Raptors Takeaways: Barnes does it all as team finally wins three in a row

Scottie Barnes had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to record his fourth career triple double an RJ Barrett pitched in with 24 points as the Toronto Raptors won their third straight defeating the Indiana Pacers 130-122.

It was a tremendous win, not only for the quality of the opponent, but also for the style in which the Toronto Raptors pulled out their 130-122 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday.

Granted the Pacers were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but they didn’t have leave home to do it. Indiana is fighting to stay in the top six in the Eastern Conference and was on a three-game winning streak, so it felt like more than a fair fight.

The number that stands out for Toronto is 35 team assists, just two nights after the Raptors had 37 in a win against Atlanta. The ball movement was smart and creative, and is a credit to head coach Darko Rajakovic and his vision for how the game should be played.

The other numbers that jump out are 21-12-12-5 – Scottie Barnes‘ points, rebounds, assists and blocks totals for the game. Barnes set a franchise record with his fourth triple-double of the season, and became the first player in 47 years to hit those four totals (or more) according to Basketball-Reference.com.

More importantly, it seemed like every play Barnes made was crucial to the cause. Also worth mentioning: an outstanding night for rookie Gradey Dick – 18 points, five rebounds and two assists on 7-of-9 shooting in 23 minutes, including 11 points in the fourth quarter of a close game. Anyone who sold their stock in the 20-year-old out of Kansas has to be regretting it.

Toronto improves to 22-36 on the season as it wo their third straight game for the first time this season. As a result, Rajakovic has promised his team dinner on his dime, location to be determined. The team is apparently OK with pizza.

Some takeaways:

• A second unit can really set a tone for a team. Obviously your starters will generally make or break your season, but a well-constructed second unit often is the truest reflection of the coaching staff’s vision for how it wants the team to play.

It makes sense, right? Stars or starters sometimes have to be catered to or built around. A bench unit? It’s pretty simple: ‘‘’If you want to see the floor, this is how we need you to play.’

So behold the Raptors’ second unit, which – for simplicity’s sake – is shaping up as Barnes joined by Kelly Olynyk, Dick, and some combination of Ochai Agbaji and Bruce Brown. The ‘Barnes plus bench’ unit got rolling with 4:09 left in the first quarter when Olynyk checked in and was in effect until the Canadian exited 10 minutes later, with 6:27 left in the second quarter.

They didn’t exactly tilt the game – the Raptors were leading by one when the stint started and the game was tied when it ended – but they did give the game some direction, I would argue.

The Raptors scored nine field goals in the 10 minutes, all of them assisted, some of them in very eye-pleasing ways: an Olynyk dunk on a pocket pass from Dick after a two-man action with Barnes; a wide-open Olynyk three after the defence lost the Raptors centre again after a two-man action with Barnes and Dick. Then. an alley-oop from Olynyk to Agbaji and a Dick lay-up when Olynyk found him on a cut from the corner.

It’s all read-and-react stuff, for the most part, and all unfolding with pace and intention in the halfcourt. It’s the kind of basketball that Rajakovic wants the Raptors to play on his watch, and the second unit is showing the way. Agbaji, Olynyk and Dick were a collective plus-12 on the night. Olynyk had five assists and Agbaji had 13 points to join Dick as a double-figure scorer off the bench.

• In a game with a lot of strong individual performances, perhaps the most unlikely came from Raptors centre Jakob Poeltl. A small-ball, space-and-pace track meet with Indiana would not seem to suit the big Austrian’s style yet he showed he can hang offensively and defensively with the high-speed Pacers.

He finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes, during which he was plus-13, but he exited in the third quarter after he re-aggravated a sprain in his left ankle. The previous injury kept him out 11 games, during which the Raptors went 2-9.

Afterward, Rajakovic seemed to suggest the injury wasn’t too significant, but we’ll see. What’s apparent is that Poeltl – even as a non-shooter who does his best work 10 feet from the rim – has a role in the way the Raptors want to play.

