TORONTO – Had Pascal Siakam not started the season recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse believes his team probably would’ve had more than one all-star this season.
“You know what? He’s certainly played to the level of that, I think, barring missing a good chunk to start the season,” said Nurse when asked if Siakam should also be in Cleveland for the Feb. 20 showcase.
“I always think people start talking about who’s playing well and all that stuff really early and he wasn’t there so that’s, I think, the only thing that probably stopped him from being one.”
On Friday, Siakam looked the part of an all-star as he scored 21 points in the first quarter on his way to 33 for the evening, helping the Raptors extend their winning streak to five with a 125-114 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Siakam also added nine rebounds and shot an efficient 11-for-16 from the floor as he netted yet another strong performance at Scotiabank Arena.
He has averaged 22.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game on 48.1 per cent shooting since December.
The Raptors (28-23) player who was selected to go to the all-star game, Fred VanVleet, added 26 points Friday and 13 assists in Toronto’s sixth win in its last seven contests.
Though Siakam wasn’t named an all-star Thursday, when the reserves were announced, there’s a chance he could still get in as an injury replacement for Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, who is dealing with an injury and is likely to miss the event.
It would be a big deal for Siakam, who was an all-star in 2020, to go with his teammate and friend VanVleet.
“It would be special,” Siakam said. “We don’t have the same journey, but you can tell, people who came from kind of nothing to be where they are right now, it’s just the definition of dedication and hard work. It would mean everything. It would mean a lot.”
Hawks (25-27) point guard Trae Young followed up a 43-point performance in a 124-115 win over the league-leading Phoenix Suns the night before with 22 points.
The Raptors last saw the Hawks on Monday, coming away with a 106-100 win in Atlanta. However, that was a different team than the one Toronto faced off against on Friday as all-star guard Young wasn’t available to play Monday.
Both Toronto and Atlanta were playing on the second night of back-to-back games and the fatigue between the two sides showed.
Fortunately for the Raptors, the Hawks appeared to run out of gas earlier as Toronto outscored Atlanta 36-27 in the third quarter.
Toronto carried a 96-86 advantage heading into the fourth quarter and, even as it appeared all the basketball Toronto had been playing was catching up to them in the frame, they still managed to fight through and hold on.
Raptors forward OG Anunoby was put onto Young defensively late in the fourth and came up with a couple of big blocks, including one on a three-point attempt, to help Toronto seal the win.
“He’s a really good defender. That’s just it. There are no two ways about it,” said Nurse of Anunoby.
“And I thought late (in the game) the coaching staff did a great job and made an adjustment on a play call and he ended up blocking the shot because we got him in the right spot to do so. So, he’s capable of doing all that stuff defensively. Inside, outside, shot-blocking, steals, etc.”
Thanks to a 33-14 run within the last 8:03 of the period, the Raptors jumped out to a 39-28 lead after the first quarter.
Siakam was dominant early on, going 7-for-9 from the floor in the opening period. He scored 14 of his 21 total as part of a run where he showcased a full repertoire of offensive moves including turnaround jumpers, hard drives to the rim and even a couple of three-pointers from well beyond the arc.
With Siakam getting some rest to start the second quarter, the Hawks were able to cut an 18-point Toronto lead to just one, leaving the Raptors clinging to a 60-59 lead at the half. Siakam finished the first half with 25 points.
Atlanta outscored Toronto 31-21 in the second quarter as the Raptors cooled off from scorching 68.2 per cent shooting from the first quarter.
Friday’s contest concluded a three-game homestand for the Raptors and a run of games that saw them play four times in five days.
By picking up their 28th win of the season Friday, the Raptors exceeded their win total from all of last season.
Up next for the Raptors is a long stretch that will see them play eight of their next nine games on the road, beginning with a Monday-evening encounter with the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2022.
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