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PLENTY OF SPICE: Siakam carries Raptors past Cavaliers

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It was about as uneven as the season has been as a whole, but when all was said and done it was a win for the Raptors.

A slow start, then a nice wake-up, followed by another bit of a nap through the second quarter had the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers hanging right with the Raptors through the first half.

The Raps came out in the third composed and re-focused and established some breathing room on their way to a 112-96 win.

Once again it was Pascal Siakam leading the way despite playing a large chunk of the game in foul trouble. Siakam, who has found his old energy level again following a battle with COVID, put up a team-best 23 points in this one on just 17 shot attempts.

It was the ninth game in the past 10 where Siakam has had at least 20 points in a game, quieting that talk that Siakam might not be the No. 1 offensive option he has been destined for since Kawhi Leonard left for Los Angeles.

Siakam has battled through some issues going back to last August in the bubble in Orlando but credit him with continuing to work, even when the criticism started to get awfully loud.

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Another emerging trend with the Raptors is that right behind Siakam in the scoring department was OG Anunoby, a guy whose nightly defensive responsibilities including taking on the opposition’s best scorer. Lately, Anunoby has been taking on an increasing percentage of the scoring load, too.

His 20 points, second to Siakam, marked the fourth game in a row he has had 20 or more points in addition to the defensive prowess he brings.

Off the bench, head coach Nick Nurse got the kind of contributions he needed from rookie Malachi Flynn, who filled the scoring void left by injuries to Chris Boucher and Gary Trent Jr. that kept both out of Monday night’s game. Flynn had a stellar fourth quarter on his way to an 18-point night in just 24 minutes.

Raptors’ Pascal Siakam drives to the hoop during the first quarter against the Cavaliers at Amalie Arena on Monday, April 26, 2021. NATHAN RAY SEEBECK/USA TODAY SPORTS
Raptors’ Pascal Siakam drives to the hoop during the first quarter against the Cavaliers at Amalie Arena on Monday, April 26, 2021. NATHAN RAY SEEBECK/USA TODAY SPORTS

SOME SECONDARY SCORING

With Chris Boucher out and no imminent return expected, the Raptors suddenly find themselves in that familiar position of finding scoring in their second unit. It was an issue early on until the starters got healthy again and Boucher became the anchor of that second unit. It’s an issue again. The expected solution would be Trent Jr., who wasn’t in the lineup Monday night, sitting out with a bruised leg meaning the options off the bench were fewer.

“I think it’s back to even more of the offence creating the shots and not necessarily one-on-one individuals creating the shots,” coach Nurse said of where he saw the offence coming from in those circumstances. “That’s probably what I’m looking for. I’m not sure who we’ll go with to fill in for those guys. Malachi needs more minutes than he got the other night (he only played six in New York), for sure.”

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Nurse had Flynn, Yuta Watanabe and Freddie Gillespie in the no-doubt category for second unit minutes Monday night. After that, it was a combination of DeAndre Bembry, Rodney Hood and Stanley Johnson.

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THE ROAD GETS TOUGH

The Raptors, by 2021-schedule standards, have it pretty good of late, but that ends starting Tuesday with the rested Brooklyn Nets arriving to take on the Raptors and with a clear schedule advantage.

The team will then turn around and fly out west for a daunting trip that will see them play the playoff-bound Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers over a six-day span.

The Raptors have faced all kinds of challenges this year, though this one might be the biggest one courtesy of the schedule-maker.

To top it off, the Raptors will make the long west-to-east return flight next Wednesday, and then waiting for them on Thursday is a game with the red-hot Washington Wizards. If they survive that west-coast trip with even a half-decent showing, that game could very well cement their play-in tournament hopes.

The question is, will they have anything left in the tank by then?

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