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10 things: Pascal Siakam dominates in bounce-back win vs. Kings

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 108-89 win over the Sacramento Kings.

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One — The Raptors easily dismantled the Kings to snap their three-game losing skid. The Raptors were sharp and composed from start to finish, both the starters and the reserves were compact defensively, and it was an entirely stress-free viewing experience which saw the Raptors lead by 30 points in the second half. To be fair, the Kings looked like the worst team in the league at times with how discombobulated they were, and they were booed off the floor by the few faithful fans that still remain, but that matters little to the Raptors who have been not that far above Sacramento’s level of late in their losing skid. Hopefully, this gives everyone some confidence ahead of a very difficult game against Golden State.

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Two — Pascal Siakam delivered an emphatic response following his worst game of the year. Siakam torched the Kings from start to finish with the most efficient outing of his career, scoring 32 points on 10-for-12 shooting and 9-for-10 on free throws. Siakam is so difficult to stop when he’s making his jumpers, and he was connecting on everything. His first shot of the game was a confident transition three off a pitch back from Fred VanVleet, and that set the tone for the rest of the game. Siakam would shake his man down on the perimeter until he got to the elbow, and from there he was clinical, hitting 5-for-6 in the midrange including a gorgeous spin move after a quick crossover before fading away into a smooth release. And when Siakam did get downhill, he almost always got the call in the paint as Sacramento’s defence was always late.

Three — Scoring will come and go but Siakam knows he needs to set the tone every night. In an honest moment in the post-game press conference, Siakam spoke about the need to be more engaged defensively which had been the area of the game where he lagged the most since his return. “Some nights I’ll score whatever and it’ll be tough but I have to keep my consistency on defence … and I think that’s something that I have to get better at and I have to bring that intensity every single night so everyone can follow,” he said of his performance. Siakam was much more engaged in this performance, showing a level of physicality and toughness that earned him three stitches across his temple as a reward for standing tall in the paint and blocking Harrison Barnes’ shot.

Four — The Raptors dominated on defence for the first time in weeks. Having a fully healthy frontcourt helped in that regard, but it was just a more compact effort as a whole. The Raptors ditched the hyperaggressive trapping scheme that was picked apart in Utah, prioritized the paint, and that was the biggest key to their win. It helps that the Kings have no spacing, and that they made only six threes in the first three quarters, but the Raptors were able to get out to challenge perimeter shots much more efficiently since the Kings were forced to make difficult kickout passes after finding zero space in the paint. The Kings shot 22-for-45 in the paint as compared to the Jazz who were 23-for-30 in the paint against the Raptors the night prior. Defending the paint without a traditional center does make it difficult for the Raptors, but they have enough length elsewhere to make things difficult. The key is to converge in the paint, rather than sending extra bodies to the three-point line.

Five — Khem Birch led the charge on the defensive end, as in he literally took the Raptors’ second charge of the season. Birch was everywhere in this game, creating deflections, blocking shots, tipping out rebounds, and generally doing everything in his power to will the Raptors to victory. Out of everyone on the roster, Birch is the most disciplined in sticking to his role, and he focuses solely on how he can unselfishly help his teammates. His four steals and two blocks set the tone on defence, and even late in the fourth quarter when the win was assured and others had relaxed, Birch was still diving on the floor for loose balls despite having recently missed time due to knee swelling. Birch isn’t spoken of as a leader for this team, but he is very much the reliable veteran that many of the young Raptors should look to emulate.

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Six — The second unit put in its best shift of the season. The Raptors first took a firm hold of the game in the second quarter through an all-bench lineup that held the Kings to only five points in a five minute span which opened up a double-digit advantage for Toronto. Initially, it was Scottie Barnes who was the one starters in the mix, but Nick Nurse quickly swapped him for Gary Trent Jr. to improve the shooting for that group and it was smart move given the lack of scoring between Svi Mykailiuk, Dalano Banton, Chris Boucher, and Precious Achiuwa. Trent Jr. poured in seven of his 23 points on the night with that group, while also playing his tenacious brand of ball-hawking defence on the opposing team’s point guard. But the real key to the second unit’s success was the length and size of the group, as Boucher and Achiuwa gave the Kings no space to operate in the middle, especially with the 6-foot-9 frame of Dalano Banton ready and waiting with the help defence. Nurse should look to prioritize defence with the second units moving forward, while having one shot-maker with the group to give them one clear cut option on offence.

Seven — Prioritizing size in the second unit leaves Malachi Flynn out of the mix. Flynn is officially credited with three minutes played, but the entirety of that came in garbage time at the end. The only exception was a five-second shift at the end of the first half where Flynn was subbed in purely as a decoy away from the play. This comes on the heels of a rare 22-minute stint for Flynn in Utah, which was a huge missed opportunity in retrospect. Where his next chance comes from is uncertain, especially since he is the one player who clearly doesn’t suit the Raptors’ identity as a long and rangy defensive outfit. Nurse does seem to trust Flynn against small and quick point guards though, so perhaps he gets a short stint against the Warriors.

Eight — It was an off night for Scottie Barnes who shot 1-for-8 from the field. Barnes went 0-for-3 at the rim, which is an area in which he had been dominant thus far in his rookie campaign, but the process was good as it was just a case of bad luck with close shots spilling out but he made the right moves in the first place to get himself those chances. What was encouraging was Barnes’ playmaking which remained strong thanks to his sharp instincts. Three of his assists came from him pushing the pace in transition, where he was able to press the advantage to create odd numbered rushes for his teammates to capitalize. He also picked out a gorgeous dime off a drive in the fourth quarter, throwing a dart into the paint for Achiuwa to finish down low.

Nine — Achiuwa returned to the lineup after three games off and it was clear just how much his physicality was missing. Achiuwa playing center freed up Boucher to sweep in to clean up the glass, and the two players combined well on defence to force missed shots on the inside. Achiuwa was even decent in his finishing, although one habit he needs to avoid is getting pinned too deep under the basket. Achiuwa is strong and athletic, but he is still only 6-foot-8 and it’s hard to surface above the trees because he’s got a long way to go before getting to the basket. He should look to position himself at the edges of the paint and try to face the rim as much as possible to give himself easier looks.

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Ten — Nurse’s instructions came through loud and clear on the broadcast last night. This was not the first time it’s happened where the mixing of the game picked up Nurse’s calls, and each time it is enjoyable. One common refrain from Nurse was him directing Barnes “to the rim!” each time he received the ball, which confirms what Nurse had been saying about Barnes in most press conferences.



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