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Raptors able to handle Suns despite missing injured Marc Gasol at centre – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – You might think that this far into the season the Toronto Raptors‘ story could be told in a few essential statistical truths, other than that their wins far exceed their losses.

But no. Not that simple.

“I don’t live in the stats all that much, especially this year,” head coach Nick Nurse said before his club took the floor at Scotiabank Arena on Friday for the first time in 11 days after the NBA all-star break. “It’s like we’ve played six different rosters [due to injuries]. You look at all of them in totality and you don’t know what any of that means, depending on who is playing and all of that.”

The break was supposed to provide the opportunity for at least one of their injured players to return to the fold, with Marc Gasol widely expected to return from a hamstring problem that has cost him 20 games and counting over two stints on the sidelines.

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But the Raptors have opted to be extra cautious with the 35-year-old, who followed the team’s championship run with a full summer leading Spain to the world championships, with Nurse suggesting he could be out another month, returning only to get a 10 or 12-game tune up prior to the playoffs.

As has been the case with almost all their injured players – the Raptors were fifth in games lost to injury coming out of the break – Toronto managed just fine without them, as Norm Powell (finger) and Pat McCaw (flu) were also unavailable.

Against a talented but young Phoenix Suns team, the Raptors were able to manage while shorthanded once again as they survived seeing a 24-point halftime lead dwindle to seven with 5:29 left before halting the Suns’ rally to win, 118-101.

It helped that Pascal Siakam came back from his first all-star game appearance playing like a future MVP.

“I just liked the fact I was more engaged and kind of showed some passion,” he said. “I think it’s important and that’s something that I kind of try to make sure of – that I get engaged and not find a way to not just be out there. I think it’s easy to just relax and I think when you play with more energy and you’re more engaged, everything else kind of falls into place.”

Siakam led all scorers with 37 points and 12 rebounds. He chipped in eight points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of dunks and a crucial assist to OG Anunoby for another dunk that helped push the Raptors’ lead back to double figures. A Kyle Lowry three with 1:28 left capped a 16-6 run to put Phoenix away.

But the Suns visit and Gasol’s extended absence did raise a relevant question: how will a centre rotation that starts at Serge Ibaka and ends at six-foot-nine, 200-pound Chris Boucher manage?

The Raptors are 26th in defensive rebounding percentage, as an example.

On paper, you would expect that the Suns’ big-man duo of Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes would be too much for the Raptors to handle. Boucher in particular, as he gives up a minimum of 50 pounds and several inches against either member of one of the more imposing big-man pairings in the NBA.

“He’s fighting in a different weight class, you know, or whatever,” Nurse said. “We’ll give him his chance and see how he goes.”

The game didn’t pivot on Boucher – although he was minus-five in his 14 minutes on the floor — but when Ibaka got into foul trouble and sat for nearly 14 minutes after picking up his fifth midway through the third quarter, the Raptors were challenged to contain Ayton in the paint as he scored 13 of his 17 in the second half, mainly when Ibaka was out.

Toronto did give up 10 offensive rebounds to the Suns, but they got seven of their own to mitigate the damage. Their main advantage came from holding the Suns to 6-of-34 from three while making 14 of their own on 37 attempts.

They used a team approach to make up for their lack of size. Toronto out-rebounded the Suns, 48-34, and it helped that Lowry and Fred VanVleet – the two shortest players on the floor – grabbed 12 rebounds between them.

“We have to help rebound a little bit more, the guards,” said Lowry, who added 13 points and 10 assists in the wake of his sixth all-star appearance. “When we’re small, everyone has to come back and rebound and OG [Anunoby] has to play a little bigger and P [Siakam] has to play a little bit bigger and everyone has to get in there and make things happen.”

