They all can’t end on four bounces on the rim but a Raptors-Philadelphia regular-season game in November can have almost as much juice and drama as a playoff game in May.
This time it was Pascal Siakam playing the hero: He made a traditional three-point play that gave the Raptors a lead with 61 seconds to go, had a brilliant steal of a pass with 12 seconds left, and sealed the victory with a dunk at the buzzer as the Raptors squeezed out a 101-96 victory in a delightful affair at the Scotiabank Arena.
On a night when the Raptors held Sixers all-star centre Joel Embiid scoreless — the first time that’s happened in his career — Siakam poured in 25 points and Toronto shut down Philadelphia when it mattered the most.
“I think we ended it with eight consecutive stops to end the game, that’s pretty good, especially in a close game like that,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse after his team improved to 7-0 at home.
The job the Raptors did on Embiid was astonishing. Marc Gasol fought him for every inch of space under the basket and Embiid simply couldn’t handle the simplest of double-teams as he went 0-for-11 from the floor and missed all three foul shots he tried.
“I can’t have this type of production,” Embiid said. “I would have never thought that I would be here, talking about zero points in an NBA game, but here’s what it is. Some nights you make shots, some nights you don’t … You gotta keep grinding and keep working.”
Nurse said before the game that he wanted to find out what the newest of the Raptors would do against a big, tough opponent.
It wasn’t so much Siakam and VanVleet and Gasol that he wondered about, it was the likes of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis II and Chris Boucher, the guys who had yet to go through these kinds of games.
He got a solid effort from them all, especially Hollis-Jefferson, who played 31 minutes with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“He’s just a good player,” Nurse said.
- A changed man: Fred VanVleet struggled mightily against Philadelphia in the East semifinal in the spring. He had only three baskets and 14 points in the seven-game series, playing so poorly he told Nick Nurse he would understand if the coach sat him.
VanVleet made nine shots on 15 attempts Monday and finished with 24 points.
“It’s pretty invaluable to play an extra two months in that type of competition and he became a prime-time player for us in those playoffs,” Nurse said. “Obviously this year, with the change to the roster, he becomes a starter and he’s logging major minutes. He’s just a better player and playing with more confidence.”
- Down goes another: The Raptors must lead the NBA in “fractures of the distal phalanx” now that Matt Thomas has joined the list of injured players. Thomas has the same distal phalanx fracture on the middle finger of his left hand as Kyle Lowry has on his left thumb. There is no timetable for his return yet.
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Lowry has been out since he suffered his finger injury in a Nov. 8 game in New Orleans.
- Up next: Mississauga’s RJ Barrett, the No. 3 pick in last June’s draft, leads the New York Knicks into the Scotiabank Arena for a 7:30 p.m. game Wednesday night. The Raptors have beaten the Knicks six straight times in Toronto.
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