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Siakam has 35 points, Raptors beat Cavs 117-104

TORONTO – Pascal Siakam matched his career high for three-pointers. OG Anunoby returned from a 15-game injury layoff. And the Toronto Raptors won a crucial game for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference.

Coach Nick Nurse had said a day earlier that he believed his team was rounding into form at the perfect time for the post-season — and it seems he’s right.

Siakam had six three-pointers in a dominant 35-point performance to lift the Raptors to a 117-104 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, inching them closer to a post-season berth.

“It was a big game,” Siakam said. “All these games count, so when we go out there that’s our mentality, try to win every single one of them. And I think, yeah, it’s a big opponent, they’re in front of us in the standings and we’re trying to crawl up. So, yeah, it was a big game.”

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Chris Boucher had 17 points and eight rebounds, while Anunoby, who hadn’t played since Feb. 16 due to a fractured right ring finger that had been bothering him for months, had 14 points for Toronto (41-32). Scottie Barnes had 11 points, while Fred VanVleet and Precious Achiuwa chipped in with 10 apiece.

Siakam has been working on his long-range shooting and was pleased to see it pay off.

“I’ve been talking to some of the coaches … and we’ve talking about increasing the amount of shots that I take,” Siakam said. “So we’ve been working on that a lot. It was going in and when it goes in you feel like shooting more. It felt good.”

Lauri Markkanen topped the Cavs (41-32) with 20 points.

The Raptors had a 14-point first-half lead against their conference rival, but the Cavs whittled it down to 83-75 by the start of the fourth quarter.

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Lamar Stevens’ three-pointer pulled Cleveland to within seven early in the fourth, but the Raptors bounced back, and when Armoni Brooks, who’s on his second 10-day contract with Toronto, launched a three, the Scotiabank Arena crowd roared with anticipation. The basket was good, and Toronto was back up 94-81 with 7:39 to play.

“It’s the willingness to take the shot,” Nurse said of Brooks. “The ball’s coming to him a lot … he pretty much fires them. He’s a really good shooter.”

Evan Mobley’s basket with 4:21 to play made it an eight-point game, but the Raptors buckled down and Barnes muscled to the hoop with just under three minutes left to give Toronto a 14-point lead. Cleveland guard Caris LeVert hit a three with 2:09 left, but the Raptors already had the win well in hand. Nurse subbed off his starters a half a minute later, sending happy Raptors fans flocking to the exits.

With nine games left in the regular season, the Raptors are chasing a top-six spot in the Eastern Conference, thus avoiding the play-in route to the post-season.

The Raptors pulled even with Cleveland with the win, with both sitting a game behind Chicago for fifth. Cleveland has the tiebreaker having beaten Toronto in three of four games.

Anunoby’s return was welcome relief for the Raptors ahead of the post-season. Only a day earlier, Nurse had said he was uncertain about his return, and that he hoped to see the forward play at least a few of the remaining games before the playoffs. Anunoby was solid in his 26 minutes, connecting on four three-pointers, including back-to-back long bombs in the first half.

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Anunoby played with his finger taped, and said it’s still painful.

“Yeah, shooting, dribbling, catching, those are the main parts. Defence, trying to get a steal. Rebounds. I feel it all the time,” Anunoby said.

Nurse said having Anunoby back — “an experienced catch-and-shoot guy with a quick release and a high percentage” — makes teams think twice about double-teaming Siakam.

“There’s another person out there you can kick the ball out to,” Siakam said. “Definitely glad to have him back.”

The game was the last matchup between top NBA rookie of the year candidates Barnes and Mobley, who had 11 points and eight rebounds.

The game marked the first at home for the Raptors since the elimination of mask requirements in Ontario. While still “strongly encouraged” by Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Ltd., there were far fewer fans in the capacity crowd of 19,800 with masks than without.

Gary Trent Jr. (toe) and Malachi Flynn (hamstring) remained out for Toronto.

Anunoby drilled a three for Toronto’s first points of the game, Siakam had 12 first-quarter points, and a Raptors’ 20-5 run gave them an early 10-point lead. The Raptors took a 25-17 advantage into the second quarter.

The Cavs sliced the difference to just three points early in the second, but thanks in part to Boucher’s 11 points in the frame, the Raptors were up by 14 with 1:49 left in the half. They headed for the halftime locker-room with a 58-48 lead.

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Thursday’s game was the first of four straight at home. Toronto hosts Indiana on Saturday, Boston on Monday, and Minnesota on Wednesday before travelling to Orlando for one of just two road games left in the regular-season.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2022.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misstated how many three-pointers Pascal Siakam scored.

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