When you tune into today’s Raptors-Grizzlies game, you’re going to think you’ve gone back in time to the year 1995. That’s right, in today’s matchup, the Raptors and Grizzlies will be turning back the clock by rocking their retro jerseys from when they both came into the league. Toronto will wear their Dino white unis while Memphis will sport their classic Vancouver Grizzlies unis in what promises to be an exciting matchup.
Coming into today, the Raps suffered their first loss of their restart season against the Boston Celtics on Friday night. It was also an ugly loss, as Toronto couldn’t get anything going from tip-off. They struggled on both ends of the floor and didn’t look themselves, but credit to the Celtics’ defense as they were all over the Raps’ starting five. More on this in the keys to the game below.
To add to that ugly loss, the Raptors lost Serge Ibaka in the fourth quarter as he went down with an eye injury. Gordon Hayward inadvertently poked Ibaka as Hayward was going up for a layup. While he is listed as probable per the injury report, RotoWire NBA has him listed as likely to suit up. Still, take that with a grain of salt.
Serge Ibaka: Likely to play Sunday - https://t.co/FFvQwhPFow— RotoWire (@RotoWireNBA) August 8, 2020
Onto today’s game, this is the first time all season that the Raptors will be getting a look at the Grizzlies. The two teams were originally scheduled for a rare inter-conference home-and-home series back in late March but the season was suspended as we all know. A first meeting between the two teams also means that we get to see an old friend in Jonas Valanciunas for the first time since Toronto traded him away for Marc Gasol last February.
At 49-19, a win against the Grizzlies will clinch the Raptors the second seed in the conference and will mark the fifth consecutive season of 50-plus wins in the regular season. To put that into perspective, Toronto had zero 50-plus win seasons in their first 20 years of existence. Also, not to be forgotten, a win would also clinch the Atlantic Division title. The Raptors don’t care about that anymore though — they care about championship banners only.
For the Grizz, things haven’t looked so good. Although they recorded an impressive 121-92 win in their last game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s been their only win of the restart season. They’re 1-4 in the Bubble. To deepen their losses, emerging star, Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a torn meniscus following their third game of the restart and he’ll now be out for the season. It’s now up to their top candidate for Rookie of the Year award, Ja Morant, to find a way to lead Memphis to a playoff spot. More on Morant’s play in the keys to the game below.
That concludes the refresher on both teams, so let’s go through today’s game details below, followed by the keys to the game.
Where to Watch
TSN1, TSN4, 2:00 p.m. ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Memphis — Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (left knee soreness — out), Serge Ibaka (right eye scratch — probable)
Memphis — Tyus Jones (knee — out), Justise Winslow (hip — out), Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee —out)
Rookie of the Year Show?
As likeable as Ja Morant is, the Raptors will want to make sure he continues his offensive struggles, if only for the afternoon. In a way, Morant seems to have hit the rookie wall in the Bubble. He is currently shooting 39.7 percent from the field in the five games of the restart, which, when compared to his 49.1 percent shooting for the rest of the year, speaks of trouble.
Part of Morant’s struggles have come from their opponents’ defensive play. Teams have zeroed in on him to, upsetting his shot and disrupting the Grizzlies’ overall offensive flow. After all, Morant is a big part of his team’s offense — his usage rate is at 26 percent, good for 50th in the league.
With Morant being the slashing guard that he is and one who can get to the rim at will, expect the Raptors to clog the driving lanes to prevent him from getting easy layups and dunks. A sucessful possession for the Raptors will be when they force Morant to take a jump shot.
What Is There to Expect?
Since the Raptors didn’t get an opportunity to play the Grizz before the season was suspended, there are a lot of question marks with how this game could go down. What we do know is that the Grizz have moved on from their Grit ‘n Grind style to a much faster pace of play (they rank seventh in the league in pace since the restart) and an offensive-minded philosophy.
Outside of Morant, Memphis has a solid scoring guard in fellow Canadian Dillon Brooks. He’s been one of their go-to scorers in the bubble, and, really, all season long. In the bubble, Brooks is averaging 18.2 points per game on a mediocre 41.7 percent shooting from the field. His shooting will have to improve if the Grizzlies want to hold on to that eighth spot. Obviously, scoring isn’t everything, it’s the other end of the floor where Brooks struggles. From watching the past five games, his defense is porous, to say the least, with a 109.2 defensive rating on the season. Expect the Raps to go at Brooks on the offensive end.
Another surprise for Memphis has been Grayson Allen. Before the hiatus, Allen hadn’t shown much, but since the restart began he has been lighting it up. He’s scored in double figures the last four games, which is something he didn’t accomplish all season. In those games, Allen is putting up 15.7 points on 56.6 percent shooting from the field. However, don’t be surprised if he gets shut down. He isn’t a prolific scorer just yet and with the Raptors’ swarming defense and smart wings in OG Anunoby and Norman Powell, it could be a difficult outing for him.
Last but not least, JV is going to want to have a breakout game against his former team. He’s looked solid so far in the bubble averaging a double-double with 16.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. We’ve seen Gasol neutralize big-name centres in Joel Embiid, Deandre Ayton, Nikola Vucevic, and others, so expect a good battle down-low in the post.
Clean Up the Mess
There is a lot of areas the Raptors need to clean up from their last performance against the Celtics. Taking on the struggling Grizzlies now should be seen as an opportunity to get back into rhythm.
On offense, Toronto just did not look like the cohesive team that we’re accustomed to seeing. We barely saw any pick-and-roll action, few if any cuts to the basket, and ball movement was nonexistent. Whether that was on head coach Nick Nurse trying not to show all his cards to Boston and saving the real plays for the playoffs, or the fact that Toronto didn’t have a practice or shootaround leading up to the game, there is simply no denying the fact that the Raptors did not look good on offense.
For the game, they shot 43 percent from the field and a poor 26 percent from deep (10-for-38). The starting five all struggled, along with the Toronto’s key bench players in Powell (4-for-11) and Ibaka (1-for-9). Of specific note: none struggled more than Siakam. He settled for poor, contested shots and forced up frustration attempts in the second half when he really couldn’t get it going. Credit the Celtics defense, but Siakam simply did not look like himself.
As far as the defense goes, head coach Nurse was pulling his hair out all game long. It was very uncharacteristic for the Raptors to be a step slow on their defensive rotations but more importantly, they were frequently beaten down the floor for easy layups and uncontested shots. Committing 17 turnovers in the game didn’t help matters for Toronto, as that led to another 26 points. In all, it was just a mess of a game on defense for the Raptors. They’ll need to tighten up the screws against this young, flying Grizzlies team.