10 things: Pascal Siakam steps up in crunch time for tough win over Kings

William Lou
NBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 118-113 win over the Sacramento Kings.

One — Resilient: The best part of this win was how poised the Raptors were in crunch time. Sacramento poured it on late with a flurry of ridiculous threes from De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, but the Raptors never wavered. Nick Nurse called for timeout after the Kings tied it up at 94 with five minutes left, and the Raptors scored on their next eight possessions before the Kings went to intentional fouling, and from there the Raptors hit 5-of-6 from the free-throw line to ice the game.

Two — Patented: The two-man game between Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry was the go-to play inside of two minutes, and it worked to perfection just as it did in their win over the Warriors. It’s a simple action, but it works because there’s always a mismatch. Lowry is a crafty screener who always strikes the right angle to create contact, and Lowry is also a threat to shoot so doubling Siakam is out of the question. This leads to Lowry’s defender checking Siakam on the switch, and that’s the advantage because Siakam can shoot over the top without worry for his shot getting blocked. Credit Siakam for making decisive and measured drives into the paint, before either finishing strong or drawing contact.

Three — Practice: Siakam is in the process of revamping his entire approach and sometimes that gets lost within the flow of a game. Last season, Siakam thrived in transition and playing along the baseline, where he would either get post ups, or hit the corner three. This year, his game is primarily based at the top of the floor, where he is forced to beat multiple defenders to get to his shot. Just by nature of shifting to a more difficult role in the offense, Siakam’s efficiency has dropped, but there have also been huge improvements. His playmaking out of double teams has steadily improved, and the pull-up three is a budding weapon. Siakam was 1-of-7 from deep, and yet he nailed the biggest shot of the night. Growing pains are unavoidable, but it’s going to be worth it in the long run.

Four — Engine: As great as Siakam was in crunch time, this win belongs to Lowry. He willed the Raptors back into the game after trailing by eight in the second quarter by scoring 11 straight points to end the half, and was brilliant for the entirety of the second half where he sacrificed his body on daredevil drives to the rim, adding timely threes to keep the Raptors in command. And after dominating for the first 46 minutes, Lowry then becomes a supporting piece to free Siakam up to play the hero. It’s been said countless times over the last seven seasons, but Lowry’s willingness to do whatever it takes to win sets the tone for this whole franchise. He is a leader, through and through.

Five — Unstoppable: Norman Powell is averaging twenty-eight points per game since returning from a hand injury. And while he’s faced some easy opponents along the way (Sacramento, Phoenix, Charlotte, and Golden State are hardly the 2004 Detroit Pistons) but this run is nothing short of sensational. Powell’s confidence is sky-high, and he’s patiently getting to his spots. Early in games, he wrecks havoc in transition, but he’s also just as effective against set defenses. He’s been especially effective on dribble hand-offs from the center spot, where Powell can either pull-up for three if the defenders sag back, or he can shoot the gap and get all the way to the basket. Even his playmaking is improving, as Powell had a season-high five assists from all the added attention coming his way.

Six — Steady: OG Anunoby is also quietly settling into his groove as an efficient fifth option. Anunoby rarely gets a touch, but he makes the most of his touches. He hit his open threes when the pass came to him, he rolled to the basket with strength and purpose when the defense doubled Siakam or Lowry, and he even tossed in a one-dribble pull-up after the defender flew by on an overzealous closeout. It’s a small detail, but getting 12 points on seven shots from the fifth option is a great outcome.

Seven — Rusty: Marc Gasol was out of rhythm in his return from a hamstring injury, which makes sense given that he’s missed 27 games this season. The Raptors brought Gasol off the bench as a way to control and monitor his minutes, which was a smart call, but he looked like a stranger with the new group. Most of it came down to timing and feel, where Gasol would pass up open shots or be a step late to contest, and that’s where you can confidently feel that he will improve with time.

Eight — Uphill: Gasol’s rust didn’t help, but this was just an awful showing by the Raptors’ bench that lost 51-7 against their counterparts. The flow of the game was that the starters would always build an advantage, only for the second unit to lose momentum. The main issue was that they lacked structure and cohesiveness on both ends, whereas Sacramento’s reserves were crisp and concise with their plan of attack. Expect more duds from the bench until they adjust to the new structure.

Nine — Searching: Nurse’s approach is that everyone (besides Pat McCaw) is limited to a short leash when it comes to the second unit. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Terence Davis saw time in the first half, but were benched after they struggled. Then came Matt Thomas for a short (yet painful) stretch in the second half before he too was benched. Chris Boucher didn’t even see the floor at all with Gasol back in the lineup. It’s not to say that these guys can’t play, as they’ve all had their moments this season, but what Nurse needs is consistency, and none of them are delivering as of yet.

Ten — Questions: Chalk this up as a good problem, but Nurse will have two tough decisions on his hands once Fred VanVleet returns to field a healthy team. Gasol and Ibaka already flipped spots, and it’s unclear if that will be temporary or permanent. There’s also a fair question as to which one of Powell or VanVleet should start, as both players have been excellent in that role.

More coverage on Yahoo Sports Canada