We didn’t really think the Toronto Raptors were going to finish the entire season without losing to a sub-500 team, did we? Well, maybe we did, but the injury gods and the Portland Trail Blazers had other plans.
A hard-fought game that featured contributions from all over the roster (what’s left of it) saw the Raptors lead for all but 17 seconds of action, but the pure talent in the Blazers’ starting lineup made the difference in the final minutes.
Missing All the Wrong Guys
I, like many others, wondered why the Raptors had both Patrick McCaw and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the floor for their final two offensive possessions. When there are less than 30 seconds to go, and you need a score to break a tie or even the score down two, it’s tough to be playing three-on-five. Neither McCaw nor Hollis-Jefferson are a threat to score, so that makes it easier on the defense.
But Nick Nurse doesn’t trust his young guys yet in that situation. Oshae Brissett and Chris Boucher were both having excellent nights, but are they ready for that high-leverage situation? Ditto Matt Thomas and Terence Davis, two excellent floor spacers who are also unproven.
Nurse trusts McCaw, for better or worse, and Rondae has earned some of that trust this year too, despite some ups and downs.
Of course, we’ll see if their two flubs — Hollis-Jefferson driving directly into Hassan Whiteside and McCaw throwing a brutal pass to Lowry that went out of bounds — affect those levels of trust.
Starting the Right Guys...?
One decision Nick Nurse made that I’m in favor of is starting Hollis-Jefferson at the four. Obviously this decision was made easier by Fred VanVleet’s absence, but I was hoping we’d see RHJ and OG Anunoby start together, with McCaw on the bench, before VanVleet got hurt.
This is not a dump-on-McCaw argument either — I think the best Raptors lineups have OG playing the three, and I would rather they keep him there than shift him down a spot.
As for Rondae, he’s an underrated creator at the four, and his best position is in the dunker’s spot with other creators around him. And McCaw? His best fit is probably the bench energy guy who comes in causes havoc.
Anyway this is all moot with VanVleet out. But I hope Nick keeps OG at the three, and if he wants to experiment, he’d got plenty of guys — RHJ, Brissett, Boucher — who can play the four.
Oh Look, It’s Our Old Friend Hassan
One of my favourite things about the Raptors over the past few years is the seeming joy the team takes in humiliating Hassan Whiteside. Nothing against Whiteside, personally, although I’ve noted in the past that he looks like he hates playing basketball, but he’s got weaknesses as a ball player — and the Raptors have consistently exploited them.
(One of these weaknesses might be that he seems to hate playing basketball. I digress.)
Kyle Lowry in particular just seems to know exactly when and how to attack Whiteside, or get other players in position to take advantage of him. Whiteside’s inability to effectively cover a pick-and-roll, and the gorgeous Lowry-Serge Ibaka PnR chemistry, are a match made in heaven.
The best part is, it’s not just on offense:
The first time Whiteside got Lowry in isolation on the block, he hesitated and travelled. The second time, just now, Lowry swiped the ball out of his hands right beneath the rim.— Joshua Howe (@Howevolution) January 8, 2020
Lowry remains an underrated rim protector.
Lowry even straight up stole a rebound from Whiteside in the third quarter too. He loves playing Whiteside, and I love to see it.
A Truly “WTF!?” Lineup
What else can you call this lineup the Raptors trotted out with 3:10 to go in the first quarter?
Oh my god: McCaw/Thomas/Brissett/Johnson/Boucher— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) January 8, 2020
Seeing those five players on the floor together— three of whom just played last night for Raptors 905, don’t forget — was an eye-opener, and an experiment I believed was doomed to failure.
Instead they closed the quarter on an 8-0 run, and did things like this:
The finished their first-half run together at +7, and a brief fourth-quarter run had them at +1 as well.
The mad scientist strikes again!
Attack a Closeout like Serge
If you thought that bizarro world lineup was weird, how about Serge Ibaka channeling Steve Nash with this drive-and-dish?
Full-time chef— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 8, 2020
Part-time server pic.twitter.com/4x5uHc0sMz
It was a truly odd first half of basketball, I’m telling you.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one, with all the injuries, but I certainly didn’t expect to see the Raptors lose on a Carmelo Anthony game-winner. So, I guess, it was nice to be surprised?
Or not. Let’s erase it and start over again tonight.