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Siakam leads as Raptors fend off Bulls 104-98; VanVleet has nine assists in return

TORONTO — Although Fred VanVleet is thrilled with the birth of his third child, he was also excited to return to the Toronto Raptors' lineup. Just don't tell his fiancée that.
Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) drives between Chicago Bulls guard Coby White (0) and Bulls forward Patrick Williams (44) during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto, on Tuesday, February 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — Although Fred VanVleet is thrilled with the birth of his third child, he was also excited to return to the Toronto Raptors' lineup.

Just don't tell his fiancée that.

Pascal Siakam scored 20 and pulled down eight rebounds as Toronto held off the Chicago Bulls 101-96 on Tuesday. VanVleet only had three points but dished out nine assists and had six rebounds after missing three games to be with his fiancée, Shontai Neal, as she gave birth to Layla VanVleet last week.

"I can't be too excited to be out of the house, publicly. But it's good to be back at work, man," laughed VanVleet. "This is one of those things, it puts you back in your place and gives you a great perspective on life. 

"Ultimately, I have an incredible life and I'm extremely blessed but I'm happy to be back at work."

The Raptors won two of the three games VanVleet missed, but his absence was clearly felt in a 118-93 loss in Cleveland on Sunday. 

Toronto has won eight of its past 10 games to sit ninth in the NBA's Eastern Conference, giving the Raptors a chance to be in the play-in for the post-season.

"It's that time of year and with the league going to 10 teams (in the post-season) now, every game has playoff implications," said VanVleet. "There's going to be a heightened sense of urgency for both sides. 

"The teams that are locked in, they're still going to be trying to tighten up."

O.G. Anunoby added 17 points and seven rebounds for Toronto (31-32), while Gary Trent Jr. had 19 points and Jakob Poeltl scored 14.

It was the first time the Raptors had their full starting rotation after Poeltl arrived from San Antonio via trade on Feb. 9. Anunoby (sprained wrist) and Trent (calf) had missed significant time due to injuries, and then VanVleet was absent to be with his expanding family.

"It's been a while," said Anunoby. "It's definitely good to have everyone back, everyone healthy, everyone feeling good."

Nikola Vucevic's 23 points led Chicago (28-34), which had its two-game win streak end. Zach LaVine added 17. Former Raptors star DeMar DeRozan had 13 points.

Although Toronto scored the final four points of the half, the Bulls led 46-44 at intermission.

Trent drilled his third three-pointer of the game with 3:19 left in the third to make it 65-64 Toronto. It was the Raptors' first lead in 12:46 of play, stretching back to late in the second quarter.

The teams exchanged leads for the rest of the quarter, with LaVine's three-pointer giving Chicago a 72-70 advantage heading into the fourth.

That back and forth continued into the final frame.

A 7-0 Toronto run jump-started by Thaddeus Young's 10-foot field goal with 8:18 left to play started to separate the two teams.

Trent's fifth three-pointer of the night brought the sold-out Scotiabank Arena crowd of 19,800 to their feet and made it 91-84 with 6:35 to go. A two-handed dunk by Anunoby on the next possession brought the Raptors' bench to its feet.

VanVleet's three-point attempt bounced off the rim but Siakam rose up for a tip-in to make it 98-91 and force a Bulls timeout with 3:27 left in the game.

Vucevic and LaVine responded with back-to-back field goals for Chicago, but a Siakam free throw kept it a two-possession game. 

After Vucevic missed a three-pointer, Toronto continued to kill the clock. A pair of offensive rebounds extended the Raptors' possession and ate up nearly a minute of play.

"I thought we were making the right plays on offence," said Toronto head coach Nick Nurse. "It wasn't going in as much as I'd like it to, but I thought the plays were pretty much right."

DeRozan made one of two free throws to cut that lead but Trent drained both of his at the other end of the floor with 15 seconds to play.

Anunoby followed that with a free throw of his own and Scottie Barnes had a rousing dunk to give Toronto 104 points before Patrick Beverley made a field goal with 0.1 seconds to play for the game's final score.

ADDED DEPTH — Veteran Will Barton was signed by Toronto on Tuesday, with the Raptors waiving forward Juancho Hernangomez to make space on their roster. Barton has 12 years of NBA experience, having played for the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards.

UP NEXT — The Raptors visit the Washington Wizards on Thursday.

Chicago travels to Detroit on Wednesday to face the Pistons.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press