It wasn't straight-forward, but the Toronto Raptors showed why they're the defending champions, with a hard-fought 118-113 win over the Sacramento Kings on the road.
They traded the lead four times in the final four minutes until Pascal Siakam took over to seal their third-straight win and move to 45-18 on the season and 22-9 on the road.
With the win, the Raptors are now 3-1 on their five-game road trip, with their final game of the trip on Monday against the Utah Jazz.
Here are the key takeaways from tonight's game:
Raptors backcourt steadies the ship
Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell combined for more than half of the team's points on the night, accounting for 61 of their 118.
Making his fifth-straight start, Powell followed up his 37-point career-high with 31 points and five assists on 11-of-21 shooting and 6-of-12 from beyond the arc and kept the Raptors offence in rhythm early - getting out in transition, attacking the basket and shooting the ball from range with plenty of confidence.
SICK, WICKED & NASTY pic.twitter.com/kwARfRbPnW- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 9, 2020
Meanwhile, Lowry, who scored 13 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, added eight assists, five rebounds, and three steals on the night. Following a made free throw from Matt Thomas, Lowry reeled off 10-straight points, including a pair of triples to put his team in front.
Lowry's aggressive display was even more impressive considering he picked up his fifth foul just 13 seconds into the fourth quarter, with Nick Nurse's decision to keep him in the game paying dividends.
Siakam shines in crunch time
Much like his performance against the Golden State Warriors in their last game, Siakam shook off a rough start to the game to deliver in the clutch.
The All-Star finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals on the night, with 11 of his 23 coming in the final three minutes of the game.
After setting up buckets for Powell and O.G. Anunoby, Siakam drilled a step-back 3-pointer and combined with Lowry in the pick-and-roll, attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line, with the Kings struggling to find a matchup to contain him down the stretch.
HE'S BUILT FOR THIS 🌶️ pic.twitter.com/qDKS4myaxh- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 9, 2020
His growing ability to flick the switch late in games couldn't be coming at a better time for the Raptors, with the playoffs quickly approaching.
In the final 12 minutes, Siakam went 3-of-3 from the field, 1-of-1 from the three-point line and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.
The Kings had two chances to tie the game in the final 10 seconds with Nemanja Bjelica and Kent Bazemore both missing from deep.
Bench struggles to find rhythm
The Raptors welcomed back Marc Gasol after missing the past 15 games with a left hamstring injury.
In 16 minutes off the bench, the 35-year-old naturally looked rusty, managing just three points, two rebounds, two assists on 1-of-5 from the field and 1-of-3 from deep.
The Kings took advantage of the Raptors' bench, punishing the second unit from start to finish as their reserves outscored their counterparts 30-3 in the first half and 51-7 for the game.
The good news for the Raptors is Fred VanVleet (left shoulder soreness) is expected back later this week after missing their past five games, with his calming presence sure to alleviate some pressure in those minutes with the second unit.
After the Kings buried 21 three-pointers in their last game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Raptors made a conscious effort to run them off the three-point line, but left themselves vulnerable at the rim, especially with their second unit in, with the Kings outscoring them 60-36 in the paint.
While they gave up points at the rim, they successfully held the Kings to 8-of-31 from the three-point line.
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