Is this really the last week of the NBA season?
People. Life comes to you fast. Looks like the biggest question that came out of the pre-season yesterday was how big a breakout year of OG Anunoby is going to be and whether Pascal Siakam is going any year at all.
And how about that kid Scottie Burns, will he be able to contribute aggressively?
The answers that the Raptors hosted the Atlanta Hawks for that regular season 6 game are: not too much; Wow, is he ever and yes, Burns is a keeper.
It’s mostly positive. Siakam in particular has proved that the problems that hindered his career progress after the outbreak began. He is the most valuable player in the Raptors, worthy of his contract and an all-NBA spot and still seems to have some ups and downs as he has become increasingly adept at toggling between go-to scorers and over-size point guards as the situation demands.
And burns? The 20-year-old has had a revelation. The Raptors polished him 4 drafts much more than one might expectM Outside of the state of Florida as a whole, he will get my vote for the best rookie of the year and can win prizes on the promise of being a very tight race.
Worryingly, the guy who wasn’t playing was – again – as the Raptors somehow managed a crucial 118-108 win, even after shooting from deep 9 to 35.
With three games to go, the win improved the Raptors to 46-33. With Cleveland losing to Orlando, Toronto advanced 3.5 games from seventh place and won the play-off spot for the eighth time in nine years, rebounding after a tour of the draft lottery in Tampa last season.
Siakam again lifted most of the heavyweights as he finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. The other five raptors in double figures were Rookie Burns who finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds and Chris Boucher got 18 points off the bench.
Regardless of the outcome it was an unfortunate attacking night for Fred Vanvalit who seemed to be getting round in form after battling knee problems. As the game ticked, the Raptors missed 11 straight shots during a critical expansion in the fourth quarter. Vanvalet missed five beautiful looks, three to four of them.
But Vanvolit’s biggest strength is his refusal to let his confidence falter, even on a night when he fired only 4 -21 from the floor and 2 -12 from deep.
The Raptors cope with the drought with their defense and then get the lead back with the put-back of Burns at 1:53 left.
Siakam follows a spectacular defensive sequence when he goes vertically to the rim to deny Hawke’s Dandre Hunter and then scrambles to the corner for Bogdan Bogdanovich’s otherwise three open contests. Siakam then saw Vanvolit in the perimeter once more and Vanvilit did not hesitate, taking it home to take Toronto to number five for a 1:04 game. With 18.8 seconds left, a pair of free throws from Burns sealed it.
Yet, even in the case of Victory, Anunobi’s absence is felt for obvious reasons: the things he thinks are important or otherwise don’t do well – he’s very good at defending and shooting.
“He has brought us a two-way player who can really shoot. He can score and guard multiple positions, “said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.
“When we get into the courage of some games and we really have to go into some of our defense equipment, he’s involved. He is either guarding the ball-handler or guarding the person we think is going to be screened so that he can guard the ball-handler, or vice versa. He’s going to be inside or out and he can handle any one, and that’s really good. You will definitely miss it, as well, in times of crisis. But also, as you know, he provided us with instant punches from the 3-point line when he returned. The teams play with us with lots of loaded paint and tight paint and things like that and he pays them for it. “
But again Anunobi got out and again the Raptors had to do. Anunobi missed his second consecutive game on the injured thigh in the late Raptors’ win against the Orlando Magic on Friday. Earlier this year, he missed 13 games, including a stranded hip flexor, two games of health-and-safety protocol, and 15 games, including a fractured ring finger on his shooting hand.
It is probably inappropriate to advise Anunobi on the tendency to injury – most of his illnesses were fluke and one-off, but many of them have been. He missed 97 matches and has counted more than five seasons. He improved a lot on Tuesday, the nurse said, so hopefully he will be able to play while hosting the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.
In the meantime, the Raptors need to figure out how to work, or how they wouldn’t if Anunoby isn’t somehow right for the playoffs.
He said it was important. The games that Toronto missed this season are 14-18 in Tampa after going 9-20 last season. Good players make the difference, and the Raptors don’t have much of a large organization that can comfortably score 17 points in a game, shoot close to three to 40 percent, and reliably defend five positions.
It was picked by Siakam Slack early on, as he has often done this season, one of the best of his career and one of the best of any raptor.
Things went awry in the first quarter as the Raptors shot 0-8 from three – Anunoby, who shot 55.6 from three in his first five games after recovering from a finger injury, was certainly missed.
But Siakam was able to pull things off in the second quarter as he led a Raptors increase as part of Toronto’s super-charged Second Unit, which included Boucher, Valuable Achiwa, Gary Trent Jr., Dalano Banton and later Thad Young.
He was the best of the change at the time because he took long enough breaks on a pick-and-roll to allow Achua to crash lanes for a dive or quietly drag on mid-range jumpers while the Hawks packed paint against another Raptor lineup. Perimeter shooting lights.
Young, meanwhile, landed four offensive rebounds and scored seven quick points in the rim while Achiwa turned one of his own rebounds into a bucket before launching as a dunk-of-the-year candidate – the Raptors Division – because he pumped a net three and rim. After a split-second in, with a few Hawks defenders with him. Siakam added 10 points in his 16 first halfs as Toronto led 56-52 in the half though was 1-1 out of 13.
Things improved enough in the second half that the Raptors were able to achieve a much-needed win, but a big win would be Anunoby back and healthy for the playoffs.