The second quarter between the Raptors and Sixers brought what has become a familiar, dreamy feeling.
Despite winning the first quarter – something that was a good omen until this latest slide – Toronto swiftly let go of the rope within three minutes of the second quarter as a one-point advantage turned into a 12-point deficit while Joel Embiid sat on the bench.
Carrying a five-game losing streak into Philadelphia and the last loss being a listless blowout defeat to the Steph Curry-less Warriors, doom seemed inevitable. Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes were struggling, and OG Anunoby was playing his first game back after sitting out a week to address hip and finger issues.
“It’s easy to have energy when everything is going good,” Pascal Siakam said on Sunday. “The hardest part is when things are not going your way, when you make a mistake, when there’s a 50-50 ball and they get the ball and hit a three, when it feels like everything is not working out. It’s hard to have energy but we have to find it. we have to find it.”
Siakam is in the midst of a career season and improbably grabbed that proverbial rope and gave his team life. He talked the talk and was backing it up with his play. He either scored or assisted five of the Raptors’ six baskets to open the second half during which there was a 7-0 run, but really turned it on at the end of the quarter.
He got to the basket for a layup and splashed a three on consecutive possessions to trim Philly’s lead to six, then nailed a three with 1.1 seconds remaining in the third to tie the game. It was a 16-point quarterback filled with hunger, desire, and supreme skill, and from a Chris Boucher pumped fist to an Anunoby smile, this was a team in a dark tunnel being shown a light when there seemed none.
Boucher had one of his better games with 13 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, while Anunoby played stellar defense in his first game back from injury against both Embiid and James Harden whenever called upon.
Down the stretch, specifically, Anunoby came up with three huge stops when the Raptors needed it most. The Sixers had retaken a three-point lead after Toronto led by as many as seven with four minutes remaining, and put the ball in the hands of their best player.
Just inside the top of the arc, Embiid squared up against Anunoby knowing he wouldn’t be able to drive by him. The next best thing was to get closer to the basket, use his body to create some separation, and rise up. All seven feet and 280 pounds of the MVP runner-up weren’t enough to shake Anunoby, and a tough fadeaway was the best he could do.
Toronto couldn’t corral the rebound and so there would be an immediate sequel, this time from the left side of the floor. Embiid was left with little room and opted for a spinning fadeaway. He missed once again but this time Siakam secured the board.
Siakam went down the other end and earned a trip to the free throw line, cutting Philly’s lead to two. Toronto called on Anunoby once again to get a stop, but this time against Harden.
Harden was at the top of the arc and went to a right-to-left crossover, then back the other way, none of it bringing any kind of breathing room. He, too, was forced into a fadeaway and Siakam flew in for the rebound.
Looking to take advantage of the open space, Siakam quickly surveyed the floor and identified a gap on the right side and attacked it immediately. PJ Tucker could barely keep up and could only watch as Siakam skied for a running banker that needed incredible touch to drop. Tie game.
The Raptors couldn’t get anything going in overtime offensively and Siakam’s 38-point, 14-rebound, six-assist night was ultimately inconsequential. As was Anunoby’s fantastic defensive effort over 39 minutes as well as some timely shot making from deep.
This isn’t the first time a tremendous individual effort has come in a losing effort this season. Siakam had huge nights in Brooklyn and Orlando that went unrewarded, as did Barnes in Atlanta. VanVleet had back-to-back 39-point nights against Sacramento and Brooklyn at home and both resulted in losses.
Half of the Raptors’ 18 losses have come by six points or fewer but fight only counts for so much with a losing streak now at six and nine of 11 overall. Siakam is having a great season, as is Anunoby. In order to make it one that’s remembered for the right reasons, the wins have to start coming.
“I don’t know if we play well enough in these games to win,” Siakam said. “There’s some games where we play well enough to be there, be close, but some games we haven’t played well enough. We have to figure out a way to come together and get a win, get wins, and at the end of the day I don’t care about the schemes or this or that, we just gotta win.”