Feb. 10.

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