The best thing that happened to Pascal Siakam on Friday came hours before the Raptors finished the most lopsided win in franchise history.
He awoke on the morning of his 26th birthday to a phone call from his niece, and nothing that came after could have dampened his good mood.
“Today was a beautiful day, great day,” Siakam said after the Raptors crushed the Golden State Warriors 130-77. “I woke up to my niece (Maya) singing me happy birthday. I think that was the greatest happy birthday I’ve ever had.
“With a lot of negativity and a lot of things that’s going on the world, just having those people you care about, I think that’s super important. And I was super grateful to wake up to that, and my family making sure that they keep my spirit up. I thought that was pretty big, man, and I love those people to death.”
Siakam’s day certainly didn’t darken as the Raptors routed the Warriors in a dominant performance against the shell of an NBA team.
He had a season-high 36 points, Gary Trent Jr. poured in 24 and Toronto shattered its previous record for margin of victory — 46 points — in a victory that lifted some of the pall that had descended over the franchise.
But not all of it.
Fred VanVleet left in the third quarter with a strained left hip flexor after playing less than 18 minutes and will be further examined Saturday.
“I saw Freddie. He said he’d be all right, but I don’t know what that means,” coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “I haven’t heard about a scheduled MRI or anything, but usually they’ll do one of those just to make sure.”
With Kyle Lowry on the shelf for perhaps another week, the Raptors are woefully thin at point guard, with only rookie Malachi Flynn available. Flynn had 16 points in a season-high 31 minutes as the Raptors rolled from start to finish.
For a team that had lost 13 of 14 games in March and one that’s scratching and clawing to get back into a playoff race with a third of the regular season remaining, getting an easy win had to alleviate a ton of pressure, if only for a couple of days.
They had a franchise-record 46 points in the third quarter, led at one point by an astonishing 61 points and it was never in doubt.
“When things get tough, we can’t fall apart and not have that togetherness,” Siakam said. “I think that’s what we’re fighting and today kind of showed that, and we just want to continue to build on that.
“Obviously it’s just one win. No matter what the score was, it’s just one win. And I think we’ve got to build on that and try to get some wins in a row.”
But will there be a carry-over? It’s not assured, but there were good signs.
“We’ve been on the floor a lot more lately. They’ve been very good out there. We’re teaching and building and showing the new guys things,” Nurse said.
“They’re good, and it’s nice to see a lot of the little things you’re working and see some improvement. I know it’s not much of a game tonight, but at least there was lots of aggressive defence, there was a lot of help, there was a lot of good block-outs — all the things we’re working on.”
The Warriors continue to deal with a rash of injuries that have derailed this season and saw them plummet to bottom of the standings a year ago.
They were without Stephen Curry (tailbone) and Klay Thompson (lost for the year with a torn Achilles), and Draymond Green was a last-minute scratch with a sprained finger.
It has been a horrid two years for a team that was the last NBA dynasty, appearing in five straight NBA Finals between 2015 and 2019, winning three titles.
Still, they are right in the thick of at least getting into the play-in portion of the post-season.
“There’s no season that’s a wasted season,” coach Steve Kerr said. ”Every season should be productive regardless of how many wins or losses you have. It’s those internal improvements, the game within the game, that you’re looking at.”
- Reliable Warrior: The Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins continues to impress Kerr.
“Andrew’s just a fantastic human being,” Kerr said before Friday’s game. “He’s really easygoing, great teammate.”
And one who shows up every night. The 26-year-old from Thornhill has started each of his 503 NBA games, he’s played all 82 games in a season three times and 81 one other. He’s played every game in each of the last two seasons with Minnesota and Golden State.
“He’s there every single night,” Kerr said. “He literally never misses games. That’s so valuable to have someone you can count on night after night.”
- Boucher’s troubles: Chris Boucher got his fourth start of the season for the Raptors, replacing Aron Baynes, and it didn’t go well at all. Boucher is best suited as a backup power forward because he’s not big or strong enough to defend centres. He picked up two fouls in the first 6 1/2 minutes and had to be taken out of the game.
The Raptors tried to give him some help, sending a second defender when he had to guard James Wiseman on the block. It backfired early as Siakam left Wiggins to help Boucher and Wiseman kicked the ball back out to Wiggins, who made a three-pointer.
- Bembry returns: DeAndre’ Bembry returned to the Raptors lineup after missing four games under the NBA’s pandemic related health and safety protocols. Paul Watson Jr. remains sidelined with the same health and safety concerns.
Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps