10 things: VanVleet, Siakam lead Raptors to furious comeback win

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·7-min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 128-113 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

One — Spirited: It was a tale of two halves. The first half was just soft. The Grizzlies feasted on the inside, consistently creating dribble penetration leading to breakdowns on the interior. Ex-Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas looked like the second coming of Wilt Chamberlain with 18 points and 14 rebounds by halftime. The Raptors were getting bullied, and they had no answers, and were mostly in the game due to their streaky three-point shooting. If they had any hopes of pulling out the win, they needed to respond defensively in the second half.

Two — Switch: The Raptors trailed 95-85 when Nick Nurse got himself ejected for the second time in his career. He was arguing for a missed travel call, and the officiating crew was simply fed up. It looked to be a clue that the Raptors were unravelling on the road, but instead it was the turning point. The Raptors outscored the Grizzlies 43-18 from that point onward, including a 23-5 push that flipped the game on its head. The Raptors found their top gear defensively, limiting Memphis to two measly free throws within a three-minute span to close the third quarter. By the time the Grizzlies starters returned, the momentum was firmly on the side of the Raptors, as everyone on the bench from third-stringers to assistant coaches were on their feet cheering as if it were an NCAA tournament game.

Three — Accidental: You would think it was a purposeful trick by Nurse to shake his team out of its slumber, but it was purely an accident. Nurse was under the impression that a technical foul called in the first half belonged to Pascal Siakam, but it was shifted to Nurse during halftime without his knowledge. Fortunately, Nurse’s assistants were more than up for the challenge with two key decisions. First, the Raptors stuck with Fred VanVleet to start the fourth quarter which carried their momentum forward, even though he would usually get his rest then come in to close. Second, the Raptors whistled for a quick timeout early in the fourth after the Grizzlies hit consecutive layups following a timeout of their own. That break settled the Raptors’ defense and they wouldn’t concede anything easy the rest of the way.

Four — Leader: VanVleet stepped up when the Raptors needed him most. He was relatively quiet early on, blanketed by the aggressive defense of Canadian forward Dillon Brooks, but he imposed himself with 12 points in the third quarter to assert control over the team. VanVleet amped up the pace of the game, and was personally looking for his shot in every way possible, whether it was through threes, midrange jumpers, or by getting to the foul line. VanVleet also punctuated the win with a driving layoff to Chris Boucher, who followed up the play with a two-handed dunk that was the highlight of the game. VanVleet’s insistence offensively paid off with 12 trips to the foul line, and he was also masterful in finding the open shooter once he sucked in the defense. It’s just yet another example of VanVleet stepping up as the Raptors’ most important player, and this is already the fourth time VanVleet has led the Raptors to victory in Lowry’s absence this season.

Five — Unfortunate: Lowry started off strong, too, hitting two runners in the lane in his first shift. However, his night ended quickly due to a bout of back spasms, which has infrequently but recurrently affected Lowry in the past. Nurse said post game that Lowry couldn’t pinpoint a specific play that triggered it. His status for the rest of the Raptors’ road trip is uncertain.

Six — Joy: There is such a noticeable difference in Pascal Siakam’s game when he is playing with joy. Siakam led the Raptors with 32 points, including a banked-in triple as part of his five threes, but the best part of his performance was on defense. Siakam’s responsibility was to pick up Valanciunas while the Raptors trapped out top against Ja Morant, and his physicality in that matchup picked up the level of the group as a whole. On one pivotal play, Siakam jumped into a crowd to win a tip-out rebound away from Valanciunas to spark the fast break, leading to a runout where Siakam ended up at the line. Siakam is emblematic of the Raptors as a whole — sometimes he is inconsistent, and other times he is All-NBA quality on both ends of the floor. Tonight, it was the latter.

Seven — Brave: It takes a certain character to fight against another player in a different weight class. Valanciunas is a heavyweight, and Chris Boucher is a welterweight at best, and yet Boucher embraced the challenge and won out in the end. Boucher’s tireless effort in hedging out to the perimeter, while still recovering to wall off the paint along with Siakam was the biggest reason why the Raptors’ defense turned around. Boucher also delivered where he could offensively, including two threes. Aron Baynes was the better matchup on paper, with Baynes matching Valanciunas for muscle mass, and yet it was Boucher who refused to be bullied, while Baynes was getting pinned. That’s hardly a surprise, however, as Boucher has easily been the better player all season.

Eight — Punch: Norman Powell continues to score with ease. He poured in 29 points, including six treys, and it was almost all within the flow of the offense. The ball keeps finding Powell in transition, off side-to-side passes, off drive-and-kick sequences, and he is making the right read every time. Again, Nurse will have a very difficult choice to make once everyone is healthy, because Powell’s production as a starter is undeniable. He’s averaging 21 points on 51 percent shooting from the field and 46 percent from deep as a starter this season.

Nine — Sloppy: The only annoyance from this overwhelmingly positive game was the Raptors’ inability to run a clean fast break. Terence Davis had a two-on-one fast break, only for him to commit an offensive foul on a lob. DeAndre’ Bembry ran the break but left it for Boucher trailing on the play which resulted in another charge upon review. The Raptors are doing the hard part by playing frenetic defense and creating chances in transition, ranking second behind the Bucks in transition opportunities, except they are 26th in points per play. A lot of that is attributable to Siakam’s strangely wasteful approach to driving, but it seems to be a systemic issue.

Ten — Growth: Valanciunas has found a perfect home in Memphis. He thrives playing alongside guards who can put pressure on the basket, as Valanciunas is both a clinical finisher on the roll and a tenacious rebounder who thrives on the offensive glass. Defensively, the Grizzlies limit his mistakes by dropping him back to contest at the basket and to finish possessions with the rebound. The only issue is that Valanciunas can still find himself winded by the fourth quarter, and it leads to defensive lapses. VanVleet smartly exploited his former teammate’s flaw, targeting and outwitting Valanciunas repeatedly in the fourth quarter to sustain the Raptors’ offense. Despite a few concessions, Valanciunas was easily the Grizzlies’ most productive player with 27 points and 20 rebounds.

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