10 things: Siakam silencing critics as All-Star-level play for Raptors continues

Pascal Siakam racked up 30 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds for a triple-double as the Toronto Raptors took down the Milwaukee Bucks 103-96.

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 103-96 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

1: The Raptors have the Bucks' number no matter the circumstances. The Raptors were short two starters in Scottie Barnes (persistent knee issues) and Gary Trent Jr. (modelling a cardigan with no shirt) and the team was coming in on the second night of a back-to-back, but it only took a headbutt from Bobby Portis for the Raptors to find their spark. The Raptors imposed their will on the Bucks after falling behind 19-6 to start, with the Raptors showing tremendous guts on the defensive end, while also methodically working to find their shots on offence. It was their most complete performance of the season, and it's a statement win that shows what the Raptors are capable of when they are at their best.

2. Pascal Siakam answered all the critics. Since returning from off-season shoulder surgery, Siakam has played at an All-Star level while routinely flirting with triple-doubles, yet some detractors still harped on his performances at the end of games. Well, this was as comprehensive of a clutch performance as you will find, with Siakam pouring in 13 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to clinch the win. It's hard to pick the most impressive of the bunch between his three at the top of the floor to go up seven, the triple out of the corner in a one-possession game, the step-through move to ice the win, or the instincts to race ahead of the pack to force the foul on the Bucks at the end. But the play that said it all was at the four-minute mark, where Siakam had already logged close to 40 minutes, playing with five fouls, and while the Raptors were stuck in the mud, when Siakam crossed up Giannis Antetokounmpo before exploding in the lane against three Bucks defenders to draw the foul. That's the force and fearlessness that Siakam is capable of playing with when he is at his very best.

3. Siakam also recorded 10 assists as part of his triple-double. Defences have settled on a defensive strategy of sending two players to aggressively trap Siakam and Fred VanVleet, and most games are coming down to whether the stars can find the right passes and if the supporting cast can make their shots. Siakam has always been a great playmaker, but some of his reads today were absurd. The prettiest of his 10 dimes was to Chris Boucher in the third quarter, where Siakam saw a double team at the right elbow, waited an extra beat to allow Precious Achiuwa to cut through which dragged a defender down into the paint, before whipping a cross-court feed leading Boucher to the open spot on the wing for a much-needed three to keep the Raptors on top. Siakam has found the extremely tricky balance between being aggressive in traffic while also keeping the pass in mind, and when he also has the mid-range jumper at his disposal to keep the defence from sagging back into the lane, it becomes a pick your poison scenario for the defence.

4. Nobody in the league has better defensive schemes for Antetokounmpo than Nick Nurse. It's one thing to do it with Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, but Nurse is finding the same results with the likes of Boucher and Precious Achiuwa. Nurse used a box-and-one at times, making sure to stack the lane with extra layers of defenders, and Antetokounmpo had nowhere to go outside of launching threes or turnaround jumpers. Between OG Anunoby and Achiuwa, the Raptors had enough size to hold up Antetokounmpo's brute strength, and even if he did get downhill, there was help waiting both up top with Boucher or Siakam and with help below from Fred VanVleet chomping at the ball from the weak side.

5. Anunoby was excellent in his role as the third option. While Siakam and VanVleet see two defenders, Anunoby is often left alone in isolation or being allowed to play on the catch against a rotating defender, and he did just enough to generate offence through a variety of plays. The catch-and-shoot three is often his best bet, but he also chased down his own miss for a key driving and-one late in the fourth, and showed deft footwork on another drive where he stopped in the lane, pivoted and pumped his defender into the air, before stepping through and finishing the layup. Anunoby might not always get as many touches as he wants, but the opportunities will be there as teams continue to focus on Siakam and VanVleet, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him reach the 30-point mark in the coming weeks.

6. Anunoby is still leaving a few points on the board. Some of it has to do with his reading of the game, where he chooses to drive even when the defence is only stunting at him with half a closeout, and sometimes he is not crafty enough to always create space after coming to a stop and it ends up in him having to reset. But the other aspect where Anunoby can improve is on the simplest of areas such as sealing his defender. Too often, Anunoby allows his defender to swipe in from behind to poke free the pass, and this leads to the offence stalling as they find a way to engineer a way for Anunoby to be involved. There are all small mistakes that Anunoby can eliminate with more repetitions, and the Raptors need him to work these points out now as they will eventually need it from him during important playoff games.

7. Nurse gambled on shortening his rotation to six players on a back-to-back and it worked. It's not an exaggeration to say that the Raptors are getting nothing from their reserve guards, as Yuta Watanabe and Svi Mykhailiuk combined for a grand total of one rebound and literally nothing else in their shifts, so Nurse cut them out altogether in the second half. He started Boucher and used rebounding specialist Justin Champagnie as his only substitute while balancing point guard responsibilities by staggering VanVleet and Siakam's minutes. In doing so, the Raptors were able to play big across the board, and that was the intention of the front office. When they have four or five identically sized 6-foot-9 athletes out there who can all move their feet and guard all areas of the floor, opposing teams have no idea where to attack.

8. Boucher continues to be a revelation. He isn't propping up the second unit so much as he alone is the entire bench. Boucher gave the Raptors a shot in the arm in the first quarter, using his activity to collect putbacks and layups on rolls to the rim, and he was huge in the third quarter with two late threes to buy the exhausted Raptors some breathing room. Boucher shines when there is more talent around him, allowing him to focus on making hustle plays and capitalizing off the attention drawn by others. And generally, when he is finding his offence, Boucher then also locks in on defence, where he gives the Raptors an extra layer of shot-blocking at the rim. Boucher swatted Antetokounmpo at the basket as the third help defender rotated over on the play for one of his three blocks on the night.

9. Achiuwa is a work in progress. The mistakes are obvious as he always needs an extra few seconds to process what to do on offence, which is an especially glaring issue when he is the outlet after the main players get doubled, but that speaks to his inexperience overall as a basketball player. What can't be taught are the tools that he shows as a defender and with his physicality. Achiuwa took on the challenge to stop Antetokounmpo, using his length to disrupt shots while also having the strength to absorb the drives, and he played 22 minutes in the second half without any letdown in intensity. He needs to sharpen his jumper and improve his reads, but even without that, he is contributing a double-double with stifling defence. The Raptors front office didn't take on $19 million of dead salaries with Goran Dragic tanning on South Beach for nothing.

10. Mike Budenholzer is shameless. Even in a game where the Bucks went to the foul line 35 times, where Antetokounmpo single-handedly had 17 attempts to 20 in total for the Raptors, he still complains. Budenholzer griped after the loss: "Giannis gets 17 free throws, but I think you could argue he could have 27 or 30 free throws. As a team, we had 35. I think you could argue we could have had 45 or 50." Not only is it completely dismissive of the tireless defensive effort by the Raptors, but it just comes across as an incredibly weak comment from the coach of the reigning champions. If the game was called fairly, Antetokounmpo would have fouled out just on offensive fouls alone with the way he rams into defenders with his shoulder.

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