Siakam leads undermanned Raptors past Sixers

TORONTO – It was a solid victory against a potential playoff opponent, and came despite the absence of two key players.

With two games to go in the regular-season, Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors are rounding into form at just the right time.

Siakam had 37 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds for his third-career triple-double, and the undermanned Raptors edged the Philadelphia 76ers 119-114 on Thursday.

“Heckuva game, great energy in the building, guys that were out there did a good job, got contributions all over the place and Pascal, obviously, was awesome,” coach Nick Nurse said.

Gary Trent Jr. scored 30 points, while Precious Achiuwa had a career-best five three-pointers in a 20-point performance.

“It’s been good,” Achiuwa said of his huge improvement from long distance. “My teammates and coaching staff trust me to take those shots. There’s nothing really complicated about it.”

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Scottie Barnes chipped in with 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors (47-33), who were missing starters Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. VanVleet took the night off to rest his sore knee, while Anunoby (thigh contusion) is expected to play Sunday.

Joel Embiid had 30 points to top the Sixers, who lost for the first time in four games. The Philly big man will be a handful should the Raptors and Sixers meet in the playoffs.

“He’s an amazing player,” Achiuwa said. “We don’t have anyone on our team that matches him in size but we have quickness, we have speed and we have length, so we use that to our advantage.”

Two nights after clinching a playoff spot with a win over Atlanta, the Raptors trailed by 15 points in the early going on Thursday. But they quickly turned it around and were up 97-95 to start the fourth quarter.

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Achiuwa’s fifth three-pointer of the night saw the Raptors go up 102-92 with 6:48 to play, and brought the capacity Scotiabank Arena crowd of 19,800 — that included Drake and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — to its feet.

Danny Green’s three-pointer from in front of the Raptors’ bench sliced the difference to four points with 2:13 to play, but Siakam replied with a fabulous zig-zag move around Embiid to score. On Philly’s next possession, Siakam stole the ball off James Harden and Barnes raced downcourt for a thunderous dunk and an eight-point difference.

Siakam went to the free-throw line in the dying seconds to chants of “M-V-P!”

“I didn’t really hear it, but obviously a great atmosphere,” Siakam said. “I think we missed that a lot . . a couple years it’s been tough just playing without fans (last season in Tampa, Fla., and parts of this season in Toronto due to COVID-19 regulations). It feels good to have our home crowd back and just the energy, the vibe is just a little different.”

Green finally received his 2019 Raptors NBA championship ring, 1,030 days after Toronto won the Larry O’Brien trophy. A confluence of events around COVID-19, including the Raptors playing out of Florida last season, pushed back the ceremony until Thursday. Green was feted with a video tribute and standing ovation, and VanVleet and Siakam presented the enormous diamond-encrusted ring.

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“Great, just what I expected it to be,” said Green, wearing a sequined red jacket. “Obviously to have Fred and Pascal, only a few guys on that team are still there, to present the ring to me . . . it was good to see them.”

The festive moment was then quickly dampened by the Raptors’ horrible start. The Sixers connected on seven three-pointers in the first quarter and Embiid’s dunk put the visitors up 17-2 before the game was even five minutes old. The Raptors replied with a 12-3 run and trailed 33-26 to start the second.

Trent Jr.’s three-pointer at 9:23 of the second quarter capped a 9-1 Raptors run for their first lead since the game’s opening points. Achiuwa’s second three-pointer put Toronto up by five, but the Sixers ended the quarter with a 7-1 run to head into halftime up 60-56.

Siakam led the way with 15 points in the third quarter, and his pullup jumper with 1.8 seconds left sent Toronto into the fourth with a two-point lead.

The Raptors’ post-season opponent might not be decided until the various regular-season finales on Sunday, with Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia battling for second through fourth in the East.

The Raptors host Houston on Friday then wrap up the regular season in New York on Sunday.

Philly guard Matisse Thybulle was listed as “ineligible to play” in Toronto, meaning he might also be unable to play at Scotiabank Arena were the Raptors and Sixers to meet in the playoffs. Players must be vaccinated in order to play in Canada. The reverse is true for Toronto players travelling south of the border, but the entire Raptors roster is vaccinated.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2022.

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