The Raptors hinted at a blowout early on by building up a 67-43 lead at half, mainly by taking advantage of the inexperienced Ayton on defence. Both Ibaka (who was plus-13 in his 26 minutes while and finished with 16 points and six rebounds) and Boucher helped draw the second-year centre away from the paint and the Raptors were able to attack him off the dribble in space, force him to commit to the ball and burn the Suns on a seemingly endless stream of backdoor cuts that were finished at the rim virtually uncontested. On the occasions the Suns did collapse to the rim, the Raptors picked them apart from the perimeter with five different Raptors making threes. That Siakam made five himself on eight attempts on his way to 25 first-half points was also beneficial.

Defensively, the Raptors defended as they always do – five men moving as one, with bodies darting in the paint to thwart attempts to hit Ayton rolling to the rim and scrambling out to the edges to limit the Suns to 2-of-19 shooting from deep in the first two quarters, and 35.3 per cent shooting overall for the half.

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On paper, the combination of Ayton and Devin Booker – one of the most gifted scoring guards in basketball – would seem a nearly unsolvable problem, but the Raptors excel at those.

“We always say a mid-screen-and-roll is a five-man defence,” Nurse said. “There have got to be five guys doing their job, tagging on the weak side and being able to fire back out and try to be as deceptive back to them as they’re trying to be to you on those plays.”

Things got a little testy midway through the third quarter when Ibaka picked up a questionable fifth foul in what looked like a 50-50 wrestling match with Ayton. Nurse picked up a technical, he was so incensed. He got even madder when the Suns set up to shoot the technical before Nurse could call a timeout to initiate the replay review process.

“They saw me jump up off the bench on the call [and get the technical foul] but then they couldn’t see me call the timeout for a while,” Nurse said. “Selective vision.”

At the time the Suns had cut what had peaked at a 26-point first-half lead to 13 and their best big men was headed to the bench.

But Toronto figured things out. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – all six-foot-seven of him — and Boucher played centre by committee and the Raptors went on an 18-6 run sparked by threes from Lowry, VanVleet and Terence Davis while limiting the Suns to a pair of field goals over a stretch of more than five minutes as Toronto took a 93-78 lead into the fourth quarter.

They were able to manage that lead the rest of the way and build on the most important statistic of all as they head into the home stretch – 41 wins against only 15 losses.

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'I'm so far from that,' Tiger Woods, his leg and back hurting, says of PGA Tour return – CBC.ca

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Tiger Woods had nothing to say about the February car crash that shattered his right leg and he had even less of an idea what his future in golf holds except that he’s a long way from deciding whether he can compete against the best.

“I can show up here and I can host an event, I can play a par-3 course, I can hit a few shots, I can chip and putt,” he said Tuesday. “But we’re talking about going out there and playing against the world’s best on the most difficult golf courses under the most difficult conditions.

“I’m so far from that.”

Woods, who was close to having his leg amputated after he lost control of his car in Los Angeles, won two of his 15 career major titles at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland and has not ruled out being in the field.

“I would love to play at St. Andrews, there’s no doubt it. It’s my favourite golf course in the world,” Woods said at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas where he is host of this week’s Hero World Challenge.

“Physically, hopefully I can. I’ve got to get there first. Tournament’s not going to go anywhere, but I need to get there.”

Woods addressed the media for the first time since his Feb. 23 crash on a winding road in the Los Angeles coastal suburbs. He walked into the news conference without crutches but admitted both his leg and back hurt just sitting there.

Police said he was driving at least 84 miles per hour when he crossed a median and his SUV tumbled down a hill.

WATCH | Tiger Woods injured in car crash:

Tiger Woods hospitalized after car crash

9 months ago

Golf superstar Tiger Woods needed surgery after a car crash in Los Angeles on Tuesday that left him with multiple leg injuries. Officials say he was conscious when pulled from the wrecked SUV and the injuries are not life threatening. 2:02

Doctors said he shattered tibia and fibula bones in his right leg in multiple locations. Those were stabilized by a rod in the tibia. A combination of screws and pins were used to stabilize additional injuries in the ankle and foot.

Asked his recollection of the accident, Woods said curtly, “All those answers have been answered in the investigation, so you can read about all that there in the police report.” When asked if he had any flashbacks to the trauma, he replied: “I don’t, no. Very lucky in that way.”

