Toronto Raptors Re-Claim Top Seed with Back-to-Back Wins
Following a disappointing loss to DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs, many were starting to wonder if the Raptors injuries and lack of depth were starting to catch up them. The Toronto Raptors responded with two resounding victories against fellow Eastern Conference contenders, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Indiana Pacers.
Saturday night the Raptors went into Milwaukee achieving arguably their most impressive victory of the season. Taking on a full-strength Bucks squad without Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors got off to a slow start before opening the third quarter on a 26-12 run, en route to a 123-116 victory.
“What helped us was the beginning of that third quarter,” Leonard said. “We came out in the first two minutes playing well, getting stops, getting some open looks. We kept moving from there.”
The Raptors bench unit continued to struggle, only going 1-of-15 from the field for five points, but it was Toronto’s key role players that stepped up. Pascal Siakam- who scored a career-high 30 points – combined with Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVeleet for 76 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists.
“We just played better tonight,” said Ibaka. “We were moving the ball. When you move the ball on offence like that it gives you better energy on offense and on the defensive end.”
The Raptors quickly returned home on Sunday to take on the Pacers, without Kawhi Leonard, resting on the second game of a back-to-back, but finally welcoming back Kyle Lowry, playing his first game since Dec. 9th.
With a balanced attack, the Raptors dispatched the rested Pacers, winners of 13 of 15 coming in, 121-105. Lowry finished with 12 points and eight assists in his return, but contributed so much more.
“That’s what he does,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “There’s about 32 other things out there you’re not seeing that he’s doing that don’t get recorded on the stat sheet.”
“He’s just the heartbeat of the team,” said Fred VanVleet. “He’s a leader. Pace, energy, aggressiveness, switching, rebounding, finding guys, making shots – he does it all.”
Prior to the game, head coach Nick Nurse called out the bench unit following their disappointing display against the Bucks. “They gotta step up, man,” Nurse said. “They’ve gotta play better, they’ve gotta play harder, they’ve gotta play with more passion, they’ve gotta bring it. I’m looking for that today. We’re gonna need it.”
Nurse got the response he was looking for as the Raptors got a major boost from their bench against the Pacers. The Raptors bench put up an absurd 49 points, led by a team-high 23 from Norman Powell.
With these two wins, the Raptors regained a one game lead over the Bucks at the top of the Eastern Conference and became the first team in the NBA to win 30 games this season.