Pascal Siakam was back in all-star form on Sunday as the Toronto Raptors beat the Memphis Grizzlies 108-99, a hungry team battling for its playoff life.
The Cameroonian star scored 26 points to help the Raptors capture their 50th win, the Atlantic Division title and the No. 2 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
It was a quick bounceback for the NBA defending champs, who pulled up their socks after an uncharacteristic 22-point beat-down from the Boston Celtics on Friday night.
Siakam, who had not looked himself in Toronto’s first five games inside the NBA bubble, scored from all over the floor – including four three-pointers – and added a trio of assists.
“I had to get a rhythm and continue to understand that this is what I do and I’ve just got to continue to get better. Can’t get down on yourself,” Siakam said. “There’s going to be periods where things aren’t going to go the way that you want it to go, but you’ve got to continue to play, continue to do what you do and figure it out. I’ve always been able to do that.”
Norman Powell added 16 points, while Kyle Lowry had 15, and Fred VanVleet added 14. Serge Ibaka had a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double.
Marc Gasol, playing his former team for the first time since his trade in February, 2019, grabbed six rebounds and scored 10 points for Toronto. He combined with Ibaka to hold former Raps big man Jonas Valanciunas without a point with 10 boards.
After their sloppy Friday loss to the Celtics – Toronto’s first loss since March 1 – the Raptors didn’t even watch that game film.
“Every time we lose, we always have that chip on our shoulder and we know what to do,” Siakam said. “As a team, everyone is a professional and we understand we can’t have those type of losses. And then the next day, we don’t have to say anything.”
The Raptors came out shooting poorly again early in Sunday’s game – hitting just 36.8 per cent in the opening quarter, including just one of their nine three-point attempts. Coach Nick Nurse said he began searching his bench looking for a spark.
“Wasn’t easy. I was doing a lot of cheerleading in the timeouts,” said Nurse, who was just announced as one of three finalists for NBA coach of the year as voted by the media. “Just tell ‘em there’s a lot of ways to win games, games take a lot of different flows to them, but hang in, hang in, and hopefully a spark will hit and things will turn your way.”
Nurse called Matt Thomas off the bench. Thomas soon drained a pair of threes, which served to open the gates for Toronto’s deep shooting. The Raptors were able to double their scoring from the first to second quarters.
They sunk seven of 12 from beyond the arc in the second, and points in the paint began to go in as well. VanVleet had a 10-point burst and Siakam was converting shots at a better clip than he had in any game since the restart. Toronto propelled toward a 60-54 halftime lead.
The Raps struggled with turnovers once again (25 over all – including four from Siakam and nine from Lowry). They let an 18-point lead dwindle down to four points with Ja Morant (17 points) getting loose for Memphis, along with Canadians Dillon Brooks (25) and Brandon Clarke (16).
A pair of three-pointers by Siakam down the stretch helped pour water on the sizzling Grizzlies’ comeback. Then VanVleet added a huge deflection on defence to stop the Memphis rally for good and put the game out of reach.
The Raptors must quickly pivot to a Monday game against the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks, their sixth of eight seeding games before the playoffs begin on Aug. 17.