Raptors rely on backcourt to sweep weekend back-to-back

Weeks of getting creative and relying on unusual playing combinations during an injury crisis looked well behind the Raptors as they pulled off a second win in as many nights, beating the Timberwolves 122-112 in Minnesota on Saturday.

Fred VanVleet returned to Toronto’s starting lineup after missing five games because of a hamstring injury. He joined Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol on the floor for tipoff, the first time Toronto’s preferred five have played together since Dec. 8.

Toronto’s backcourt made the difference on the night, with VanVleet and Lowry combining for 57 points, including 12 made threes. It was Lowry’s 17-point third quarter that got the Raptors on track, with the veteran point guard putting up five points fewer in the period than the whole Timberwolves combined.

The visitors needed someone to step up on the second night of a back-to-back against a physical Minnesota team that they couldn’t put away in the first half. It was the Timberwolves who had the upper hand early, dumping 39 points on the Raptors for their worst first quarter of the year. It wasn’t rust that the recently reacquainted Toronto team was showing — the visitors shot 60 per cent from the field early on, putting up 20 points in the paint to Minnesota’s 13 — but lax defending, letting the three-happy Timberwolves shoot 5-for-11 from beyond the arc to the Raptors 1-for-6.

But if the Raptors have proven anything this season, it is they know how to weather a storm.

VanVleet had the hot hand in the fourth quarter and finished with a game-high 29 points and a career-high seven made threes. He and Lowry were supported by Norman Powell, who had his fourth straight 20-point game.

Toronto held Minnesota to 23 per cent shooting from three in the final three quarters, cutting off the home team’s blood supply.

The win was the first time Toronto has claimed two victories in back-to-back games this season.

  • Getting Wiggy with it: Vaughan native Andrew Wiggins has excelled against his hometown team over his six-year NBA career, averaging 23.1 points per game against the Raptors, his best against any team except Cleveland. History looked like it might be repeating itself early for the 24-year-old. He finished the night with a triple double — 18 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists — but his impact lessened significantly in the final three quarters. Guard Jarrett Culver led the Timberwolves’ offence with 26 points, while Karl Anthony Towns hardly made a peep with 12 points.
  • Taking a breather: The return to health of many Raptors players means coach Nick Nurse can spread around the minutes. VanVleet led the team with 28:30 minutes on Saturday, slight ahead of Lowry’s 28:16. Nurse told reporters in Minnesota pre-game that he planned to rotate seven players through the starting lineup going forward: Lowry, VanVleet, Gasol, Anunoby, Siakam, Ibaka and Powell.

  • Up next: A rare weekday matinee as Toronto visits Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday at 2:30 p.m.

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Laura Armstrong