TORONTO — Defence has long been a cornerstone of the Toronto Raptors' success, but a solid defensive effort had been inexplicably missing of late.
But playing smothering defence from the opening tip on Sunday, the Raptors roared to a 102-90 victory over the Washington Wizards for their second consecutive win.
Pascal Siakam scored 17 of his 31 points in a key second quarter, while Chris Boucher had 14 points to lead an excellent performance by the bench.
Asked why the defence has been so noticeably better the past two games, Boucher said, laughing: "That’s all we do at practice.
"The last few practices that we had -- after we lost a game, I think we just didn’t show up, I think against Boston, and Memphis too -- since then all we do is defence."
Scottie Barnes had 11 points for the Raptors (11-13), who exacted revenge for their loss to Washington on opening night. Precious Achiuwa had 10 points and a team-high 14 rebounds, while Fred VanVleet finished with 10 points in Toronto's fourth win in their last 11 games.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Washington (14-10) with 26 points.
The Raptors' bench, which has been a weak spot this season, provided a big spark, outscoring Washington's bench 34-28.
"I thought that group that started set the tone, but I also thought the guys who came off the bench brought the same kind of energy and maybe even a little more," coach Nick Nurse said. "That’s kind of what we’re hoping for it to look like. It was a good, all-around team effort defensively."
Nurse called rookie Dalano Banton's performance "awesome." He praised Boucher, who had a rough start to the season and found himself all but out of Nurse's rotation. On Sunday, Banton found a cutting Boucher several times for baskets.
Boucher credited his improvement watching film and meditation.
"A lot of people are upset with my play, which I understand, but I do a lot of mental work into figuring out what it is, eventually you find it, eventually you know what you have to do," the Montreal native said. "I’m realizing what role I have here, take what I can get and do the best with it."
Boucher said he does "a lot of meditation," but only started doing it pre-game at the suggestion of Raptors therapist Ray Chow.
"Ray told me he felt like when I was playing there’s so much going on in my mind," Boucher said. "So, gave me a little meditation today, and that kinda really helped out. Going into the game flowing, and knowing that I’m able to do certain stuff and be confident with it."
The Wizards, who beat Toronto on opening night to spoil the Raptors' first game in Toronto in 600 days, arrived on Sunday in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and looking to bounce back from a 15-point loss to Cleveland two nights earlier.
Toronto was fresh off a four-point win over Milwaukee on Friday, holding on to win with one of the best defensive efforts this season.
Their momentum carried into Sunday as the Raptors built a 25-point first-half lead, smothering the Wizards on the defensive end. Siakam shot a perfect 7-for-7 in a second quarter that saw the Raptors pour in 40 points, a season-high for a quarter.
"We don’t have a seven-footer out there, but we have guys that can do multiple things and are great on defence,” Siakam said. "We’ve just got to bring the effort every single night."
Leading 84-68 to start the fourth, the Wizards sliced the difference to 12 points midway through the quarter, but Washington wouldn't threaten again, and when Achiuwa got his hands on an offensive rebound and drove to the hoop for a dunk, swinging from the rim to the roar of the capacity Scotiabank Arena crowd of 19,800, the Raptors were back up by 16 points with 4:15 to play.
With a game Monday at Indiana, the Wizards threw in the figurative towel and emptied the bench with about three minutes to play. Nurse did the same with 1:30 to play and the game well in hand. It was the first time the Raptors have won back-to-back games since a five-game winning streak Oct. 27 to Nov. 3.
The Raptors -- who have three games to go on this season-high seven-game homestand -- remain without the frontcourt presence of OG Anunoby, who sat out his ninth consecutive game with a hip injury, and Khem Birch, who missed his fifth straight and ninth this season with knee swelling. There's no timeline for the return of either player.
The pesky Raptors held Washington to just a dozen points in the first quarter. On the offensive end, six players scored, Gary Trent Jr. had a pair of three-pointers, and Toronto committed zero turnovers for a 23-12 advantage to start the second.
Siakam couldn't miss in the second, and his three-pointer with 4:59 to play had the Raptors up by 25 points. Toronto took a 63-42 advantage into the halftime break.
The Raptors sputtered in the third. They had trouble containing Caldwell-Pope, who scored 10 in the quarter, and allowed the Wizards to creep back to within 12 points.
The night marked the eighth annual Giants of Africa game in celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. NBA commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance.
The Raptors host struggling Oklahoma City on Wednesday. On Friday, the Memphis Grizzlies demolished the Thunder 152-79, shattering the NBA record for the largest margin of victory.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2021.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press