10 Things: As Raptors' de facto point guard, Siakam displays growth as playmaker

Gary Trent had a game-high 32 points, and Pascal Siakam came one rebound shy of his second career triple-double, as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Charlotte Hornets 125-113.

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 125-113 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

One -- That was a complete effort by the entire team. Last-second absences to Fred VanVleet (knee) and Scottie Barnes (wrist) forced Nick Nurse to extend his rotation and give his reserves a chance, and they delivered. The Raptors raced out to an early lead, the ball movement was fluid and free, and Toronto maintained a double-digit lead virtually from start to finish. It's one of the few times where everything goes according to plan, and everyone on the team can feel positively about what they contributed.

Two -- Pascal Siakam was sharp as the de facto point guard. VanVleet's absence is always hard to overcome, but the added factor of missing Barnes' secondary playmaking left Siakam as the decision-maker on almost every play. The Hornets unsurprisingly chose to double team Siakam, frequently sending two players to the ball just in an effort to take him out of the equation, but he just kept making the right passes.

It helped that inconsistent shooters like Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, and Dalano Banton were knocking down outside shots, but a lot of that was thanks to the time and space afforded to them from Siakam's astute playmaking. In between his 12 assists, Siakam also scored 24 points and came one rebound shy of a triple-double in what was a dominant showing to bail the Raptors out of a tight spot.

Three -- Siakam's best pass was in the third quarter where he drew the attention of five Hornets players. Siakam got a step on his defender Cody Martin, evaded LaMelo Ball's gamble at a double team on his spin move, pivoted in the lane which got two defenders to pinch in off both corners, before turning back out to find the hot hand in Gary Trent Jr. -- who popped free for a split second after Terry Rozier stunted towards Siakam as the fifth defender on his drive.

That's both an indictment of how poor Charlotte's defence was on the night, and a shining example of the awareness that Siakam has played with this season. He's averaging seven assists over the last month of the season and is becoming one of the best playmaking forwards in the league.

Four -- Trent Jr. emphatically broke out of his shooting slump and finished with a game-high 31 points. Trent Jr. was consistent all night in knocking down catch-and-shoot threes, while also being sharp in his shot creation. When he is at his best, Trent Jr. offers the ability to create separation for his jumper while attacking off the dribble, and his footwork to set his feet after setting up his defender is the cleanest of any player on the Raptors.

On the whole, it's not the most efficient shot, but Trent Jr. can sometimes make the hardest shot look easy, such as when he capped off his 14-point explosion in the third quarter with a one-legged stepback over top of a bigger defender in Miles Bridges, who contested the look as well as he could without fouling only to watch the ball swish.

Five -- The Raptors as a whole were helped by the way Charlotte chose to defend. Not only were they soft on the inside with no shot-blocking threat or physicality down low, but the Hornets were also constantly gambling at the perimeter. At times it mirrored some of Toronto's mistakes on bad nights, where there is constantly a double team on the ball, but no real pressure to force turnovers while also being a step out of position to close out with any effectiveness.

The Raptors as a whole got easy offence just by trusting one another and knocking down the open shots in rhythm. Even when the Hornets shifted to a zone defence, which has given the Raptors loads of problems of late, their execution was so poor that Siakam of all people was afforded the chance to flash down the lane and drive in for a dunk.

Six -- Dalano Banton was rewarded for his continued dominance in the G-League. Banton is coming off consecutive 30-point games in Mississauga, including 23 points in the fourth quarter in a comeback win on Monday, and his confidence was sky-high in this win.

Banton calmly knocked down two threes, which has been an improving part of his game as he was even nailing stepbacks at the G-League level, to go along with his knack for getting downhill in transition. Banton's defensive intensity was also high, timing his rotations well to record three blocks at the basket. Finding consistency on his jumper is the biggest swing factor in his game, but Banton has the ability to make plays on both ends which is why his upside is worth investing in. Nick Nurse should feel comfortable with giving him another crack at consistent minutes.

Seven -- Malachi Flynn had his best showing in months. Outside of being slapped with three fouls in his first shift, Flynn played his role perfectly. His main job was to bring the ball past half to spare Siakam from having to expend energy to beat Charlotte's press, before setting up the play.

Flynn took his chances where he could, knocking down a catch-and-shoot three, stepping inside for a pull-up jumper, and using his quickness to cross over before getting downhill. None of what he did was particularly flashy, but these are the types of plays that Nurse has commended him for despite leaving Flynn outside of the rotation for most of the year. Simple sequences like running a fast break to set up OG Anunoby for an easy layup, or working the pick-and-pop with Chris Boucher to punish the Hornets for dropping back, these are the types of plays that will earn Flynn more trust as opposed to the times where he checks in and looks for his own offence. If he can set the table and become more reliable from deep, there's no reason why he couldn't be a serviceable backup.

Eight -- Anunoby was incredibly efficient by playing within the flow of the offence. He got three layups in transition, earned himself an easy basket by carving out early post position against a Hornets guard, knocked down a trailer three, curled around a screen for a perfectly executed inbound play, and showed great footwork on a drive against Mason Plumlee to hop step into a layup at the basket. There have been games of late where Anunoby has tried to force the action which has brought down his overall efficiency, but that's a natural part of the development process. What's certain is when Anunoby plays within himself as a finisher in the offence, he is very capable and reliable.

Nine -- Justin Champagnie got himself ejected after trading pushes with P.J. Washington early in the game. The play was physical leading up to the ejection, as Champagnie had been knocked to the floor on the previous play right in front of the office with no call, which led him to take matters into his own hands by shoving Washington on the ensuing play. Both players were tossed, which was the right decision to avoid any further escalation, but it was strange that the officials did not rewind the play to see what preceded the shoving match. Champagnie is usually cool and laid back and wasn't acting out for no reason, yet the context of his actions was not seen upon review.

Ten -- The empty arena experience continues to be incredibly strange. The players shoot in complete silence until an hour before tip, when music blasts so loudly that you can hardly think, and then it becomes totally silent once again immediately after the final whistle. In between, the stands are entirely empty except for members of the front office, who mostly sit behind the basket, with the exception of general manager Bobby Webster and president Masai Ujiri who sat center court a few rows back from the courtside level. The Raptors mascot does his best to entertain and is rather amusing in his solo efforts to create a home-court advantage with his distractions, but he was so bored that he even came over to ruffle the feathers of media members in attendance.

The strangest experience of all might be the blaring instructions to make noise at the start of the fourth quarter, where artificial crowd noise was gradually raised to mimic the experience of having fans, yet nothing makes it feel more lonely in the building than when the crowd that isn't there is being prompted to cheer. I mean, who is that directed to? Are Ujiri and Webster supposed to trade their phones for pompoms?

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