Whoever the Raptors end up playing in the first round next month, let’s hope none of the games are on Sunday afternoons! That’s the second Sunday in a row the Raptors came out of the gates looking like they’d rather be doing anything else other than playing basketball, and the slow start cost them again, this time in overtime against Dwane Casey and his Detroit Pistons.
Seems ol’ Dwane has his former team’s number, doesn’t it? Let’s get to the thoughts:
Hm, I’m Not so Sure About This Starting Lineup
With Kawhi Leonard out of action, Nick Nurse opted to go with Jeremy Lin in his place. This one definitely left me scratching my head; Nurse said he was trying to recapture what he had when Fred VanVleet would start for Kawhi, but, Lin and VanVleet are very different players. While that lineup (Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and VanVleet) has a +13.5 net rating in 187 minutes, Lin is still learning his new team (VanVleet and Lowry have played almost 1,000 minutes together over the past two years) and so is Marc Gasol, who started instead of Ibaka. In other words, a lot of unfamiliarity with this group! Furthermore, VanVleet is a great off-ball, catch-and-shoot player. Lin isn’t, as his 0-for-8 game showed. The fit just isn’t there.
To compound this, does it make sense to start your four best playmakers and leave your bench without a single one? Especially when Nick Nurse hasn’t shown the awareness to stagger his playmakers accordingly... which is exactly what happened when he left Lin in with a bench lineup without Siakam, Lowry or Gasol. The results were understandably terrible. You have three guys available who either a current All-Star, have been an All-Star or will be an All-Star. Why would you ever play a single minute without one of them?
I still don’t understand why you wouldn’t just start OG Anunoby, who has the similar build to Kawhi, is a good defensive player, and has typically well with the starters (and as a starter himself). At least Nurse smartly closed with that group!
I think Nurse just outsmarted himself on this one. Keep it simple. Start OG. Stagger your best players.
This Was the Pistons’ Game to Lose
That was a disappointing loss after all the fight the Raptors showed, especially against the bad calls, but they didn’t deserve to win. You can’t start that sluggishly, on the road, against the team playing on the second night of a back-to-back. You can’t be slower to loose balls and offensive rebounds. You can’t shoot 38.5% on the road. You can’t let a second-stringer like Ish Smith dictate the tempo for large stretches, you can’t go up 11 on the road and then give up a 15-0 run, and you can’t give up a 10-0 run in OT. (Also you can’t leave your three best playmakers on the bench for extended periods without staggering them!)
With 4.5 minutes to go in regulation, Lowry gambled for a steal, and Siakam inexplicably left Luke Kennard WIDE open in the corner. He missed, and Drummond got the rebound, putting the Pistons up four. That’s one play, but it was entirely emblematic of everything the Raptors were doing wrong.
The Raptors had their chances, but too many little mistakes piled up and did them in.
Pascal Step-Back J? That Ain’t it Chief
Overall, I loved what Siakam was doing in the first half — he was taking it to Blake Griffin, not at all intimidated by Griffin’s superior bulk or stardom. (Thon Maker and Luke Kennard also fell victim to Siakam’s aggression on switches.) In the third, when the Raptors were digging in after the officials, he had a no-heistation three-point splash from the wing,
At times, he was the best Raptor on the floor — which is saying a lot during a classic KLOE performance.
However! Early in the first quarter, Siakam dribbled up toward Griffin, and tried a James Harden-esque step-back on him! It didn’t drop, and I couldn’t help but think... not yet, young man. Not yet! Maybe next year for that one.
What a Game from OG, Except, You know...
OG Anunoby had been relatively quiet since the All-Star break, but he was great last night — and sensational on defense. He was flying around the court, bodying up Blake Griffin, shadowing Luke Kennard, and getting into passing lanes. He helped force the Pistons into a 24-second violation on their final possession, and blocked a Wayne Ellington three-pointer on the first possession of OT.
He was crashing the offensive glass, including a sequence where he saved a possession twice in the third and of course, the game-tying tip-in.
I also really liked how smoothly Pascal and OG switched when guarding Griffin — and even double-teaming him at time. Neither is quite big enough to stop Griffin on their own, but they’re both quick enough to slow him down and make him work for it.
Of course, OG also launched an awkward three-point attempt in OT that caught nothing but air. It was so off I thought for sure it’d been tipped... alas. The Raptors wouldn’t even have been in that position without him, but that shot sure did hurt.
Reverse High-Low Action
Marc Gasol is a master of initiating the offense from the high post, and it seems like he might already be passing some lessons on the Pascal Siakam! At least twice last night Siakam got the ball at the top of the key while Gasol dived to the hoop; Siakam’s passing is indeed developing to the point where he can initiate from there, and on one of those sequences he found Gasol, who drew a foul.
Earlier this season I wrote about how, when getting the ball there, Siakam looked a bit lost; that’s not the case anymore. Having a crafty guy like Gasol, who if you can get it to him, finds ways to get the ball at the rim through traffic, is definitely helpful. It’s not hard to imagine these two switching off high-low and confusing the heck out of teams, forcing them to collapse and leaving Danny Green and Kyle Lowry open from downtown.
Well, that’s two incredibly entertaining games in a row; although both were marred by some questionable calls, everyone got their money’s worth. Now, how about a nice relaxing blowout against James Harden and the Rockets on Tuesday?