It looks like the road trip hangover I expected on Saturday materialized last night, as the Raptors looked out of sorts and got pushed around by the New Orleans Pelicans, ultimately picking up their second loss of the season, 126-110. Let’s get right to the thoughts:
The Raptors got Straight Handled
Some nights you don’t have it, and that’s fine, but the Pelicans just took it right to the Raptors last night, and the Raptors had no response. This wasn’t just a hot shooting night for the Pelicans or an off night for Toronto; the Pelicans were the aggressors on both sides of the ball. They made it a point to get into the paint on offense, to get the ball to the rim, and to crash the boards, and the Raptors could do nothing to stop them; 58 of the Pelicans’ 99 shots came in the paint, and they finished with 72(!) paint points.
On the other end, the Pelicans bodied up the Raptors’ guards and sent multiple bodies at Kawhi Leonard anytime he touched the ball. They pushed Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka out of the paint, and with the presence of Anthony Davis lingering, the Raptors were content to fire away from outside (53 of their 97 shots came from outside the paint).
That’s a recipe for failure, and the Pelicans cooked it to perfection.
The Pelicans Backcourt put on a Show
With Lowry and Danny Green, backed up by Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright - all plus defenders – I really didn’t expect the Raptors backcourt to be at a disadvantage in many games. But the Pelicans guards just absolutely dominated Toronto last night.
On offense, Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore were sensational, beating the Raptors guards off the dribble, getting into the paint and dropping floaters all over the place. They combined to score 59 points! On 25-of-37 shooting! Even backup Ian Clark found success, shooting 3-for-6 in 21 minutes.
On D, Holiday locked down Kyle Lowry (1-for-9 shooting), and Green never got on track either (1-for-4). VanVleet struggled to start, and Wright was fine, but this was Holiday and Moore’s night. Even at the end of the game, as the Raptors tried to make a final push and managed to keep the pair out of the paint, they just couldn’t miss:
Credit to those two dudes, they played a heck of a game.
Nick Nurse let Lorenzo Brown go Too Long
I understand that Lowry didn’t have it going, and that getting Lorenzo Brown in to spell him was necessary. But when the Raptors cut a once-13 point lead down to six, 96-90, with 11 minutes to go, it was time to get Brown out of the game. You don’t make a winning run with your fourth point guard on the floor.
Nick Nurse didn’t, though, and the Pelicans went on a 6-0 run during which Brown tuned the ball over once, held the ball too long allowing the refs to call a 3-second violation on Jonas Valanciunas, let his man (Moore) score and gave up an offensive rebound.
Brown finally came out after that, but the damage was done.
The game was certainly lost long before that, so I’m not pinning this on Brown by any means. But there was no reason to leave him in there at that point; he’d been in for 3.5 minutes, bridging the quarter gap. Bring the starters back, and if the Raptors can’t sustain the momentum, then you have plenty of time to bring Brown back in later.
Shorten that leash, coach.
The Evolution of Anunoby and Siakam Continues
One year ago, would you have predicted we’d be seeing both OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam guarding Anthony Davis in a game? I sure wouldn’t have, but both happened tonight; Siakam, in fact, got the primary assignment on Davis.
And it was... fine? I mean, sure, Davis had 25 and 20, but again, if you’d asked me the outcome a year ago, I’d have predicted a 50-25 game, you know?
This may have been my favourite play of the game, one of the few that featured a positive outcome for the Raptors:
The steal and finish, obviously, is great, but look how casually Siakam and Anunoby execute that switch. They’re completely comfortable switching off on to Davis, and Anunoby doesn’t let Davis push him down on the block before the pass.
It wasn’t all sunshine – Siakam doesn’t yet know how to play the five, and multiple times he got caught out of help position when Pelicans guards got into the lane. But that’ll come with experience; this is the future of this Raptors team, and it’s pretty damn bright.
Serge Ibaka, Hustling on the Glass
The Raptors were a -11 on the boards last night, but I will give Serge Ibaka some credit for his work on the glass. He’s never been an elite rebounder, and rebounding has been a weakness for the Raptors this season. But against the length of the Davis and the bruising Julius Randle, Ibaka held his own, especially early; he had six rebounds in the opening quarter, including three offensive (one a tap-out, the other two he immediately put back up and scored).
Ibaka has looked great offensively this year, and his D has generally been fine too, but I don’t see him getting much credit for his rebounding. Sure, I’d like him to get more than the eight he’s averaging a night, but he’s never averaged nine even once in his career, and he’s been under seven the past three seasons. So I’ll take it.
The Raptors generally responded well to losses in the Dwane Casey era, and look who’s here on Wednesday: It’s Dwane Casey and the Pistons! Let’s see if the Raptors respond the same way under Nick Nurse’s leadership.