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Crafty Fred VanVleet Leads Raptors to 5th Straight Victory

The Toronto Raptors have made it five straight victories, topping the Washington Wizards thanks to a crafty performance from Fred VanVleet

Fred VanVleet has officially hit crafty vet status.

"I'm a stickler, I'm a jerk. I'm that old angry man," VanVleet joked (sort of) Wednesday.

At 27 years old, VanVleet has figured out exactly how to pester opposing defenses these days. He's not driving to the lane and getting frustrated by the bigs inside as he did earlier in his career. He's also not fazed by the extra attention defenses are paying to his three-point shot. Instead, he's just getting to the mid-range, the soft spot in NBA defenses, and letting it fly over and over again.

"It's just a shot that I can get whatever I want," the Toronto Raptors guard said last week. "It’s something that I can go to when I need to get on up."

It doesn't matter that the modern NBA is all about three-pointers and at-the-rim looks because VanVleet has figured out taking those shots is what Toronto needs of him in the half-court. When things are a little unsettled, the tempo is out of control, and nobody else is really feeling it, VanVleet will just work his way through a pick-and-roll, zig-zag through the defense, and rise up for a jumper.

"It's just kind of a feel for whatever the game calls for," VanVleet said. "I have a little more responsibility this year in terms of just making sure we get good shots so I’ve gotta have a good pulse on what's going on out there."

It was the shot the Washington Wizards either couldn't stop or didn't want to stop Wednesday night as VanVleet nailed six two-point jumpers outside the pain, leading all Raptors with 33 points in a 109-100 victory in Washington to stretch Toronto's winning streak to five straight.

"It always helps when you’ve got a guy like Fred that can kinda control the tempo," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "He’s making some good play calls. He’s obviously scoring but he’s finding some people, too."

When the Raptors' offense went silent late, VanVleet turned on the jets in transition, going end-to-end for a layup before Wizards could get set. That transition offense off stingy defense was once again the difference for Toronto who held Washington to just 43.6% shooting and clamped down in the second quarter surrendering just 19 points to the Wizards to take an 11-point lead into halftime.

"We do like to get up and guard hard and I think we’re finding out there’s maybe some guys that haven’t been asked to do that in their careers that are capable of it," Nurse said. "We’ve got a group of guys that’ll go up and do it and we like it."

Anunoby Stays Hot

It wasn't quite the career night OG Anunoby had on Monday, but the 24-year-old continues to look much improved offensively. He played facilitator early for Toronto, making savvy passes that should have resulted in assists if not for a pair of Washington fouls and a missed layup. When the Wizards were late to bring help, he went up with it himself or nailed off-the-dribble three-pointers.

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"I think we’ve always said your job when you’re an offensive player your job is to score buckets and draw two defenders and when you’ve drawn two defenders that means you’ve done your job as well and you gotta find the open guy," Nurse said. "He’ll continue to improve in that."

He finished the night with 21 points on 9-for-20 shooting with just one assist, but that number could have been a lot higher.

Achiuwa Struggles to Finish at Rim

The Raptors tried to get Achiuwa going early, working a pick-and-roll with VanVleet to open the scoring with an emphatic alley-oop. They tried to go back to him two possessions later with Anunoby finding him inside for a pair of free-throw attempts. But it was downhill from there. He finished the night 2-for-9 for six points.

Despite Achiuwa’s recent struggles, Nurse said prior to the game he’s not ready to make a starting lineup switch to Khem Birch.

“I don’t think you flip it just like that. These guys, we don’t expect them to play great every night. It doesn’t mean we gotta change the starting lineup. I think we just stick with it and see how it goes. I don’t think it really matters all that much,” Nurse said. “Each game you try to figure out who has got it that night and what it’s gonna look like.”

Birch once again started the third quarter and finished the game. Had he not been in foul trouble he likely would have outplayed Achiuwa minutes-wise, but Nurse has clearly shown a willingness to swap the two guards mid-game even if he's reluctant to do it in the starting lineup.

Highlight of the Night

Achiuwa did, however, provide the highlight of the night, catching Montrezl Harrell looking before blowing past the Wizards big for a ferocious slam dunk.

Injury Update

Scottie Barnes is going to have his right thumb looked at when the team returns home tomorrow and he’ll be reevaluated then.

Pascal Siakam is “getting closer,” Nurse said. He’ll have to be checked by a doctor again, but he shouldn’t be too far away.

Up Next: Cleveland Cavaliers

The Raptors will return home Friday night for a tilt against the Cleveland Cavaliers and rookie star Evan Mobley.