On Tuesday, the Toronto Raptors closed out a four-game road trip with a narrow 105-100 loss to the LA Clippers.
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Despite the Raptors being undermanned, the efforts of Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam kept the team in it all night, as VanVleet finished with game-highs of 27 points and 13 assists while Siakam was the game's second-leading scorer with 24 points to go along with seven rebounds.
After the game, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard was asked about the performance of his former teammates. A man of few words, he didn't seem too surprised by the duo's performance this season.
"He's just more aggressive on the floor," Leonard said of VanVleet's growth. "He always had game. Going both ways, shooting the ball, both directions and he's just getting more of an opportunity now."
VanVleet's growth was rewarded with a four-year deal worth $85 million in the 2020 offseason, and he has lived up to the deal and then some.
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This season, VanVleet is averaging a career-high 19.5 points per game to go along with 6.3 assists per contest, the second-best mark of his career. For the sake of perspective, VanVleet scored 20 or more points just seven times during his lone season as Leonard's teammate, with two of his biggest scoring nights coming at crucial moments - Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the title-clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
While it's admittedly been a season of ups and downs for Siakam, he's averaging a team-best 21.0 points and 7.2 rebounds through 54 games. According to Leonard, Siakam first showed his capabilities to be this type of player in 2019, when Toronto began to gear up for its postseason run.
"Yeah, he was doing it when I was there," Leonard told reporters of Siakam. "In that second half of the season for us, he started being very aggressive, attacking the rim, making shots, making big plays on both ends of the floor, he's a two-way player."
Siakam, who was named Most Improved Player of the 2018-19 season, has signed a max contract extension, earned an All-Star bid and received an All-NBA selection since Leonard's departure in the offseason of 2019. He, along with VanVleet, are both 27 years old and are key members of the future of the franchise along with 23-year-old OG Anunoby, who has also signed a long-term deal to remain with the Raptors.
If game recognizes game, the two-time Finals MVP's words about Toronto's franchise players should hold plenty of weight.
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