The Toronto Raptors wrapped up their six-game road trip on Thursday against the Boston Celtics.
The Raptors went 4-2, picking up wins against the Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies and Washington Wizards while losing to the Atlanta Hawks and Celtics. They're now sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 12-14 record.
Here are six takeaways from Toronto's road trip.
1. A night to remember
One more time for Fred VanVleet, who kicked off the road trip with a franchise-best 54 points on 11-for-14 shooting from 3-point range.
It's been almost two weeks since that game, but anytime you make history in the number of ways VanVleet did, it's worth reliving.
54 PTS. 11 3PM. FRED. VANVLEET.@FredVanVleet goes off for a @Raptors franchise record 54, knocking down 11 of 14 threes in his historic performance! pic.twitter.com/4EYUJCoHdz- NBA (@NBA) February 3, 2021
That was by far the highlight of the road trip for VanVleet, but he still had some other notable moments. Against the Nets, he shrugged off one of his worst shooting performances of the season with a late 3-pointer that basically sealed the deal. He also had two double-digit assist games and was a pest as always on defence.
VanVleet is now averaging 1.8 steals per game on the season, tying him with Marcus Smart and Kawhi Leonard for the third-highest mark in the league. He trails only Ben Simmons (4.0) and Larry Nance Jr. (3.9) with 3.7 deflections per game and has recorded the second-most blocks on the Raptors, behind only Chris Boucher.
It's going to be difficult for VanVleet to make the All-Star team with all the talent that's in the Eastern Conference, but with the way he's played this season, he deserves real consideration.
2. Pascal Siakam's foot is on the gas
Siakam has taken his game to another level since returning from a two-game absence with a knee injury.
In the nine games since, Siakam is averaging 23.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.6 steals on .506/.400/.807 shooting splits. He's scored 30 or more points four times, including a season-high 33 points in Toronto's win over Brooklyn on the road trip.
Silence the haters, @pskills43. #NBAAllStar- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 6, 2021
33 Pts | 11 Reb | 6 Ast | 3 Stl
⭐️ 1 RT = 1 Vote ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/Wl1YygiNqv
What's interesting is that Siakam started that stretch generating almost all of his scoring around the basket. According to NBA.com, 43 of the 50 field goals he made in the six games between Jan. 27 and Feb. 6 came in the painted area. He attempted only 14 3-pointers in those games and missed 12 of them. That dropped Siakam to 23.4 percent shooting from 3-point range on the season, but he rediscovered his touch again in the final three games of the road trip, connecting on 10 of his 16 3-point attempts.
Siakam has grown considerably as a 3-point shooter since entering the league. He proved to be a knockdown shooter from the corners in 2018-19 and developed into a respectable pull-up shooter in 2019-20. He'll always be at his best when he's attacking the basket, but being able to keep the defence honest from the 3-point line will only make him and the Raptors more difficult to defend this season and beyond.
Perhaps the last three games are a sign of Siakam progressing back to the mean.
3. Chris Boucher is back again
After scoring 20 or more points in four consecutive games - continuing what was a scorching start to the season - Boucher came back down to earth at the end of January.
Fortunately for the Raptors, Boucher found his stride again on this road trip.
After scoring seven points against the Magic to open the road trip, Boucher averaged 17.4 points on 55.4 percent shooting from the field over the next five games. He even recorded a double-double in three straight games during that stretch, the longest such streak of his career.
Based on Game Score, Boucher had the best game of his career in Toronto's loss to Atlanta, going off for a career-best 29 points.
BOUCHER CAUGHT A BODY pic.twitter.com/KO87k4ZQf2- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 7, 2021
Two games later, Boucher pulled down a career-best 16 rebounds to go along with 17 points in a win over the Wizards.
The centre position is still a big question mark for the Raptors but Boucher continues to be a bright spot for this team.
4. Norman Powell continues to shine as a starter
Speaking of bright spots, Powell stood out for the Raptors during the road trip.
Starting in place of OG Anunoby, who continues to be sidelined with a calf strain, Powell averaged 22.2 points on 50.5 percent shooting from the field, 47.2 percent from 3-point range and 95.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Powell scored a season-high 29 points in Toronto's win over Memphis and followed it up with 28 points in its win over Washington.
Norman Powell appreciation tweet. #WeTheNorth- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 11, 2021
28 Pts | 7 Reb | 4 Ast | 3 3pm pic.twitter.com/LeuwZaCuM5
Powell has bounced back in a big way since his slow start to the season. The question with him is whether or not he'll be able to continue his strong play when Anunoby returns, assuming it moves him back to the bench. The numbers are a little skewed this season because of how much Powell struggled to begin with, but he was a completely different player last season when he started versus when he came off the bench.
It's actually pretty startling.
If Powell can continue his strong play alongside Boucher, it would go a long way in stabilizing Toronto's second unit.
5. DeAndre' Bembry has arrived
One of the silver linings of the Raptors dealing with injuries lately is that it's opened up opportunities for others, including Bembry.
After barely playing to start the season, Bembry averaged 22.1 minutes per game during the road trip, making him Toronto's second-most used reserve behind only Boucher. He averaged only 5.8 points in those minutes but did a little bit of everything. He got after it defensively and gave the Raptors some much-needed energy at times off the bench, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched him in Atlanta.
What Bembry's role will look like when everyone is healthy again remains to be seen, but it's clear what he brings to the table.
6. Help is on the way
Good news for the Raptors: Nick Nurse said Anunoby could return on Sunday when they face the Minnesota Timberwolves, as could Yuta Watanabe, who has missed two straight games with a left ankle sprain.
The Raptors only have 11 games remaining in the first half of the season, believe it or not. Hopefully, they can stay healthy between now and then so we can get a better sense of what this team is capable of at full strength.
7. Payton Pritchard is the next Raptor killer
A bonus takeaway: Pritchard must have something for the Raptors because his two-best games this season have come against them.
In Boston's first meeting with Toronto, Pritchard scored a career-best 23 points. In the second meeting, he scored 20 points, the second-highest total of his career. In the 18 other games he's played in this season, Pritchard's scored in double figures five times.
Jeremy Lin and Tyreke Evans - known Raptors killers - would be proud.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.