The Toronto Raptors came out slow but once their star players got comfortable on the floor together for the first time in almost a month, things started clicking.
Behind strong performances from Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, the Raptors were able to hold off a huge night for Kyrie Irving to defeat the Brooklyn Nets and extend their win streak to four games.
If you missed any of the action, we have you covered with some thoughts below.
1. Full-strength Raptors
For the first time since the second game after the trade deadline, the Raptors were able to suit up all five of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Gary Trent Jr. According to Basketball-Reference, those five players had only shared the floor for a total of 30 minutes prior to this game.
And although all five members of Toronto's core group were available, head coach Nick Nurse elected to start Khem Birch and bring Trent off the bench. Could that provide some insight as to who the Raptors will use as a starting five moving forward for the rest of the season? That is to be determined (based on availability, of course), but nonetheless, Toronto benefitted from having all of those players available with a number of scoring options in this one.
2. Gary Trent Jr. off the bench
As mentioned, Trent was the odd man out with all players back in the lineup, taking on a role as a sixth man. It was Trent's first time coming off the bench for the Raptors, but it is a role he was fairly familiar with in Portland.
Take a look at Trent's splits as a starter and reserve heading into this contest.
As you can see, Trent has been more effective as a starter, averaging more points on better efficiency. He was pretty quiet as a reserve in this one, replicating what his season-long numbers tell us in comparing the two roles.
Trent finished with just five points shooting 2-for-9 from the field and 1-for-5 from 3-point land in only 14 minutes of playing time.
3. Kyrie Irving carrying a heavy load
With Kevin Durant (thigh contusion) and James Harden (hamstring) both out, a huge responsibility fell on Irving once again, on the second night of a back-to-back.
The All-Star guard was incredible the previous night, going for 32 points and eight assists with a number of clutch buckets down the stretch to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans. 24 hours later, he was faced with the same task of trying to carry the Nets to another victory, and he did everything he could to try and make it happen.
Irving finished with a near-triple-double of 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists but it wasn't enough for the Nets to come away with a win.
Ain't over yet! pic.twitter.com/TGMeA333W4- Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) April 22, 2021
4. OG Anunoby's growing offensive game
Anunoby's offensive skillset is continuously developing and we saw more flashes of that in this one.
Scoring 11 points in the third quarter alone, it was Anunoby's offensive outburst that help spark the Raptors comeback to take a sizable lead. This dunk on Joe Harris only electrified the team even more.
cool stuff, @OAnunoby pic.twitter.com/GRey91rwyE- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 22, 2021
The 23-year-old forward finished with 25 points on four 3s. In typical Anunoby fashion, he also took on the defensive assignment of trying to contain Irving in the fourth quarter, getting the job done on both ends of the floor to help the Raptors come away with the win.
5. Pascal Siakam bounces back strong
Siakam had sat out the previous two games with a shoulder injury but he didn't look bothered in this one, bringing a ton of energy to give the Raptors an edge.
The star forward was all over the place in this one, stuffing the stat sheet with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists while shooting 10-for-19 from the field.
27 Pts | 8 Reb | 5 Ast- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 22, 2021
- Pascal Siakam pic.twitter.com/Vniz4ijxb9
He did the majority of his damage inside, getting aggressive in attacking the basket against a smaller Nets frontcourt. He also made an impact in transition, running the floor well with his two trusty guards, VanVleet and Lowry, back in the lineup to find him.
There wasn't much rust despite the two-game absence, as Siakam looked like his usual self in a big performance.
6. Fred VanVleet finds his shooting stroke
Prior to VanVleet's first game back from his hip injury, the star guard had knocked down at least one 3-pointer in a franchise record 76-consecutive games. He went 0-for-6 from 3-point range in that game to snap that streak and his jumper, as you would expect after a seven-game absence, looked off the mark.
The way this one started for VanVleet, it looked like it was going to be more of the same. He missed his first two attempts of the night before burying a pair of 3s in the second quarter to heat up.
From that point forward, VanVleet would find a rhythm, finishing the game with five 3-pointers on 10 attempts.
Pull up then, @FredVanVleet 💰 pic.twitter.com/hjXlX6KfSu- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 22, 2021
He had 17 points, five assists, three rebounds and one steal, looking like he's shaking off the rust.
7. Chris Boucher leaves the game, does not return
In the fourth quarter, Chris Boucher landed awkwardly going for a rebound, twisting his leg after a Nets player stepped on his shoe. He would head to the locker room and never returned, as the Raptors ruled him out for the remainder of the contest with a knee sprain.
Injury update: Chris Boucher, left knee sprain, will not return.- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 22, 2021
Boucher finished the game with four points and seven rebounds in 11 minutes. The Montreal product has been a model of consistency for the Raptors in a season that has been anything but, playing in all 58 games so far this season.
This could potentially be a tough blow to Toronto's frontcourt depth.
8. Freddie Gillespie's block party
The Raptors signed Gillespie to a second 10-day contract this past weekend and he continued to make a major impact off the bench in this one. He was, once again, the first player that Nurse went to off the bench and he played a huge role in the Raptors defensive improvement in the second half.
The reserve big man was a shot-blocking machine, sending back five (!) of Brooklyn's shot attempts.
Man, @freddieg_33 really blocking everything pic.twitter.com/E0Ct6WznWo- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 22, 2021
Depending on the severity of Boucher's knee injury, Gillespie could work his way to even more playing time moving forward.
9. What's next?
The Raptors carry their four-game win streak into another tough matchup against a surging New York Knicks squad on Saturday. The Nets only have one day off before taking on the Boston Celtics on Friday.
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