The Toronto Raptors snapped their three-game losing skid with a close win over the Phoenix Suns.
Undermanned and undersized, Toronto had to dig deep to get back in the win column. Pascal Siakam looked back to his usual self, Kyle Lowry made winning plays, Chris Boucher responded well to his head coach's criticism and OG Anunoby once again proved he's invaluable to this Raptors squad.
Here are three things we learned in this gutsy road victory.
Pascal Siakam is just fine
Siakam faced a lot of scrutiny for his play over the Raptors' recent losing streak, but rightfully so.
Over the three losses, the All-Star forward averaged 20.7 points per game but shot an ugly 36.2% from the field, 33.3% from 3 and 65.0% from the free throw line. He looked lost offensively, as if someone stole his powers like Space Jam.
Siakam snapped out of that funk in this one, torching the Suns for a game-high 33 points on 12-for-20 (60.0%) shooting from the field and 5-for-9 (55.6%) from long range. His offensive game was flowing - he was aggressive in going to the basket, he looked confident in his jump shot and he was seeing the floor well, dishing out three assists.
Afro Steppin' pic.twitter.com/8ZjfI1UL3X- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 4, 2020
His play on the defensive end was inspiring, helping out teammate Anunoby and the rest of the undersized Raptors on 6-foot-11 Deandre Ayton, and he came up with one violent help-side block.
Miss me with that... pic.twitter.com/L2UdsZVnH1- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 4, 2020
Maybe Siakam just enjoys playing against the Suns - he dropped 37 points on them just two weeks back. We're still waiting for an explosive game against an elite team but it was encouraging to see him get back into a rhythm.
Nick Nurse knows how to get the most out of his players
As we've learned this season, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse knows how to push the right buttons.
Prior to the start of the season, he called out Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's effort in training camp. He's responded with one of the best seasons of his career. Back in January, he called out undrafted rookie Terence Davis, and he responded with a 23-point, 11-rebound double-double, leading the team to an overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Before tonight's game, he called reserve centre Chris Boucher (and the rest of the bench) into question. "Let's not sugar coat it, those guys haven't played worth a darn (lately) ... and we need them if we're going to win some games here."
Boucher responded in the same way as the aforementioned players - by playing his heart out, leaving everything on the court in Phoenix.
He played so hard in the first half that Nurse actually elected to give Boucher the start in the second half. He was hustling on the offensive glass, as evidence of six offensive rebounds. He was aggressive in attacking the basket as well, giving Toronto the scoring help they needed from their second unit.
He also buried a massive 3-pointer that helped put the game away.
NEXT MAN UP- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 4, 2020
17 Pts | 13 Reb pic.twitter.com/lWKBsED5te
Boucher finished with a double-double of 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds while coming up with two steals and one block - his best game of the season.
Nurse knows how to get the absolute most out of his players. There's no denying that.
OG Anunoby is the Raptors' Swiss Army Knife on defence
There hasn't been too much to take away from the Raptors recently, but Anunoby has undeniably been a bright spot.
After a career-night in the team's loss to the Denver Nuggets over the weekend, recording 32 points, seven rebounds and seven steals, Nurse put his 22-year-old forward to the test in this contest.
With the injuries to Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, Nurse experimented by going small, starting Anunoby at centre with the task of marking 6-foot-11, 250 lbs. big man Deandre Ayton. Anunoby is giving up four inches and nearly 20 lbs. in that matchup, yet he handled it about as well as you could expect.
Ayton still went to work on the glass (14 rebounds) but offensively, Anunoby made things as difficult as possible for him, forcing the Suns centre to be passive despite the size differential. He was physical, Toronto's help defence was swarming and Anunoby proved that he can punch up a weight class if necessary.
The third-year forward finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block.
It hasn't been great for the Raptors lately - mostly due to injuries - and yet we can circle this group of games as Anunoby's turning point. When Nurse is using him to guard the likes of Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons or Jimmy Butler in the playoffs, and he's doing so successfully, this could be the stretch that gave OG the confidence boost he needed.
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