The Toronto Raptors’ 121-110 overtime loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday proved a couple of things: Any team can lose on any given night, and the Raptors are not falling apart in the post-Kawhi era, as many had predicted.
Toronto lost this one mainly because the club’s most important player, Pascal Siakam, was off his game, contributing only 15 points in 38 minutes on 5-of-14 shooting. This was only the second game all season when he failed to make a single three (0-of-2). He will have to be better.
This is an important part of the calendar for Toronto. The Houston Rockets and James Harden come to town on Thursday. The rest of the league will be watching.
Almost at the quarter pole of the season, the Raptors are 15-5 and hanging with the conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks (18-3) despite coach Nick Nurse having to field an injury-depleted lineup most nights.
The loss halted Toronto’s winning streak at seven and its home winning streak at nine as Kyle Lowry came back after missing 11 games with a small fracture on his left thumb.
As could be expected, Lowry was out of sorts all game, going 2-for-18 from the field. The Raptors’ other big contributor, Fred VanVleet, was also struggling, scoring 19 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field and 3-of-9 from three-point range.
Siakam has been making noise in Toronto all season, leading to suggestions he may get more MVP votes than Kawhi Leonard when all is said and done. That would be a bold prediction because Sikam has yet to prove he can be a consistent all-star performer.
We are one week away from what should be the biggest game of the season, when Leonard and the L.A. Clippers come to Toronto in Leonard’s return to the city where he was hailed for leading Toronto to its first NBA Championship.
A Siakam-Leonard duel is what everyone is looking forward to. Coming into Tuesday night’s game, Siakam was showing solid progression into becoming the elite talent that the Raptors expected of him when they signed him to a four-year, $130 million extension prior to the season.
Two seasons ago, Siakam averaged 7.3 points per game and shot 22% from three-point range. Going into the game against Miami, Siakam was averaging 25.6 PPG and shooting 39% from beyond the arc.
In 20 games this season, Siakam has registered 30 points or more eight times, which was the second most in franchise history behind DeMar DeRozan’s 10 games of 30 points or more through the club’s first 20 games. But only once, at the start of the season, has Siakam posted back-to-back 30-point games. This is why his consistency will be a question mark going forward. Yet Siakam is still young at 25 and in his first season as a starter, so some inconsistency should be expected.
But when Toronto’s three best players (Siakam, Lowry and VanVleet) have bad nights, it’s too much to ask Toronto to defeat a team as aggressive and as talented as the Miami Heat. But it’s also telling that, without solid contributions from those three, Toronto was still in the game right to the end.
To suggest this team is measurably weaker without Kawhi Leonard is so wrong. Last year at this same point with Kawhi, Toronto was 16-4. In other words, not much better than the current 15-5 club.
This is clearly a team that can hang with the big boys.