Behind a masterful performance from Pascal Siakam, the Toronto Raptors were able to overcome a 23-point deficit to secure a 111-107 win over the Washington Wizards at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night.
It marks the fourth largest comeback in Raptors franchise history and came in thrilling fashion.
The Wizards held a 16-point lead with 7:25 to go, but instead watched the Raptors finish on a 21-1 run to steal a victory as Washington didn't score a field goal for the remainder of the game.
Siakam put the Raptors on his back, scoring 29 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 39 (on 15-of-24) to go with 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. The two-time All-Star forward also logged a plus-18, while no other Raptors starter was above plus-two.
“When you're trying to come back, you just have to be patient with it,” said Siakam, noting that it can feel like you’re getting “stabbed” every time something bad happens amid your efforts, as you hear the crowd’s disappointment over more “mistakes.”
“Continue to work the game and I think when you have a good attitude, the basketball gods kind of reward you.”
Siakam says the team didn’t have “enough energy” as they found themselves down 23 points with about nine minutes to go in the third. Instead of giving up, Siakam responded by taking over and hunting for mismatches, as he went on to score 22 points in the frame on 8-of-11 shooting, marking the second-most points he’s had in a quarter in his career, according to Basketball Reference.
It helped the Raptors finish the third on a 14-3 run, to cut the lead to 10.
To start the fourth, with Siakam resting on the bench, it seemed momentum was shifting back to the Wizards. That stopped the moment the forward checked back in, starting the team's 21-1 run, which included a crushing 16-0 swing in the final 5:47 of regulation.
To cap things off — after not holding a lead since the first quarter — Siakam got the Raptors back on top with about 8 seconds to go with a midrange jumper he works on “everyday.” It's a lead they'd carry to the final buzzer.
Post-game, Chris Boucher said Siakam’s performance and leadership reminded him of Kyle Lowry back in 2019, when the Raptors clawed back from a 30-point deficit against the Dallas Mavericks, their largest in franchise history.
“He never looked down. He always seemed like we could win the game … It shows how competitive he is, and how much he cares about this team.”
Boucher was also another standout in the Raptors’ comeback, as both Siakam and head coach Darko Rajakovic credited how he's stayed ready despite sporadic playing time this season.
“Chris was unbelievable,” said Siakam, as his teammate finished with a plus-14 off the bench to go with two clutch blocks in the Raptors’ final run, along with four timely points that included a vicious slam.
It was enough to crown Boucher with the Raptors’ celebratory, game-winning chain.
“Yeah, I had my John Cena moment you know," he said.
For the Raptors, it marks the second time this season they clawed their way back from a 20-point deficit, doing so against the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 5.
“We definitely told ourselves at half like, you know, we did it before we could still do it again,” said Boucher, as the Raptors end up beating a Wizards team that now holds a 2-8 record, the second worst in the East.
For Rajakovic, he says the Raptors' “defence in the second half really gave us a chance.” One thing he particularly emphasized, just like he did pre-game, was their rim protection, as the Wizards often strolled to the rim to start — opening the matchup with two dunks as part of their 10-of-11 shooting.
It helped players like Kyle Kuzma start hot, as the Wizard scored 19 of his team-high 34 points in the first half. As a team, Washington's ability to attack the paint also created open looks from distance, shooting 46% from downtown.
“We fixed it at halftime,” said Rajakovic on their rim-protection. “I told the players, ‘I don't expect you to go out there and win the game. But I expect you to go out there and play with joy and play with fun and compete at a much higher level.'”
The Raptors' defence ultimately spurred their offence, as they started to get quality opportunities to attack the rim. With Siakam looking for mismatches, it created chances for players like Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa to roll to the basket, says Rajakovic. It helped make up for the fact the Raptors shot 4-of-21 from 3-point distance (19%), as they went against a team with a top-five worst defence in the league.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 14, 2023
Rajakovic says he believes the Raptors’ frustrations on offence contributed to their defensive effort. To start the game, Washington was “inviting us to shoot midrange shots,” as they were “sneaking off of us,” calling it a form of “bait.” The head coach says it’s not about making or missing shots, but more so about continuing to attack the rim for high-percentage looks.
For their matchup Monday, the Raptors were also without Gary Trent Jr. and O.G. Anunoby, who cut his finger on a shooting hand doing "household chores." When asked about the team’s "character" to make a comeback given the injuries to key players, Rajakovic was quick to not dismiss their first-half effort, saying they need to learn to bring energy from the start instead of having to face a 19-point deficit at halftime.
Siakam had similar thoughts:
“I think we're resilient. I think we have guys like we always say that have a chip on his shoulder and, and I think for us, it's just not being complacent. Like we can’t come into the game just expecting that [things are] going to happen for us and thinking that it's gonna be easy or thinking that everything's going to go our way. That's not how life works.”
Siakam says his team has performed well in “spurts,” but now the challenge is to do that over a “longer period of time.”
The Raptors will look to do just that moving forward. With a 5-5 record, they'll now welcome back the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday as part of their four-game home stretch at Scotiabank Arena.