With both Pascal Siakam and Kevin Durant featuring in an NBA game at Scotiabank Arena for the first time in what seems like forever, Sunday’s match between the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets could have been billed as ‘A tale of two comebacks.’
You might even add a third if you factor in the Nets rallying back from a seven-point halftime disadvantage by scoring the first nine points of the third quarter to put the Raptors permanently in the rear-view mirror. Brooklyn never trailed again as it pulled away for what proved to be a comfortable 116-103 victory, its fifth in a row.
“They scored just every possession to start the second half,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said afterward. “I’m not sure where our kind of focus or energy went to start the second half.
“It’s too bad because we were playing really, really well … that was really the ball game.”
Despite losing back-to-back games for the first time this season, Nurse won’t have to look too far to find the silver lining in this defeat.
After having shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder back in June, and missing the first 10 games of this season, Siakam was back in the starting lineup for Toronto. The Cameroon native, who has led the Raptors in scoring in each of the past two seasons, took the place of Precious Achiuwa and had 15 points and four rebounds in just over 25 minutes of court time.
While he admitted he was close to running out of gas at times during the game, what proved to be a successful comeback allowed him to reflect on the journey he has undergone the past few months, from the surgery itself to the long months of rehab that followed.
“It was my first surgery and obviously I was super scared,” he said after the game. “I remember just really crying and I don’t remember crying like that since my dad passed away.
“I think just because of the season that we had and I just wanted to go back into the summer and so many things that I had planned. It just felt like another blow.”
The fact that Siakam, described by teammate Fred VanVleet as “our franchise player”, came through his first game since May 8 unscathed can be considered a win in and of itself for this team. Though the Raptors went 6-4 in Siakam’s absence, Nurse is excited by the potential of adding a former all-star, and one of the few players remaining from the 2019 NBA championship team.
“I think giving us another athletic, skilled player out there should enable us to … I think the second quarter, that’s how you draw up what having Pascal should look like,” Nurse said. “We just seemed like we were everywhere.”
Nurse also got telling contributions from VanVleet, who had 21 points, and OG Anunoby, who added another 16. And the team now gets to go back on the road, with eight of its next nine games away from home, where the team has started a season 4-0 for the first time in franchise history.
But while Siakam had to wait 618 days to play a game in front of Toronto fans after the Raptors spent last season playing out of Tampa, the holdup has been even longer for Brooklyn’s biggest star. Durant had waited 851 days to lace up his sneakers in this arena again, since tearing his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, a series his former team, the Golden State Warriors, would famously go on to lose.
The resulting surgery caused Durant to miss the entire 2019-20 season, but he put on something of a comeback show on Sunday. Durant scored a game-high 31 points for the Nets, to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists, to push his franchise record of 20-plus-point games to begin a season to 10.
It was redemption of sorts for the two-time NBA Finals MVP.
“The last time I was here was one of my lowest moments as a basketball player,” Durant said. “It’s good to come back here playing and see the fans again.”
Durant’s display twinned neatly with that of fellow all-star James Harden, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds, to deliver Steve Nash his first NBA head-coaching victory on Canadian soil.
The Victoria native, who followed up his Hall of Fame playing career by taking over as the Brooklyn head coach before last season, said earning this victory in front of family and friends, with all of Canada watching, was a moment to cherish.
“That means a lot,” Nash said. “This is a very special place for me. Not only Canada, but Toronto. I’ve spent so much of my time here, I have so many close friends, relationships, and memories in this city. For me, this is definitely a sweet win.”