He can pass out of the elbow and is a great target to finish plays others start. His best sequence came late in the second quarter when he blocked Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton (who had a very rough night, finishing with just nine points and seven assists on 2-of-11 shooting) at the rim and ran and scored on a put-back on the fast break that followed. He more than held his own on a couple of possessions where he had to guard Haliburton on a switch and had some success against Bennedict Mathurin, too.

• Say this for Pascal Siakam: the dude is consistent. Monday night marked his 18th game with the Pacers and so far he’s provided exactly what anyone could have expected, based on his track record with the Raptors. It’s kind of uncanny. Here are his numbers per 100 possessions (to make it as apples-to-apples as possible) with each team this season — he played 39 games for Toronto before he was traded Jan. 16.

With the Raptors: 31 points/6.8a/8.8r/58.4% on 17.1 2PA, 31.7% on 5.2 3PA/3 TO.

With the Pacers: 29.5 points/6.6a/9.5r/59.6% on 17.4 2PA, 42% on 4.2 3PA/2.1 TO

Like, pretty similar. The differences get even smaller when you recognize that Siakam shot 44.1 per cent from three is his last 20 games with the Raptors and the small decline in his scoring in Indiana can be mostly attributed to Siakam getting to the free-throw line less (5.9 attempts per game with Toronto vs. 4.2 in Indiana) and shooting poorly (just 64.6 per cent, so far as a Pacer).

His shot profile has changed ever so slightly – a few more twos, a little more activity in the mid-range area – but barely enough to be notable over such a small stretch of games. Which is good: the Pacers are getting what they will presumably pay for this summer when Siakam hits free agency – a versatile, two-way forward who can score in a multitude of ways, while contributing as a good rebounder and playmaker.

But it’s interesting that playing alongside Haliburton – arguably the NBA’s best passing point guard – and on a team that plays with tremendous speed and great spacing, Siakam hasn’t hit another level in his offence, at least statistically. The Pacers are now 9-9 since the trade, but that likely has more to do with Haliburton being limited with a hamstring problem for a portion of that.

Siakam has been good, but not yet great for Indiana. He finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists against his old team Monday night.

• The Raptors were happy to RJ Barrett back in the lineup against the Pacers after sitting out Friday’s win over Atlanta with an ongoing knee problem. It will be interesting to monitor the situation, described to be as tendinitis in his left knee.

It flared for the first time in early November, when Barrett sat out two games when he was still with the New York Knicks, saying then that it was problem that would need regular management. Since joining the Raptors, Barrett missed three games in late January with the same issue and has been held out on the second night of two back-to-backs.

Still, Barrett was excellent against Indiana, once again showing that his ability to score off cuts and make plays for others with his passing was an element of his game that got overlooked with the Knicks. He finished with 24 points on 11-of-15 shooting, while adding five assists — another in a string of strong performances as a Raptor. His effective field goal percentage is at 59.9 with Toronto, his career mark is 48.3.

But you have be concerned if his knee issues don’t get tidied up – having this kind of problem at age 23 is not ideal. It’s also something the Canadian men’s national team has be monitoring, although there is decent rest between games at the Olympic tournament in France , fortunately.

• A really impressive game for Mathurin.

The powerful Montreal wing set a record for a Canadian against the Raptors, putting up 34 points – tying his career high – on 11-of-15 shooting, while adding five assists and converting five of his eight three-point attempts.

Mathurin plays much bigger than his listed six-foot-six and 210 pounds. He barrels into contact like a running back, demanding to be fouled. At times his aggression can work against him, littering his box score with a lot of iffy shot choices, turnovers and passes not considered, let alone made. But at just 21 years and in his second year, Mathurin is showing signs of seeing more than the rim.

He scored 24 points in the second half, with several of his buckets coming while highly contested. But with Haliburton struggling, the Pacers needed them.

Perhaps most impressive is that all five of his assists came while he was on fire in the third and fourth quarter, including a pair down the stretch in the final minutes – one for a Haliburton three, another for a Siakam lay-up – as Mathurin was trying to lead Indy’s comeback.

It was a mature performance from a fearless offensive player. That he was able to find his teammates while scoring up a storm himself bodes well.

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