Raptors see Pascal Siakam separate Timberwolves in win

The Toronto Raptors are a team no one wants to face.

They could very well be the hottest team in the Eastern Conference right now, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 125-102 on Wednesday night to return to a tie with the Chicago Bulls for the fifth seed in the East. thanks to a 10-2 record over their last 12 games.

1. Anunoby makes a huge difference

Having a healthy OG Anunoby on the court makes such a difference for Toronto. He may not have had the kind of developmental season some were hoping for, but his ability to stretch the ground forces teams to stretch their defenses and choose their poison between collapsing around Pascal Siakam or defending that shot. three-point corner.

All season the Timberwolves, like the Raptors, have been content to give up all three corners, and on Wednesday that gave Anunoby a feast behind the arc. He single-handedly turned a 46-42 Raptors deficit into a 53-53 tie midway through the second with 13 straight points for Toronto.

He won’t often create much with dribbling and nailing jumpers, but he does the small stuff at a high level for Toronto by nailing catch-and-shoot threes, running in transition and playing lockout defense at the other end. In a team with so many inside scorers, Anunoby’s three-point shot is a huge advantage. He shot 4-4 from behind the arc, finishing the night with 22 points.

4. Wolves pay homage to Siakam

When Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch first joined the Raptors as an assistant coach last season, he said he wanted to bring Siakam back to his pre-pandemic days by improving his game and turning him into a versatile forward for Toronto.

“I also think finding new opportunities for Pascal to score, or getting the ball in his hands to create chances for his teammates,” he said in December 2020. “A little more unpredictability there , maybe wrong direction.”

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Just over a year later, it’s clear Finch hasn’t forgotten how dynamic the 27-year-old Raptors star can be. Much like Toronto’s defense against the best in the league, Finch pressured Siakam all night, forcing the ball out of his hands and forcing Toronto’s secondary plays to nail their shots into the half court. It worked early, as Jarred Vanderbilt held Siakam to just 1-of-7 shooting and two points in the first half, but Siakam made the T-Wolves pay, finding three-point shooters to the tune of 14 points on the assists in the first half including a three-point buzzer from Fred VanVleet.

“It’s good to see Pascal getting back to his pre-bubble form,” Finch said before the game.

Unwilling to change his defensive strategy, Siakam pushed on, finishing the night with a career-high 13 assists, 12 points and 10 rebounds for his second career triple-double.

3. Trent Jr. finds his groove

Gary Trent Jr. looked much better in his second game after his toe injury. He moved with ease, indulging in his pulling game and making the Timberwolves pay every time they pressed the paint. His 29 points on 9-for-13 shooting led all of the Raptors.

4. Achiuwa builds momentum for Toronto

Toronto lost 26-18 when Precious Achiuwa showed up late in the second quarter for the Raptors. It had been a poor start without much defense as the Timberwolves repeatedly got the ball deep and found shooters dotting the arc.

Then Achiuwa came in and everything seemed to change.

He had a three-point trio in the first half, turning a 17-point Timberwolves lead into a two-point lead over Toronto just before halftime. His defense began to slow Minnesota’s interior offense as Raptors coach Nick Nurse was so impressed he decided to pitch Achiuwa against Scottie Barnes to start the second half.

Next: The magic of Orlando

The Raptors will hit the road for a brief pit stop in Orlando on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET.

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