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In the absence of VanVleet and Barnes, the Raptors move forward with a collective effort

The most important moment in the Raptors’ game against the guest Charlotte Hornets, in theory, came about two hours before the ball went over.

“Fred out,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

Toronto has had an endless drip of injuries and blockages at the top of their rotation so far this season, but Fred VanVleet has remained steadfast. Before sitting against Charlotte with a right knee pain, the Raptors point guard had played in 39 of their 42 games and led the NBA with 38.2 minutes per game, a number that outweighed VanVleet’s stretch of eight. is coming. Games of 39 minutes or more — the longest streak in five seasons.

The Raptors are better this year with VanVleet on the floor at 14.5 points per 100 possessions and go 4-18 in the 22 games they missed going back last season.

So, things were not looking good against the high-flying Hornets team that the Raptors would likely chase for a playoff seeding throughout the season.

Add rookie starter Scotty Barnes as a late scratch due to a swollen right wrist and Khem Birch (who missed his fifth game with a broken nose), the Raptors were thin.

But are all those worries pre-game?

Turns out they were for nothing. Elite NBA players usually show themselves over time – being consistent game-to-game, week-to-week or season-to-season is an incredibly difficult league.

But on any Tuesday? The league is full of players who are looking for a break and want a chance to showcase their abilities, even on the Raptors where Norse has cut his rotation so fast that they end up bench scoring. in last place.

But the theme against Charlotte was ‘Have minutes, will ball out’ as the Raptors made a big contribution from the top of the lineup to some unexpected corners, a surprisingly comfortable 125–113 victory.

“I feel [it was] Certainly the opportunity,” said Pascal Siakam, whose weight of minutes has been almost as heavy as VanVleet and is flourishing as he pushes his own to be named an All-Star next month.

“I feel like I’m getting better. I’m just trying to be an overall player and I feel like I can do that most nights, just to be the best player out there and outperform my teammates.” That’s the role I’m trying to play and with Fred and Scotty it doesn’t make it easy, but you have to do it. The guys played really well and went on. We had the last game and better energy and focus Talked about coming together. People responded and I am very proud of them for that.”

Siakam was brilliant, leading with 24 points, and a career-high tying 12 assists. He was one rebound shy of his second career triple-double with nine and was 9-of-16 off the floor and a perfect 5-of-5 across the line.

But there were plenty of contributions from unlikely places, perhaps no more than the crisp 11 points and three assists that second-year guard Malachi Flynn – for most of the season after – nursed in his 25 minutes. He only looked to the floor as fellow rookie Dalano Banton picked up some early fouls, but Banton kept his head in it, providing 10 points and three assists in his 17 minutes, while Chris Boucher – pressed into starting duties – Chipped in an uninterrupted 12 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes.

Both played for the Raptors 905 in a G-League game on Monday night.

“I thought they both looked like a trip to Mississauga helped them both from a confidence point of view,” said Nurse after the game. “They really looked like they were playing in rotation as usual. I thought they both fought hard, handled the ball well, made plays, got shots to give us the spark too.”

The Raptors improved to 23–22 in the season, while the Hornets, led by Lamelo Ball, dropped to 26–22 with 25 points and seven assists.

But it was the Raptors workhorses that made the move like anyone. Siakam has been nothing short of spectacular since the beginning of December and has proved against the Hornets that he is as much a part of the VanValet and Raptors’ success as Reverse. He took command aggressively from the initial moments and never gave up. Flipping smoothly between point guard duties and power forward duties, the 2020 All-Star finished with a career-high 12 assists and missed his second career triple-double in 39 minutes, adding 24 points and nine rebounds.

“I’m getting more and more comfortable,” Siakam said of his role as the Raptors’ second point guard. “I find that the more I do it, the better I get at it. I find that if I put my mind to it, work hard at it, watch a movie and get reps.” So I believe I can get better at it, and that’s what I do. Just getting better, trying to read and just understand where everyone else is on the floor. Just knowing this I’m going to get attention, so I think creating drama comes naturally because they’re open most of the time.”

Gary Trent Jr. – who was pitiful against Portland on Sunday – was letting him fly like only six men showed up for his men’s league game and helped the Raptors get off to a strong start with 13 first quarter points. Season-high 32 points, while Ozzy Anunobi added 24 points and seven rebounds.

The Raptors started the fourth quarter with a 19-point lead, but things looked bad in the third as the Hornets started the quarter 14-2, extending the Raptors’ lead to three. But Toronto didn’t panic even without VanVleet’s calm presence.

It was rookie Banton who stopped bleeding as he snatched a pick-and-roll and hit a 15-foot jumper, showing G-League confidence. Chris Boucher – who has also found his game coming late from the bench but started in place of Barnes on Tuesday – used a three and the Raptors later used an 11-2 run to keep Charlotte at arm length.

Anunobi went into a triple from the top of the circle at the start of the fourth quarter and Boucher – who has been hitting 58 percent of three of his last five games after a poor start to the season – hit another and the Raptors were up 22 with 11 minutes to play.

For the night the Raptors shot from three to 47 percent and 52.4 percent, which have not been hit since November 24.

It was an important game. The Raptors are now in eighth place in the East, 1.5 games behind the seventh-placed Hornets.

The good news is that the Hornets arrived in Toronto as one of the weaker defensive teams in the NBA.

The Raptors needed a pick-me-up. They had one of the league’s worst attacks in the last seven games, managing only 105.9 points per 100 possessions, ranking 26th in the league over that stretch – and that was alongside Barnes and VanVleet in the lineup. Shooting has been a big problem as the Raptors have added only 30.9 percent of their threes in the recent stretch in which they were 2-5.

VanWleet removes 39.9 percent of the shoots in about 10 attempts of a game and the rest of the Raptors shoot only 32.1 percent compared to 34.1 percent, the difference between 21st and 29th.

But basketball doesn’t always make sense. The offense of the Raptors flowed like water.

Everyone who fell on the floor hit the shot. In the second quarter alone, the less-used and almost forgotten Flynn and Achiuwa whose offense comes and – mostly – goes, knocked all three down. Banton knocked out a pair of wide-open corner threes in the first quarter as he faced the Westchester Knicks at Paramount Foods Center.

The Raptors took a 39-27 lead in the first quarter with 61.9 percent shooting. With a perfect lineup against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, he scored only 34 points in the entire first half.

From there the Raptors’ already thin lineup thinned out, but remarkably, their game continued to improve. Banton picked up three quick fouls and had to sit when it looked like his G-League rhythm was about to take off – he had six points and three assists in the five minutes of the first quarter. And that was when rookie Justin Champagne was fired for a series of blows and bumps he played with Hornets’ PJ Washington at certain properties.

But it made way for Flynn, the 2021 first-round pick, who has effectively been buried for most of the season and even struggled in some G-League assignments.

He played about 14 straight minutes to end the half and as the stretch progressed, he looked more and more comfortable. He got on board quickly with a baseline drive, but when the outwardly stoic Flynn roared and fist-pumped after a third property, it was clear a load was lifting off his shoulders.

They finished the half with nine points, their second-highest total of the season, just one reason why the Raptors led 76–61 to start the third quarter, their highest half of points so far this season.

It wasn’t what anyone expected the night before, but it was welcome and necessary.

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