Behind a stellar performance from Toronto's one-two punch of Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors came away with a 122-107 win against a shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves squad on Saturday night.
VanVleet scored a game-high 28 points and seven assists, while Siakam dropped 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
It hasn’t been often that the two have had amazing games in unison during the 2022-23 campaign. Saturday’s matchup marked the 13th time in their 52 games together that they both eclipsed 20 points, while the 55 combined points were tied for the fifth-most they’ve scored together this season.
“I think we're both at the stage where we're gonna get the other team's best look and get the most attention,” said VanVleet post-game, noting how they both had to weather the Timberwolves’ physicality and find mismatches.
“We've got to keep working on those things, and again, just trying to make the right reads for this team. And I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
VanVleet was able to get the night going for the Raptors, scoring 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first quarter.
— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) March 18, 2023
Despite the hot start, the Raptors’ defence wasn’t able to hold off the Timberwolves, who were on the second night of a back-to-back and without their all-star in Anthony Edwards, after he was sidelined just before tip-off with an ankle injury.
Siakam was ultimately the difference maker for the Raptors, as he was able to create some separation with a run in a game that head coach Nick Nurse called “low energy.”
The turning point seemed to come after a poster dunk by Naz Reid at the 3:39 mark in the third quarter. The backup centre ultimately led the way for Timberwolves with 22 points off the bench on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with a nasty slam.
say it with us:
NAZ REID. pic.twitter.com/fdSR3E1VPX
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 19, 2023
Siakam responded by scoring nine points to end the third quarter, and then another four points in the fourth, helping the Raptors ultimately create a double-digit lead that would balloon to as much as 19.
Nurse highlighted the “variety in what Siakam's doing,” through his ability to get to the basket, use his patented spin moves, create opportunities with his fadeaway, crash the offensive glass and also take advantage of transition opportunities.
“That, to me, is his recipe for having a good night,” Nurse said.
To go along with the Raptors’ one-two punch, for the second game in a row, all five of Toronto's starters were able to score in double digits,
The team's success was highlighted by a flurry of dunks from O.G. Anunoby and Scottie Barnes.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 19, 2023
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 19, 2023
Gary Trent Jr. also provided a spark off the bench, as the sixth man chipped in with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while he was instrumental on defence with five steals.
Another standout in the second unit was Chris Boucher.
After scoring 12 points in the first quarter on 6-of-6 shooting, Jakob Poeltl found himself in foul trouble. However, the Raptors were able to lean on the 6-foot-9 Boucher, who put up a solid fight against the 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert.
“It was a big battle. It showed me a side of my game that I have,” said Boucher.
Saturday marked the third straight win for the Raptors in this home stretch at Scotiabank Arena after recently beating the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder. It improved them to 35-36, good enough to hold the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference, while it marked the fourth time this season they’ve been able to put together a three-game streak.
“I think we needed this so we can find some joy among the team,” said Boucher. “It helps us find out what we can do.”
As the Raptors finish their season, the goal is to be among the top six teams in the East. But with 11 games left, and with the Raptors sitting five games behind that seeding, that seems like a monumental task. Instead, their eyes seem set on keeping their position for a shot in the play-in tournament.
If the Raptors secure the seventh or eighth seed, they’d just need to win one game in the play-in to enter the playoffs and start a seven-game series. As the ninth or 10th seed, they’d need to win two games — but if they were to lose their first game in that scenario, they’d be knocked out in do-or-die fashion.
They’ll look to continue their momentum on Sunday night on the road, as they take on the best team in the East in the Milwaukee Bucks on the second night of a back-to-back.
“We've got our work cut out for us, but I like where we've been at,” said VanVleet. “We've been pretty focused, you know, the last couple of weeks and we need to keep that up.”