3 months immobilized

Woods said he felt fortunate to be alive and to still have his right leg and to be able to walk into the press center at Albany Golf Club without a noticeable limp. From the waist up, with biceps bulging through a black-and-gray shirt, he looked like he did a year ago.

Woods is the host of the Hero World Challenge, which starts Thursday for 20 elite players.

He said he spent three months immobilized — a makeshift hospital bed was set up in his Florida home — before he could start moving around on crutches and eventually walk on his own. Two weeks ago, he posted a video of his smooth swing with a short iron.

That raised hopes that he was on his way back. On Tuesday, Woods hit the brakes on any notion that a comeback was near. Still to be determined is whether he even wants to go through the work required to compete at a high level.

“I have a long way to go to get to that point,” he said. “Now, I haven’t decided whether or not I want to get to that point. I’ve got to get my leg to a point where that decision can be made, and we’ll see what happens when I get to that point.”

What was clear was that any golf in his future would be limited, and it already was headed in that direction before the car crash. He played only nine times during the pandemic-shortened 2020, ending the year with a fifth surgery on his lower back.

Even so, he could see a scenario of picking and choosing where to play, presumably around the majors, much like Ben Hogan did after his near-fatal car accident in 1949. Woods won the Masters in 2019 after back fusion surgery, and just two years after he could barely walk and feared his career was over.

“I got that last major, and I ticked off two more events along the way,” he said.

The other two were the Tour Championship in 2018, when he outplayed Rory McIlroy in the final round at East Lake, and the Zozo Championship in Japan in fall 2019 for his 82nd career PGA Tour victory to tie Sam Snead’s record.

Can he win again?

“I’ve got to be good enough to do it, OK? So, I’ve got to prove to myself in practice that I’m good enough,” he said.

WATCH | Vehicle interior prevented fatal crash, sheriff says:

Interior of Tiger Woods’ car may have saved him from fatal crash

9 months ago

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alejandro Villanueva says the interior of Tiger Woods’ car acted as a cushion to survive “what otherwise would have been a fatal crash.” 1:07

5 surgeries on left knee

His right leg will never be what it once was. Ditto for his left knee, which has gone through five surgeries, one of them a week after he won the 2008 U.S. Open despite having shredded ligaments and a double stress fracture. He said his back won’t be the same either.

Woods turns 46 on Dec. 30.

“All that combined means that a full schedule and a full practice schedule and the recovery that it would take to do that, no, I don’t have any desire to do that,” he said. “But to ramp up for a few events a year … there’s no reason that I can’t do that and feel ready.

“I’ve come off long layoffs and I’ve won or come close to winning before,” he said. “So, I know the recipe for it. I’ve just got to get to a point where I feel comfortable enough where I can do that again.”

Since the accident, Woods gave an interview to Golf Digest (with which he has a financial deal) in May and a video interview with the Discovery-owned outlet that was published Monday. He also was in touch with U.S. players at the Ryder Cup and says the players with whom he’s close have kept in touch. But he hasn’t lost his intense desire for privacy, including what exactly happened when he was speeding along that suburban LA road.

He said friends kept him from what was being said and written about him, and he refused to watch anything on TV except for sports.

“I didn’t want to go down that road. I wasn’t mentally ready for that road yet,” he said. “A lot of things in my body hurt at that time, and whether I was on medication or not, it still hurt. … I didn’t want to have my mind go there yet. It wasn’t ready.”

Meanwhile, the Masters is four months away, and to hear Woods speak about the long road ahead, anything but the Masters Club dinner for champions seemed unlikely. Woods said everything was a short-term goal.

“This year’s been a year I would like to turn the page on,” he said.

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Raptors' home woes continue with loss against Grizzlies – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors‘ goals this season have been largely undefined, or at least unspoken. Are they all-in for a playoff spot? Trying to figure out if their core is good enough to build around? Waiting to see where the trade winds blow?

