Spirited effort falls short as COVID claims another one against Raptors

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The Raptors are slowly making their way back to a reasonable facsimile of he team they were before Omicron took a hatchet to the locker room.


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A couple of nights after a severely COVID-depleted lineup got smoked in Cleveland, the Raptors welcomed back a trio of regulars to the lineup.

Pascal Siakam looked no worse for wear after his second bout with the virus in less than a year returning and giving the Raptors a chance against a 76ers lineup that was missing just four to the Raptors absent list which sat at 10 last night.

Siakam struggled coming out of protocols last season but had no such carryover this time ,setting the tone for the night with a strong 14 points in the first quarter.

Also returning from the COVID protocols list were Gary Trent Jr. and Malachi Flynn.

Chris Boucher, who had a tough shooting night in Cleveland, rebounded with a strong 28-point, 19-rebound evening while Siakam finished up with 28 points, eight assists and six boards.


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It all combined to keep the Raptors in a game they had little business being in given the number of missing players, but it wasn’t enough as the Sixers took the obvious advantage a monster like Joel Embiid provides and rode his 36 points to a hard-fought 114-109 win.

“The biggest thing is I thought they played really hard on defence and I thought they continued to try to carry the load on offence,” Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse said of his returnees.

“Gary didn’t have the greatest shooting night there but he made a big shot; Pascal, I thought he just had a really good offensive game, he was making plays, making passes, he had Embiid on him a lot so he got involved in a lot of ball screens, handoffs.

“Those guys obviously played almost 42 minutes apiece,” Nurse said. “They’d be tired under normal circumstances but under these circumstances they were pretty gassed, I would imagine.”


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Siakam confirmed that post-game but was more than happy to share that coming back from COVID this time around did not come with the hangover it did the first time last season, when the team was playing its home games in Tampa.

Siakam said this time around the virus was more of a cold than anything. It didn’t have the deteriorating effects last year’s bout brought with it. He’s hopeful, as is Nurse, that will be the way the other returning Raptors find things when they exit protocols.

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Fred VanVleet and Precious Achiuwa should be the next to re-join the Raptors in time for Friday’s game with the Clippers.

Georges Niang was a real thorn in the Raptors side all night as well. Coming off the bench for Doc Rivers, Niang had 19 points in 22 minutes providing enough secondary scoring for the Sixers to get out of Toronto with a win.


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Tobias Harris was no slouch in this one either with a triple-double of 17 points, 10 assists and 12 rebounds.
Unlike the blowout loss in Cleveland, this group of Raptors seemed to have the push back that was lacking a few nights earlier to make this a game.

Obviously the return of regulars like Siakam and Trent Jr. helped, but it was the defensive fight returning that was equally, if not more, pivotal.

Before the game Nurse said it was just a matter of getting the newer Raptors, who understandably had little to no concept of the Raptors’ defensive schemes, to simply play harder.

“I would say one of our defensive things is you’ve got to stand in there,” Nurse said. “No matter if you’re outheighted or outweighted or whatever, if you’re the guy who is there at the end, you’ve got to stand in there. If you can’t stand in there and make a play, you’re going to have to probably take a foul. That’s hard to convince them to do, I think. That’s probably the hardest part. We talked a lot about that the other night and we just couldn’t get it done. We couldn’t quite get them to stand in there at the basket enough, for my liking, anyway.”


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After taking eight pseudo and legit Raptors to Cleveland on Boxing Day and getting their doors blown off, the Raptors were at least up to nine for the first half last night.

Out with a bruised right knee after playing in Cleveland was Dalano Banton. Missing for the first half after a strong showing in his first game with the Raptors was DJ Wilson.

Apparently the former member of the Bucks who selected him 17th overall in 2017, was still attempting to clear protocols and missed the first half because of that.

He returned to the Raptors bench to start the second giving Nurse five substitutes beyond the five starters on the court.

Wilson would win up playing 13 minutes after sitting out the first 31. He scored nine points and added six rebounds in yet another solid outing following up his 15-point, eight-rebound debut as a Raptor.


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The Raptors may be down numbers, although that situation is obviously improving by the day, but it sounds very unlikely at any point that the Raptors sending out the bat signal for Goran Dragic, who is training in his home country of Slovenia.

Dragic and the Raptors have pretty clearly determined that until there is a trade or a buyout, it’s not in either side’s interest to have Dragic in Toronto.

Nurse suggested that there hasn’t been any communication with Dragic since he went home to Slovenia.

“Not really,” Nurse said. “I don’t think that is part of the plan even though we are down numbers. I don’t think that is part of the plan.”



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