NBA

Returning Raptors center Jakob Poeltl does his best Shaq impression in dominant outing

By Sports Desk February 14, 2023

Jakob Poeltl looks right at home back with the Toronto Raptors after producing stats in Tuesday's win not seen in a single game since Shaquille O'Neal.

In the Raptors' 123-113 home win against the Orlando Magic, Poeltl finished with 30 points on 15-of-17 shooting, nine rebounds and six blocks. It was the first time since O'Neal in 2004 that a player has had 30 points, six blocks and shot at least 85 per cent from the field.

Poeltl, who was drafted by the Raptors back in 2016, had spent the past four-and-a-half seasons with the San Antonio Spurs after being part of the trade package to acquire Kawhi Leonard, ultimately resulting in Toronto's only ever championship.

The big Austrian became one of the league's best rim protectors in San Antonio, and with a gaping hole at center, the Raptors made a move at the deadline to bring him back in return for a one first-round pick, two second-rounders and bench big Khem Birch.

Speaking after the game, Poeltl highlighted his familiarity with point guard Fred VanVleet, who racked up a season-high 15 assists thanks in large part to the duo's pick-and-roll partnership.

"It's been going well," he said. "I feel like I've made improvement from game-to-game, I'm getting more and more comfortable out there.

"Tonight Freddy found me about 10 times in the pick-and-roll, so my team-mates made it really easy on me.

"[The connection with VanVleet] has been going great, I feel like we're getting back to our chemistry, obviously we played together for two years already. Tonight we just kind of clicked, and I'm happy it worked out that way."

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse called that pick-and-roll combination "huge" and said "every time we hit [Poeltl], it seemed like something good happened".

Nurse went on to discuss the value of finally having an imposing presence on the interior that can dissuade opposing defenses from switching all screens.

"It's really valuable, it really is," he said. 

"There's two ways you're going to beat teams that switch – the big guy is going to go bury somebody inside, or the big defender is going to have to guard someone on the perimeter that can get by him or shoot a three.

"Having both of those makes it – it means you're probably not going to switch as much – especially if we're getting those inside buckets. Nobody likes the feel of a switch, throw it inside, get overpowered for a lay-up.

"It looks easy – I don't think it's that easy – but he made it look easy tonight."

The Raptors were expected to be sellers at the deadline as rumours swirled about trade offers for VanVleet, All-Star Pascal Siakam and wing O.G. Anunoby, but they have now won five of their past six to claw their way to 28-31, sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference and trending in the right direction.

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