It’s all a little muddy at the moment.

But we can expect some clarity by the end of December — let’s just agree on that. By then the Raptors will have completed their most friendly stretch of the schedule, with 12 of 15 games played at home.

So far? It’s not trending well.

Toronto hosted the Memphis Grizzlies on the second night of a season-long seven-game homestand on Tuesday, having already dropped the opener to Boston on Sunday.

If Toronto is going to make some kind of move in what is shaping up a very deep and very competitive Eastern Conference — before the ball went up Tuesday the Raptors were in 12th place and two spots out of the play-in tournament but all 11 teams ahead of them were at least one game over .500 — the time is now.

Unfortunately, that’s going to have to wait as Toronto fell 98-91 to the Grizzlies (11-10) in a game that was the kind of ugly the Raptors like but in which they couldn’t take advantage of their own defensive effort as they struggled mightily to score against the NBA’s worst defensive team.

Instead of the Raptors marking their turf, it was Grizzlies forward and Mississauga, Ont., native Dillon Brooks who took the opportunity to play at home to heart.

The fifth-year forward spent most of the game trying to get inside the jersey — and not-so-subtly under-the-skin — of Raptors catalyst Fred VanVleet. He didn’t make the Raptors guard disappear but he made Toronto’s leading scorer work for nearly everything he got as he held him to 15 points (compared to his season average of 20.1) and otherwise fought and scrapped to take up as much of VanVleet’s brain space as possible. It’s what Brooks does best.

VanVleet played 42 minutes but got up only 13 shots. He hit six, but was 1-of-5 from deep.

“[They] limited his touches for sure,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “I thought they did a good job of that, Dillon decided to take that on, he’s physical and he works hard, obviously takes pride in that. [He] made things tough on Freddy for sure.”

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It was Brooks’ pull-up three that gave Memphis an 11-point lead with 7:58 to play. Brooks then started screaming to the Raptors crowd “this is my house.”

Hey, with the way the Raptors have been playing at home, Brooks could make that argument. Brooks went on to make a pair of excellent defensive plays — picking Scottie Barnes’ pocket on an otherwise uncontested fast break and prior to that a blocked shot on VanVleet. He even flopped his way to fouling out Raptors centre Precious Achiuwa.

Brooks took it down a notch after the game.

“Fred’s an amazing player. He [has] a go-getter attitude. He sticks with it even if he’s not touching the ball, he can still find a way to score,” said Brooks later. “… He knows the game so well, so he was a tough cover. I was trying to figure out a way to limit his touches, trying to get out of his rhythm, and give us a chance to win.

And to do it in Toronto?

“This game was circled, for sure,” said Brooks, who hasn’t played here since the 2017-18 season due to injuries and the pandemic. “It’s been a dream. It’s been circled for a while.”

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The Raptors refused to surrender easily.

Pascal Siakam came alive for nine fourth-quarter points and a triple by Malachi Flynn — who played a heavier than usual dose of minutes to give the Raptors another ball-handler alongside the Brooks-occupied VanVleet — with 1:42 to play cut the Grizzlies’ lead to five.

But Desmond Bane answered immediately with his fifth three to push the lead back to eight. Memphis needed all of it as Barnes hit a pair of late threes to keep things interesting, but Brooks hit a pair of free throws with 16.5 seconds left to ice it.

Nurse was looking for his club to play harder and with a little more focus at key moments in order to get the homestand rolling, and there’s little question the Raptors’ effort was there. They held Memphis to 39 per cent shooting and just 10-of-34 from deep, but the Raptors had their own problems scoring while missing starters Gary Trent Jr. (calf), Khem Birch (knee) and OG Anunoby (hip).

The Raptors shot just 40 per cent from the floor and were 10-of-38 from deep. They were beaten off the offensive glass 18-11 and committed 18 turnovers.

The Raptors were led by Siakam’s 20 points while Barnes chipped in with 19 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals.

