Just before the Toronto Raptors tipped off on Friday night I got a call from a friend who wanted to talk about Pascal Siakam. He — a lifelong Raptors fan — had some venting to do about Siakam’s disappointing four-point performance Thursday night.
I had to listen.
Just five games into Siakam’s season my friend was just about ready to consider pulling the plug on the former All-Star. The words “cut bait” were used. Not yet, but soon, he thought.
Siakam has been the whipping boy for the better part of the past two seasons and after the disaster that was Thursday night, the knives were out.
Then on Friday against the Sacramento Kings, Siakam picked up right where he left off the night before. He threw two errant passes, starting the game with a pair of turnovers, and it looked like it was going to be another very long night for the Raptors.
But the key to success in the NBA is moving on from the mistakes. Just one possession after throwing that second turnover, Siakam got right back to his bread and butter. He got downhill, attacked the rim, and got to the line for a pair of free throws. Then came the pull-up above-the-break three, which he swished. Thirty-two points later, and Siakam silenced his critics, at least for the night, leading the Raptors to a 108-89 victory in Sacramento.
"You gotta have a short memory here in this league," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "I know it's not easy to have a tough game like that, but ... you're not going to play great every night and when you don't have a good game, you've got to bounce back and you've got to do it with some assertiveness and some belief."
When asked about the negativity on Thursday, Siakam said he didn't even know about it.
"What happened last night," he responded.
"I think I always say I'm super tough on myself just because I know the amount of work I put in and sometimes I can be over analyzing things and I think over the years just learning, understanding, just talking to guys that's been doing it at a high level, one of the things that they always say is just that short memory," he added. "Just stay focused, continue to move forward, and just flush it out"
Oh, how quickly things change.
It was less than a week ago that Siakam tallied 25 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists against the Detroit Pistons. Don’t let Toronto’s 1-5 record with Siakam in the lineup fool you, the Raptors are much better with Siakam on the floor.
He connected on all three of his three-pointers and shot 10-for-12 from the floor to go with his eight rebounds all while playing the second half of the game with three stitches in his right eyebrow after taking an elbow to the face from Harrison Barnes.
"My head is on fire. It’s all right though,
Bench Settles in
It had been a rough two weeks for Toronto’s bench. Coming into Friday night, the group had been outscored by five points per night dating back to November 7, and Nurse was searching for answers.
Step one, he said pre-game, was simply to get the group to play better.
“Our challenge as coaches is to give them [the] confidence to play better,” Nurse said.
Step two was to find a rotation that works, at least in the interim before something inevitably throws that into chaos again.
Well, against the Kings, everything seemed to click. Precious Achiuwa returned to bring some much-needed size to the second unit and, more importantly, Nurse let Gary Trent Jr. lead as the lone starter alongside Dalano Banton, Svi Mykhailiuk, Chris Boucher, and Achiuwa. It was a lineup that had played zero total prior to Friday night.
When it checked in late in the first quarter, Toronto was facing a three-point deficit. Four minutes and a 14-1 run later, the Raptors found themselves in the driver’s seat and never looked back.
Trent was the most impressive of the group, nailing tough three-pointers one after another, as he’s wont to do. It’s still going to be a while before OG Anunoby is back in the lineup and everyone is healthy for the Raptors, but if that time ever does come, moving Trent to the bench continues to seem like the best albeit tough decision.
"He had it going. We’d run a play out of timeout and he’d make that shot and he was kinda hot and we’d go to a third, something totally different and he’d come flying through one side to the other off a double and he’d make another. He was making all the set calls that were for him on that little run there.
Up Next: Golden State Warriors
The Raptors’ West Coast road trip will continue Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. ET against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.