TORONTO — Pascal Siakam wasted little time in showing what the Toronto Raptors had been missing.
Back after a 10-game absence, Siakam scored Toronto's first points of the game Monday, en route to 18 points and 11 rebounds to help the Raptors to a 100-88 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The performance earned high praise from teammate Scottie Barnes.
"Great to have Pascal back out there. You see him doing amazing things, score the ball at a higher level, being efficient, rebounding, pushing the ball, the things that he brings to the game, it's amazing to see," Barnes marvelled.
"Watching Pascal play is like: wow, damn. Every move he makes, the step-backs, the spin moves, double spin moves, you know it's coming but still, bang. It's great to have him back out there on the floor."
O.G. Anunoby had 20 points, while Gary Trent Jr. finished with 14, Fred VanVleet scored 13, while Barnes had 11, and Thaddeus Young chipped in with 10 for Toronto (11-9).
Evan Mobley had 18 points and 15 rebounds to top Cleveland (13-8), while Darius Garland added 18 points.
Siakam's injury was a big blow after his sizzling start to the season. He was averaging 24.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists before he slipped on the court in Dallas on Nov. 4 and strained an adductor (groin) muscle. The Raptors went 5-5 in his absence.
The 28-year-old showed little signs of rust in his return, recording eight points and four rebounds in his first seven-and-a-half-minute shift before taking a breather.
"He was really good. Looked really like he hadn’t missed a beat, right?" coach Nick Nurse said. "He really was confident in getting to his spots and made some tough shots in the first half especially, but just liked the way he played both ends."
Siakam said he felt he did "OK."
"To play at that speed, the game is different," he said. "I've been working, but game speed is different … to be able to sustain it for a long time. I got to continue to get better, but once I get my legs under me I can kind of provide a little bit more."
The game was tightly fought through the first half, with neither team leading by double digits. The Raptors' 8-0 run midway through the third quarter put them up by 16 points, and Chris Boucher's free throw made it an 18-point difference late in the frame. Toronto led 80-67 to start the fourth.
Trent Jr., who's been mired in a shooting slump, hit a three-pointer with 5:55 to play to stretch the Raptors' lead to 20 points. With 3:11 to play, Raul Neto was pestering VanVleet before the Raptors guard pushed off the Cavs player — he admitted to the push-off post-game — before calmly sinking a three-pointer.
VanVleet nattered at Neto on the way back up the court. Asked if there were any words he could repeat, VanVleet laughed and said "Not many, not many."
"I like Neto man, he's a heck of a competitor. I really respect his game," VanVleet added. "I won’t share what I said, but I was probably more frustrated at the ref than I was him, so I'm glad they let me push him off, I got an extra three out of that couple minutes coach threw me back in so I'll take it."
The basket was the exclamation point on a solid victory, and had the capacity crowd of 19,800 fans at Scotiabank Arena roaring. Nurse subbed out his starters soon after.
The Raptors shot 44 per cent on the night, and 42.9 per cent from three-point range. The Cavs were a horrible 18.4 per cent from behind the arc.
Anunoby's three-pointer with 3:17 left in the first quarter put the Raptors up by seven, but they led just 26-24 to start the second.
The Raptors finally put some distance on Cleveland in the second quarter, taking a nine-point lead with a 12-3 run. Toronto took a 52-43 advantage into the halftime break.
CAMEROON VS. SERBIA
Siakam only caught a bit of Cameroon's 3-3 tie with Serbia at the FIFA World Cup on Monday, since kickoff was 5 a.m. ET.
“It was super crazy. I watched the first half and then I was like, 'I have a game tonight. If I don’t sleep, I don’t think I’ll be able to play tonight," said Siakam, who's from Cameroon. "Seeing the score, it was a crazy, crazy game. We should have won that one. We didn't have to do this, but now we have to beat Brazil I guess."
Cameroon, with a tie and a loss, needs a win against Brazil on Friday to advance from the group stage.
Monday marked the first time in Barnes' career he's come off the bench in the regular season.
"It was a little different," Barnes said after the game. "I'm used to being out there to start the game. I guess it was a little bit of an adjustment. It's just different."
The Raptors sophomore and reigning NBA rookie of the year had started all 90 of his previous regular-season appearances.
The Raptors are in New Orleans on Wednesday and Brooklyn on Friday before returning home to host Orlando on Saturday, the first of three consecutive home games.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press