None of it was enough as Toronto (9-13) lost its third straight and dropped to 2-8 at Scotiabank Arena.

The season is only a quarter over but already there is some urgency for the Raptors, or there should be. Normally, a seven-game homestand and a stretch of 10-of-11 at home would be cause to rejoice. Good teams use those kinds of schedule gifts as springboards to bigger and better things. Given the Raptors arrived home on a 3-9 slide — including the first game of their homestand on Sunday, Toronto rightly should be looking at it as a lifeboat; a season preserver.

The only problem? The Raptors’ poor record at home. If it’s a trend, it’s a problem.

If it’s a weird, early-season anomaly? Time to fix it.

“Yeah, we gotta fix that,” said Siakam, who added six rebounds and five assists. “It’s not acceptable. We can’t play like that at home. We have this fan base and all that, but like we have to show up at home. I think we have to make it part of what we do. No excuses and that can’t happen. It’s unacceptable. We have to be better at home for sure.”

The first half wasn’t what anyone was looking for as the Grizzlies led 50-39 heading into the break, on merit. The Raptors have played over their heads at times this season by scratching out advantages on the offensive glass and forcing opponents into high-volume turnovers. It’s papered over their own shooting woes and lack of bench production.

But the Grizzlies turned the tables on Toronto and jumped out to a 27-18 first quarter lead after the Raptors turned it over five times in the period, leading to 10 Memphis points. Memphis only coughed it up to Toronto twice for two points.

In the second quarter, it was the bigger Grizzlies’ dominance on the offensive glass that was the issue as Memphis turned five offensive rebounds into five second-chance points (the Raptors had none) as they threatened to blow Toronto out early. At one point they led by 17 points before a quick 7-0 run sparked by Siakam and finished with a Svi Mykhailiuk triple reeled Memphis in at least a little bit.

The good news is the Raptors have a lot more chances at home to get this right. The bad news? Their next chance comes against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Three-point Grange

1. Nurse texted former Raptor (and former Grizzly) Jonas Valanciunas after the big man went off for a career-high 39 points and knocked down seven-of-eight threes for the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night. “I told him all those threes we shot eight, nine years ago in Lithuania, finally you’re taking them, you know. Jiminy Christmas … I’ve always said that from Day 1 when we got him, he has really good shooting touch .. he was really feeling it last night. It was really cool.” Valanciunas is now 30-of-58 from deep this season and has shot 40.3 per cent from three over the past three seasons.

2. The Grizzlies haven’t been in Toronto for a long time. Their last game here was on Jan. 19, 2019 — long enough that Marc Gasol was still playing for Memphis. The Raptors didn’t trade for him until February 2019. For Brooks, it’s been even longer as he wasn’t in the lineup in 2019. His last game in his hometown was Feb. 4, 2018.

3. Raptors assistant coaches Nate Bjorkgren and Nathaniel Mitchell were both back on Toronto’s bench after spending the previous week coaching the men’s national team in the first window of qualifying for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. After two wins against Bahamas in the Dominican Republic, Mitchell and Bjorkgren had a 3 a.m. wake-up call and a 6 a.m. flight from Santo Domingo to Newark, N.J., and from there were on their way to Toronto. They made it to Scotiabank Arena in time for pre-game warm-ups about two hours before tip-off.

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Quick Reaction: Grizzlies 98, Raptors 91 – Raptors Republic

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Tough one.

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P. Siakam30 MIN, 20 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 9-19 FG, 1-6 3FG, 1- FT, 3 BLK, 2 TO, -1 +/-

Unquestionably the most difficult matchup on both sides of the floor. Had to navigate the newly dominant defender, ‘JJJ’, and hold up the back end of the Raptors motion heavy defense. He was great navigating inside the arc offensively, and really needs to hit his C&S threes. Overall an impressive game, but the foul trouble brings a knock, where he has to strike the balance of how to stay on the floor. Lots of things to like, but you need more minutes from him in close games.

