RYAN WOLSTAT

De­spite an­other slow start, Rap­tors wake up to pound vis­i­tors in mati­nee ... Si­akam scores a ca­reer-high to lead team while Leonard, Lowry take back seat ... But­ler’s trade to Philly makes East even more com­pet­i­tive ... Fiz­dale praises Toronto’s depth

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - RYAN WOLSTAT

First they snoozed, then they cruised.

The Rap­tors shook off bru­tally slow starts to both the first and third quar­ters and Kawhi Leonard’s least im­pact­ful out­ing of the year to move to an NBA-best 12-1 with a 128-112 mati­nee win over the 4-9 New York Knicks on Satur­day at Sco­tia­bank Arena.

Toronto’s bright fu­ture was on full dis­play, with 24-yearold for­ward Pas­cal Si­akam go­ing off for a ca­reer-high 23 points, in­clud­ing three made three-point­ers, and 21-yearold OG Anunoby chip­ping in with an ad­di­tional 16 off of the bench, his third dou­ble-fig­ure game in suc­ces­sion, the long­est run of his ca­reer.

Toronto missed six straight shots to be­gin the game and con­tin­ued the new tra­di­tion of spend­ing the first quar­ter toss­ing the ball to the other team or the fans, but eas­ily ral­lied to draw even. By the time the half ended, Toronto some­how was up to 59% shoot­ing ac­cu­racy and held an 11-point edge. Leonard’s first field goal didn’t come un­til un­der a minute re­mained in the half and he had only six points through two and fin­ished with 12 on only 2-of-7 shoot­ing. Fel­low all-star Kyle Lowry only at­tempted six shots and had 10 points and seven as­sists in 26 min­utes.

Asked about the early turnover is­sues that have crept up in three straight games now,

Lowry didn’t seem overly both­ered.

“Just sloppy play­ing, a lack of con­cen­tra­tion early,”

Lowry told Post­media af­ter the game.

“It’s some­thing we have to clean up and we will.” The bench was mas­sive for the Rap­tors putting up 62 of the team’s points. Anunoby looked com­fort­able, Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas added 19 points and 10 re­bounds in 21 min­utes, Delon Wright 12.

“I think we have one of the deep­est teams in the NBA,” Wright said.

“I think it was just a good day for us and some­times you have to pick up the starters who are al­ways pick­ing up for us and play a team game.”

“They are a tough cover,” Knicks coach David Fiz­dale said of the Rap­tors.

“When they go to the bench, it just keeps com­ing at you — a lot of speed, a lot of skill, a lot of shoot­ing.”

Mi­nus Kristaps Porzingis, New York plays hard and tries its best, but sim­ply can­not com­pete with pow­er­houses like Toronto. The team only made six three-point­ers on 27% ac­cu­racy. Tim Har­d­away Jr. had 18 points in the first half to help his team hang around and fin­ished with 27. Enes Kan­ter added 15 points and 15 re­bounds off of the bench.

Toronto hosts Anthony Davis and the New Or­leans Pel­i­cans on Mon­day night.

KNICK BOSS BIG ON RAPS

A pre-game query lobbed at Knicks coach Fiz­dale about the Jimmy But­ler block­buster trade quickly mor­phed into talk about Leonard and the Rap­tors.

“This team that we’re play­ing tonight is so scary to watch on film that I haven’t even had time to process that (trade),” Fiz­dale said.

“I can’t think about that right now. I’ve got Kawhi Leonard and those guys, Kyle Lowry, sit­ting in that other locker room. I’m fo­cused on that.”

Fiz­dale knows all about Leonard and Danny Green, hav­ing coached against them at two NBA Fi­nals as Erik Spoel­stra’s right-hand man in Mi­ami and as the head guy in Mem­phis in an­other se­ries that saw Leonard aver­age

31.2 points.

“He’s just got­ten bet­ter ev­ery year. He just keeps adding and adding,” Fiz­dale said.

“He re­ally com­petes the right way. He’s a scary, scary dude. I still have bad dreams from the play­offs in Mem­phis. There’s noth­ing I can do against a guy like that.”

Green re­called the sixgame win over Mem­phis as be­ing ex­tremely an ex­tremely tough se­ries against a well­coached group. Green joked that Mike Con­ley Jr. and

Marc Ga­sol gave the Spurs night­mares of their own.

Fiz­dale said the Rap­tors added “cham­pi­ons” to a group that al­ready won 60 games and topped the East in the reg­u­lar sea­son. “You’ve got to count them in on hav­ing a shot to get there. Bar­ring any in­jury or any­thing like that, this team is go­ing to be in the mix. They are le­git­i­mate, they’re tough, they com­pete hard, they share the ball, they’re fast they’re ath­letic,” he said.

“They have all of the in­gre­di­ents. It’s just a mat­ter if they can keep it to­gether and keep con­nect­ing.”

EAST MORE IN­TER­EST­ING

But­ler, the 29-year-old four­time all-star went to Philadel­phia in a deal cen­tred around young for­ward Dario Saric, vet­eran swing­man Robert

Cov­ing­ton and a fu­ture sec­ond-round pick. The trade gives the Six­ers an in­trigu­ing big three of But­ler, Joel

Em­biid and Ben Sim­mons.

Nurse said he wasn’t sur­prised to see the reel­ing Wolves fi­nally find a new home for But­ler.

“It cer­tainly brings a re­ally good player into our gym a few more times, so we look for­ward to that,” Nurse said, tongue in cheek. Two of But­ler’s five high­est-scor­ing ca­reer games came against the Rap­tors and he has long been a thorn in their sides at both ends.

All of a sud­den the Eastern Con­fer­ence has some solid squads.

“I think the East is a lot bet­ter than maybe peo­ple give it credit for,” Nurse said.

The take here is that if the Six­ers can get three big per­son­al­i­ties to co-ex­ist well and share the spot­light and the ball the team will be in the mix to make the Fi­nals, though it needs to find more shoot­ers since it got worse shoot­ing-wise in the deal. Then it will have to pay a lot of money to keep But­ler around long-term and he has a ton of mileage and a long in­jury his­tory on his re­sume. But it’s prob­a­bly a risk worth tak­ing.

For Min­nesota, the team didn’t come close to re­coup­ing what it orig­i­nally sent to Chicago for But­ler, but at least he helped end that fran­chise’s long play­off drought last year and both Saric and Cov­ing­ton are solid play­ers.

Lowry re­fused to weigh in on the deal, other than jok­ing to Post­media that But­ler “can’t stay at my house.” Lowry, of course, hails from Philadel­phia.

AROUND THE RIM

Fiz­dale com­pli­mented Nick Nurse for get­ting a new group to gel so quickly, but con­ceded that hav­ing vet­er­ans and proven win­ners “helped fast-track it there.” … Green hit a bunch of three-point­ers, in­clud­ing the 1,000th of his ca­reer. He’s the first Rap­tor to do that since Lowry in 2016. A proud Green joked that “it just shows I’ve been play­ing a long time.” Ray Allen hit a record 2,973, though Steph

Curry is al­ready near­ing the 2,200 mark in less than half as many games.

Rap­tors for­ward Pas­cal Si­akam drives to the net past New York Knicks guard Al­lonzo Trier dur­ing yes­ter­day’s game. Si­akam led the team in scor­ing with 23 points.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Rap­tors guard Danny Green tries to block New York Knicks for­ward Noah Von­leh dur­ing yes­ter­day’s game at Sco­tia­bank Arena. Green had nine points in the win.

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