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VanVleet leads as Raptors rout Timberwolves 122-107; Toronto wins third straight

Minnesota Timberwolves centre Rudy Gobert (27) blocks a shot by Toronto Raptors centre Jakob Poeltl (19) during first half NBA basketball action in Toronto, Saturday, March 18, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — Fred VanVleet carried the load in the first half and Pascal Siakam took over in the second as the Toronto Raptors won their third straight.

VanVleet led all scorers with 28 to power the Raptors past the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-107 on Saturday, with 22 of his points coming before intermission. Siakam earned a double-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists, with 14 of his points coming after the break.

"We've got to have more than one option and take whatever the defence has given us," said VanVleet. "I thought we just had a pretty good, balanced attack tonight making the right plays even when it wasn't working out.

"We still were looking for the right things and making the right reads."

Centre Jakob Poeltl also had a double-double for the Raptors (35-36), with 14 points and 11 boards. Twelve of those points came in the first quarter as he benefited from VanVleet's perimeter play.

Poeltl got in foul trouble, however, causing Toronto head coach Nick Nurse to turn to Montreal native Chris Boucher for much of the second half. Boucher finished with five points, four rebounds, and two blocks in 19 minutes of play.

"It's a lot slower, I'd say, then when you guard wings and guys who shoot off the corner or are doing back cuts and stuff," said Boucher, who usually guards other teams' swingmen. "They move a lot faster.

"It was definitely fun to see that I was still able to do this."

Naz Reid scored 22 off the bench for Minnesota (35-37), which lost its third game in a row. Jaden McDaniels added 18.

Timberwolves guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who is from Toronto, scored four. VanVleet, who had to guard the Canadian for most of his 19 minutes of play, was impressed by Alexander-Walker.

"His best basketball is in front of him. He's a young kid, and he's got a lot of talent, so I think the sky's the limit," said VanVleet, who suggested that the 24-year-old Alexander-Walker's development may have been slowed by him being on his third NBA team. "We get these opportunities, you've got to make the most of them. 

"You don't get to choose when and where and how, but you do get to choose how you approach every day and just being prepared and we are ready for when your number's called."

VanVleet and Poeltl were a potent perimeter-paint threat in the opening quarter, combining for 27 points to help the Raptors to a 32-26 lead in the first frame.

Poeltl had a season-high 12 points in the quarter. His previous high for a single quarter was 10 on March 2 against the Washington Wizards.

O.G. Anunoby got off a buzzer-beating three-pointer to bring the sold-out crowd of 19,800 to their feet and give the Raptors a 66-58 lead at the intermission.

A driving Reid layup with 4:16 left in the third gave the Timberwolves a lead — albeit by just a point — for the first time since 6:13 into the game.

The lead swung back and forth between Toronto and Minnesota for the rest of the third quarter but the Raptors started to pull away thanks to a strong defensive sequence keyed by Boucher.

He blocked Reid's shot with 36 seconds left in the quarter then he converted a pass from Siakam into a three-pointer. On the ensuing Timberwolves' possession, Gary Trent Jr. stole the ball and broke away for an uncontested layup and a 94-85 Raptors lead heading into the fourth.

"It felt like a pretty low energy game, the building was really quiet," said Toronto head coach Nick Nurse. "I felt like our bench was quiet, their bench was quiet. 

"Then we hit a spark there and the energy hit, and then we went on a run."

Scottie Barnes made a layup two minutes into the fourth, forcing Minnesota to take a timeout with the Raptors holding a 13-point lead.

Toronto didn't look back after that, answering back every time Minnesota scored. A two-handed Poeltl jam, his first points since the opening quarter, followed by a Trent three-pointer gave the Raptors a 19-point lead and sent dozens of fans to the exits.

It also prompted coach Nurse to put out some of his depth players, including Joe Wieskamp who had already played earlier in the day for Raptors 905, Toronto's G League affiliate.

MASKED MAN — Raptors rookie centre Christian Koloko fractured his nose late in Thursday's 128-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Koloko was listed as questionable before Saturday's game but played nine minutes with a protective mask on.

UP NEXT — The Raptors travel to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks on Sunday night.

Minnesota continues its road trip with a game in New York against the Knicks on Monday. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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