TORONTO - Fred VanVleet continues to make a mid-season push to be named to the NBA all-star game in Cleveland next month.
The Toronto Raptors guard went over the 30-point mark for a third straight outing, this time scoring 33 points in a 129-104 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.
Toronto (17-17) captured a third consecutive victory to reach the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 13 when it was 7-7. San Antonio (14-22) lost its fourth straight game.
“I think he's got to be in the (all-star game) conversation,” Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said. “But I'll say the same thing; we've got to climb the standings.
“I just think that's part of it.”
VanVleet went 7-for-14 from beyond the three-point arc. He has scored 31, 35 and 33 points in the three wins before a near-empty Scotiabank Arena because of Ontario's tightened COVID-19 restrictions.
“I think you recognize when you're in a rhythm, and you just try to hold on as long as possible because it's not always like that,” VanVleet said. “When you're hot, I think you've just got to be aggressive and ride it out as long as you can.”
Even though Toronto players Yuta Watanabe and Svi Mykhailiuk entered the league's health-and-safety protocols earlier on Tuesday, VanVleet has benefited recently from a healthy lineup and the return of Pascal Siakam.
All five Toronto starters hit double figures.
Siakam enjoyed a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Guard Gary Trent Jr. added 21 points while OG Anunoby scored 14, and rookie Scottie Barnes chipped in 11 and a career-high nine assists.
Barnes and Siakam also have pitched in carrying the ball up the court, leaving VanVleet free to score off his catch-and-shoot specialty.
“I think just the position we're in now with having everybody back, I think we can kind of find our own natural roles, which has been a little bit of an issue this year with having guys in and out and guys having to do more than expected,” VanVleet said. “So I think we're finding our natural rhythm of where our team is going to be for now and obviously feeling pretty good.”
Justin Champagnie, who reports for duty every morning at 8:30 a.m. to work on his jump shot, came off the bench to contribute 14 points for the Raptors, making five-of-six shots, including four three-pointers. Big men like Chris Boucher and Khem Birch were influential despite scoring only four points and three points, respectively.
“Chris had a good game,” Nurse said. “There's certain guys that are energy guys you look coming off the bench.
“Justin, Chris, those guys, it's been nice actually. I think Khem gives us a totally different look coming off the bench as well. I thought he had a great impact on the game.”
Lonnie Walker, Doug McDermott and Dejounte Murray were missing from the Spurs lineup because of health-and-safety protocols.
San Antonio's COVID-19 situation has opened up playing time for Toronto native Josh Primo. At age 19, he's the NBA's youngest player.
Primo scored 15 points with about 20 family members and friends sitting in section 107.
“It was going to be in the hundreds probably if it wasn't for what's going on with Omicron,” said Primo, who grew up rooting for the Raptors. “I wish there could be a lot more people in the stands.
“I had a lot of plans. I've been planning for months in advance. But it's good being here, just knowing that I have people watching whether they're watching at home or the little that I can have here. But it's still fine. Next year, we'll see what happens, but this year, I'm still content.”
Former Raptors centre Jakob Poeltl led the Spurs with a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2021.