TORONTO – It took Jakob Poeltl three games to find his role in the Toronto Raptors’ offence. When he did, the results were impressive.
Poeltl’s 30 points were one shy of a career high as he led the Raptors past the Orlando Magic 123-113 on Tuesday. He also had nine rebounds and six blocked shots in his best performance since being traded to Toronto from San Antonio last Thursday.
“We’ve just got so many guys out there that have great length, that have great athleticism, so we can really make it tough on teams to get into the paint,” said Poeltl, who went 15 of 17 on field-goal attempts. “I’m just trying to play my role in that whole system and I feel like I’m figuring out more and more.”
Poeltl had a career-best 31 points for the Spurs in a 117-110 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 15. He was traded back to Toronto for Montreal native Khem Birch plus a first-round pick in the 2024 draft and a pair of second-round selections ahead of the NBA’s trade deadline.
The Spurs acquired Poeltl from the Raptors as part of the Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan trade in 2018 that built the foundation of Toronto’s championship run.
“I think we’ve got great guys in the locker room,” said Poeltl, adding that he feels like he was brought back to be a true centre for the team. “Obviously, some of them I know a little bit better from back in the day and there are some I just know from playing against them.”
Pascal Siakam added 26 points with four rebounds and six assists for the Raptors (28-31), while Fred VanVleet scored 10 and had a season-high 15 assists in a critical Raptors victory.
“We got someone I think in the area that we wanted the most help,” said Siakam about Poeltl. “His presence is huge. A night like tonight, 15-for-17, rebounds, blocked shots.
“Six blocked shots. I don’t think anybody’s done that this year on our team. We definitely needed that.”
The win means that Toronto and Orlando, who are jockeying for the final play-in berth in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, will finish their season series 2-2.
Wendell Carter Jr. led Orlando (24-35) with 26 points and Jalen Suggs came off the bench to score 24.
The two teams traded the lead back and forth in the second quarter before Orlando went on an 8-2 run to end the half with a 70-65 lead.
Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said that at the intermission his staff emphasized better transition defence and stopping cutters from getting open.
“Forty-three points we gave up in the second and I think that’s 43 in the second half,” said Nurse, looking at the scoresheet. “So really good, really good defensive effort.”
A 9-3 run to start the third brought the Raptors back into the game.
With 7:35 left in the third, VanVleet passed the ball from the ground to Siakam, who drilled a three-pointer. Poeltl followed that up with a four-foot shot to make it 83-75 as Toronto began to pull away
Markelle Fultz’s field goal with 1:49 left to play was the last score of the third quarter, as the Raptors entered the final frame with a 94-89 lead.
Siakam nailed a 21-foot jumper over six-foot-10 Franz Wagner nearly five minutes into the fourth to extend Toronto’s lead to 11. The Raptors kept pressing throughout the quarter to maintain their lead.
Poeltl sank a seven-foot hook shot with 29.1 seconds left in the game for his 30th point of the night and the final score of the game.
ALL-STAR BALL — Siakam was presented with a black and white all-star basketball by Raptors general manager Bobby Webster. Siakam was named an injury replacement last Friday and will be making his second all-star game appearance this coming weekend.
INJURIES — The Raptors were without forward O.G. Anunoby (left wrist sprain), guard Gary Trent Jr (left calf strain) and Otto Porter Jr (left foot, toe dislocation surgery).
Forward Precious Achiuwa, who sprained his right ankle on Sunday against the Detroit Pistons, was back in the starting lineup on Tuesday.
UP NEXT — Toronto hosts the New Orleans Pelicans on Feb. 23, a lengthy break thanks to the NBA all-star game.
This was also the last game before the break for the Magic, who will welcome Detroit on Feb. 23.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2023.