10 things: Raptors lock down on defence for breezy win over Wizards

Pascal Siakam scored 31 points as the Toronto Raptors beat the Washington Wizards 102-90.

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 102-90 win over the Washington Wizards.

1: That was the most relaxing game of the year for the Raptors. Their defence was locked in from the start, holding Washington to 12 points in the first quarter, and were able to hold a double-digit lead for almost the entire game. Truth be told, it was the type of no-show that lends credence to the whispers of discontent in the Wizards locker room. The Raptors gave a very professional and purposeful effort and that's all that was needed for this win. They have a very good chance to climb back or above .500 during this homestand.

2: The Raptors are slowly getting back to their defensive identity. They started the year great, but had completely lost their way on the West coast trip, and finally, it is coming back to them. The key to every great defence is protecting the basket, and the Raptors were lockdown in the paint. Washington shot 20-of-44 from within 10 feet of the hoop, which was a result of the Raptors showing multiple bodies in the lane. Just as they did in the win over Milwaukee, the trio of Precious Achiuwa, Pascal Siakam, and Scottie Barnes worked in concert to challenge everything at the basket. Each of the three interior defenders also took turns getting stops in the post, and save for the occasional runner after a wing broke free at the perimeter, or a bailout whistle on a drive, the Wizards got nothing down low. Toronto allowed only six offensive rebounds while both of Washington's centres scored in single digits.

3: Siakam continues to feast each time he sees the Wizards. This wasn't the 44-point career-high that Siakam managed in each of the last two seasons, but the process was essentially the same. Washington's defensive scheme is to limit how much help they bring, meaning there's a lot of one-on-one opportunities, and the Wizards had nobody to match up. Siakam took up residence in the post, shaking and baking his way into all his classics, including turnaround jumpers, the face-up game from the elbows, the spin move after setting up his defender, and he had 22 points by halftime as the Raptors built their lead to 19 points. It was smooth sailing from there for both Siakam and the Raptors, who weren't quite as sharp in the second half but they didn't need to be as they kept the Wizards at a comfortable distance the entire way through.

4: Siakam was more efficient in his 10-for-12 performance against Sacramento, but this was his most assertive game by far since returning from shoulder surgery. Siakam had mostly been focused on fitting into the team, which mostly resulted in him operating as the second option. This was a return to his All-NBA approach, and it was a reminder of how effective he can be when the matchup is right. The Raptors have generally been unselfish in this front, as Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby have also taken turns as the go-to option. It all comes down to who has the mismatch. As long as the Raptors play smart and adapt to the opponent, expect the three main core pieces to keep rotating roles.

5: What separates Siakam from Anunoby and VanVleet is his ability to draw fouls. He's very difficult to deny when he is focused on getting downhill, and if his midrange game is clicking, while the Raptors provide good spacing around him, opponents will have to give up the foul quite often. VanVleet mostly scores on jumpers and rarely gets calls on his drives, while Anunoby lacks the dexterity and craft to convince officials to blow the whistle when he plays in a crowd at the basket. Siakam took 12 free throws in this win, which is the highest total for any Raptor this season. By living at the line, that was a huge part in slowing down Washington's transition game as they finished with a measly four points in transition.

6: This was like a load management game for VanVleet. The overworked lead guard played only 33 minutes, which was his second shortest stint of the year save for the blowout over Sacramento. VanVleet had the play of the night when he crossed up Daniel Gafford twice, then rotated the ball around his waist like a Harlem Globetrotter act before dropping in the jumper. Other than that, VanVleet largely sat back, made sure to feed Siakam early and often, and nailed timely threes whenever the Wizards made any type of a run. Even defensively, there wasn't as much for VanVleet to do, as the Wizards turned down so many chances on the perimeter in favour of spamming drives into traffic. All VanVleet needed to do was run guys inside the arc and lead them into traffic.

7: The bench was a huge positive throughout the game. It was their defence that really stood out, as Dalano Banton, Chris Boucher, and Yuta Watanabe maintained the length and disruptiveness that the starters opened the game with. Watanabe in particular was impressive in how disciplined he was in his shot contests on Wizards sharpshooter Davis Bertans, who is one-dimensional yet tricky to cover with his 6-foot-11 frame releasing the shot at almost an impossibly high point yet Watanabe was up to the challenge each time. Banton helped to limit dribble penetration on the perimeter, and Boucher took on the difficult assignment of matching the physicality of Montrezl Harrell. The lineup of Scottie Barnes with Banton, Watanabe, Boucher, and Svi Mykhailiuk worked the best, as there was a nice balance of scoring with Boucher cutting to the rim, Watanabe and Mykahiliuk spacing out as shooters, Barnes as the post-up option who can get his shot, and Banton directing traffic up top. Ultimately, the group is going to have to live by their defence, but they produced enough baskets to extend the lead in the second quarter and to hold it in the fourth.

8: This was quietly a very promising game from Boucher. He stood tall in the paint, was active on defence, and he lived in the paint offensively. He has the most upside of any player in the second unit, but it hasn't looked that way for most of this season. Part of that was the role change towards him playing more on the wing, which did not work since Boucher's three has abandoned him this season, but he can still be impactful when he's focused on attacking the basket. Boucher was very smart in how he timed his cuts, slipping backdoor when Gary Trent Jr. curled to the rim, or behind the defence as Banton or Siakam handled up top, or just keeping it simple in the pick-and-roll game. The more he plays at centre, the better his offensive numbers will look, and it's really up to Nurse to figure out the supporting cast around him to make it work defensively.

9: Achiuwa continues to contribute in his role, especially on the defensive end. Achiuwa snagged 14 rebounds, and played a huge part in keeping the Wizards out of the paint with his shot blocking and physicality in the paint. Offensively, he kept it simple and stayed within himself, scoring the first basket on the night for the Raptors with a cut to the elbow for a quick catch-and-shoot jumper as his man momentarily left him to dig against Siakam in the paint, then scored a putback, throwing down a lob dunk from VanVleet, tossing in a short hook shot off an offensive rebound, and capping off his night with an explosive driving dunk after he jumped three times to win the loose ball. These are the types of plays that Achiuwa can make on a nightly basis, and so long as he sticks to his role, there will be no complaints about his performances.

10: Banton led the team in assists which is even more impressive considering that he was playing with the bench. The Raptors made smart cuts all night to catch the Wizards sleeping, and Banton was very clever in his deliveries. Banton drove the baseline effectively, drawing shot-blockers out of position and leaving gaps for others to flash into. His best assist of the night was a feed to Boucher in the third quarter, where he sold the fake by fixating on VanVleet who was curling around the three-point line, but then threw a bounce pass backdoor against his momentum to Boucher who was screening for VanVleet to get open, and it resulted in an and-one finish.

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