TORONTO — Fred VanVleet would love to see O.G. Anunoby when he's angry.
The two combined for 59 points to drag the lethargic Toronto Raptors to a 116-109 victory over the lowly Houston Rockets on Wednesday.
VanVleet had seven three-pointers en route to 32 points, while Anunoby scored 27 and grabbed 10 rebounds, and afterwards VanVleet applauded his teammate's aggression.
"It's amazing. (Anunoby) is finally taking it personally and if he ever gets any meaner, he's going to be really scary. He's such a nice guy.
"To see him take it personal on defence, he could probably steal the ball whenever he feels like it, but he's making the right reads on rotations, he’s making plays on lobs and blocked shots so it just looks great. It looks like he's the defensive player of the year so far."
The Raptors (7-5) got 14 points from newcomer Otto Porter Jr., while Scottie Barnes chipped in with 13, and Gary Trent Jr. finished with 11.
Jalen Green scored 21 to top the Rockets (2-10), who had seven players score in double figures.
The Raptors played like they were expecting a light night against the league's worst team. They were wrong.
They trailed by 12 early on, before coming to life in a second quarter punctuated by a series of Anunoby dunks. On one, the Raptors forward bulldozed through three Rockets to the hoop for a huge slam that had the Scotiabank Centre crowd screaming.
"He looks great. He looks like a guy who has turned into an every possession guy," VanVleet said. "The more he gets in shape, and not in terms of his body, or cardio or anything, but just the will and the determinedness to do it play after play after play and not take plays off, it takes a lot and we’re seeing him do it this year for us."
VanVleet scored on a 28-footer, and threw a glance at the Rockets bench as the ball fell, to giveToronto a 12-point advantage midway through the third. But that had dwindled to just 86-82 to start the fourth.
"It's always hard to win in this in this league, always, any night, anywhere no matter who you’re playing," coach Nick Nurse said. "We had quite a few guys that didn't … had their chances and didn't make the most of them, let's say."
The Rockets hung around in the fourth before back-to-back threes from Porter gave Toronto seven points of breathing room with 5:07 to play.
Anunoby's alley-oop dunk from Thad Young made it a nine-point difference, and then Barnes' put-back jam with 1:38 to play, for an eight-point lead, was enough to secure the win.
"VanVleet came through for them and made some big plays," said Rockets coach Stephen Silas.
Siakam, meanwhile, is expected to be out at least two weeks with a strained adductor muscle.
The Raptors looked disinterested on defence in the first quarter, allowing the Rockets to shoot 70 per cent and take an 11-point lead late in the frame. Houston led 37-29 to start the second.
The Rockets stretched their lead to 12 early in the second quarter, but the Raptors finally mustered some energy, closing the half with 28-13 run to take a 57-54 advantage into the break.
Precious Achiuwa was having a rough night before spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter. He winced in pain as he was helped off the court. It was more misery for a player that Nurse wants more from. The coach said he did a long video review with Achiuwa pre-game, mainly around his defensive struggles.
"He just needs to play better, man," Nurse said. "I'm always talking about playing hard on D and not executing. And he's just having too much inconsistency. Some nights he's unbelievable, he's into the game and doing it all. Some nights he's not doing very much of it."
Nurse summed up his game Wednesday as "not very good."
INDIGENOUS HERITAGE NIGHT
As part of the Raptors, first-ever Indigenous Heritage Night, the anthems were performed by Shawnee Kish, a Mohawk singer-songwriter and wife of retired Canadian rugby star Jen Kish, and Snotty Nose Rez Kids, rappers from Kitimat, B.C., performed at halftime.
The Raptors depart for three games on the road, beginning Friday at Oklahoma City. They play in Indiana on Saturday and Detroit on Monday before returning home to host Kyle Lowry and the Miami Heat on Nov. 16.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press