P. Achiuwa29 MIN, 5 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-8 FG, 0-1 3FG, 4- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

The offensive warts have been aplenty this year, and this game was no different. His moment as an offensive hub was a fever dream of terrible possessions and he still didn’t move well to assist teammates. The defense is still really solid, though. No one contests the rim like he does on this squad. The rebounding really hurt in this one.

S. Barnes38 MIN, 19 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 8-16 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0- FT, 4 BLK, 4 TO, -11 +/-

What a rollercoaster from the rookie. The ‘look back’ is generating its first negative reviews, and ‘JJJ’ swatted the hell out of him while hot dogging. A few defensive gaffes, but some fantastical scrambles for steals and blocks. The NBA’s best 3rd quarter player, still, and those threes in the fourth quarter were inspired. This game had everything, and I’m inclined to take away more positives.

F. VanVleet42 MIN, 15 PTS, 9 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 6-13 FG, 1-5 3FG, 2- FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, -2 +/-

I don’t envy his workload. Another 42 mins for the league’s minutes leader, and it was an absolute grind. Started out the game carrying with some shotmaking, but that subsided as the game wore on. Very little punch from him in the set actions, and didn’t hurt the Grizzlies as a spacer. Still though, his defensive presence was incredibly important to the Raptors getting back in this thing. Not his best, but he’s everything for this team right now.

S. Mykhailiuk18 MIN, 7 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-8 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

Still looking for the shot to come around. One of his better defensive games this year as he paired well with others in impromptu doubles and traps. Failed a little bit as a ball mover offensively though, and still isn’t meeting the level of play the team needs from him, and that he should be able to provide.

C. Boucher7 MIN, 6 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 3- FT, 2 BLK, 0 TO, -8 +/-

Wild 7 minutes. Got a step on ‘JJJ’ for an And-1, had a thunderous dunk to close a quarter, but was also out at sea for numerous defensive possessions where the Raptors surrendered points. Particularly in the pick n’ roll.

Y. Watanabe29 MIN, 11 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 4-9 FG, 3-8 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

This scoring output, if replicated, is something that would make everyone extremely happy. Opportunistic as a cutter, definitely as a shooter, and an unbelievably dependable defender. Great game off the bench for Yuta.

M. Flynn22 MIN, 5 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-8 FG, 1-7 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -13 +/-

It was great to see him reach back and hit that 3 late, but it was couched in a performance that was below average. When the ball is in his hands the Raptors just don’t create, and the drop off from Fred to him (although they shared the floor tonight) is colossal.

D. Banton15 MIN, 2 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, +3 +/-

Grab and Go. Always. He pushes the Raptors into spots that few other players do, and they rest of the roster doesn’t fail him when they all start running. His length and activity was a positive defensively and on the glass. All you could hope for from him in games like these.

I. Bonga11 MIN, 1 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, +3 +/-

The offensive limitations are very on display, but a terrific stretch of defense, and two separate occasions where he put pressure on the rim gave the Raptors enough in his minutes.

Nick Nurse

It’s tough to critique a coach in a game like this. The non-Fred+Pascal’s started the game 6-27, and on a lot of good looks. That’s not coaching. And the team played good defense basically all game, despite getting bludgeoned on the glass to start. If you have qualms about Fred and Pascal sitting at the same time in the first half, that’s fair, but Siakam nearly fouled out anyway. Tough to say.

Things We Saw

  1. Per Michael Grange, JJJ weighs in at roughly 270, putting Siakam at almost 40 pounds lighter – yikes. Got blocked going to his left 3 separate occasions, and many other players just don’t make that play. He’s arrived defensively for the Grizzlies, and he helped so much tonight. And his movement at that size is incredible – he beat the Raptors stunts off the dribble on a few different occasions.
  2. Too many minutes for Fred every game. His body needs a rest.
  3. Love it or hate it, Scottie’s look backs are going to grace Shaqtin A Fool and other lowlight segments. Personally, I think it’s super funny and speaks to his effervescent personality. But, he might catch a fade some day because of it.

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