I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially after whatever it was that happened in the 4th quarter of last night’s game against the Celtics, but the second half of this Raptors back-to-back has all the markings of a classic trap game.
As if collapsing in spectacular fashion wasn’t enough, the Raptors had to quickly hop on a flight back to Toronto in order to get ready to play the wholly uninspiring Phoenix Suns tonight in the Scotiabank Arena.
While the Suns are capital T terrible, they are 100% capital Y young and full of energy and determination to not be the laughing stock of the league. While he might be the top-flight candidate of the good stats/bad team brigade, Devin Booker is having himself a career year in the “I guess you’re our point guard now” role as he’s drastically raised his assist rate (4.9 AST/g to 7.1 AST/g) while not seeing his turnover balloon (3.7 TOV/g to 4.0 TOV/g). He’s also flanked by a guy who would probably be a lock for Rookie of the Year if it weren’t for Luka Doncic in DeAndre Ayton. And lest we forget about floor-slapping maestro, Kelly Oubre and resident old-man Jamal Crawford (who may sit this one out) are also around. It admittedly gets a little thin after those guys, but there are a slew of young guns who love to get up and down the floor on this Suns team. Knowing they are squaring off against a top team in the league on the wrong end of a crushing back-to-back, look for the Suns to try to exploit the undermanned Raptors.
So if you’re counting on your trap-game bingo card, we’ve got the following: late-night flight after losing to the pre-destined darling of the Eastern Conference, squaring off against the dregs of the Western Conference, a young energetic team that wants to prove they aren’t as terrible as everyone says they are, and the resting of Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. Factor in that free space and you’ve got yourself TRAP BINGO.
Below are the details for tonight’s game, and three things to watch for as we prepare.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One (SN1) at 7:30pm EST
Toronto - Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Phoenix - Devin Booker, De’Anthony Melton, T.J. Warren, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton
Toronto - Jonas Valanciunas (out - hand), Kyle Lowry (out - rest), Kawhi Leonard (out - rest), OG Anunoby (out - personal), C.J. Miles (questionable - hip)
Phoenix - Jamal Crawford (out - knee)
Who Will Step Up?
In a game where the Raptors are missing an entire very good starting lineup of players, there is going to have be someone who is willing to take the reins against the young Suns. Luckily, the Raptors are one of the deepest teams in the league and more than capable of dispatching the Suns even with the aforementioned trappings of a trap game. And yes, even while missing both Kawhi and Lowry.
Pascal Siakam would seemingly be the obvious choice to be The Guy, as he has unquestionably been the third best player Toronto has put on the floor this season. This game is a perfect low-stakes opportunity for Nick Nurse to install Pascal as the number one option on offense and see what Spicy P can do.
Looking at the Raptors rest/injury situation from a glass half-full perspective, Nick Nurse can use tonight’s game against the Suns to trot out experimental lineups and see if anything sticks. We haven’t seen a lick of new Raptor Patrick McCaw and have only been treated to limited Chris Boucher minutes (Slim Duck!) as the young forward is still extremely raw and undersized.
If I’m Nick Nurse (and just to be clear, I definitely am not), I would look to see what I can do with extended runs of potential bench units. How does Delon Wright, Powell, McCaw, Boucher and Greg Monroe sound to you? You kind of want to see it, right? Maybe you spice in Boucher over to the centre position when Ayton isn’t in the game and throw VanVleet into the mix as well. Essentially, if you’re going to play an NBA game against the Phoenix Suns without most of your core players, you might as well see what interesting gems you can dig up.
Dealing with the Big Man
You almost want to feel sad for Deandre Ayton, the 2018 number one pick. He’s a monster big man, agile, the kind of guy entire franchises were built around as recently as a decade ago. In his rookie season, Ayton is averaging 16.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists, while shooting 59 percent from the field, and 76.5 percent from the line. Yes, sure, his Suns are terrible, but that’s not from his lack of trying. While most of the season has been comparing the play of Doncic and Trae Young (traded for each other), Ayton has rightly been asking: hey, what about me?
Well, for the Raptors, they’d better hope Ayton is not exactly looking to prove something tonight in Toronto. Their frontcourt, which is already down power player Jonas Valanciunas, will be staffed by a coming-off-34-minutes-the-night-before Serge Ibaka, and the fun (but not super effective) Greg Monroe. Now, between those two is a lot of institutional knowledge and veteran know-how, but Ayton’s got some juice — and it could spell trouble for the Raptors’ tired legs.