I really, really, really wanted to write this temperature check surrounded by the warmth of a Toronto Raptors win over the Boston Celtics to even the series at 1-1. Instead, the Raptors are down 0-2 for the first time since being down 0-2 against the Milwaukee Bucks in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals where they eventually popped off four straight wins to seal the series victory and go on to beat the Golden State Warriors to become NBA Champions.
Reminders of past victories are important, but they are not concrete indicators of future success, so once again, the Raptors must adjust and adjust quickly because if they go down 0-3 to the Boston Celtics, I think the entirety of Raptors Twitter is going to combust. We can’t have that, it’s too precious, please win.
Before we head into who’s hot and who’s not, a note to remember once again:
Big game ahead, but bigger issues prevail. More than a quarter of the prison population in Canada is of Indigenous descent. Indigenous and Black people are more likely to be subjects of unfair treatment throughout the criminal justice system. Learn more: https://t.co/P95nl4ecbJ— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) September 1, 2020
OG Anunoby, Showing Up and Showing Out
In a game where OG Anunoby is your best player on the court, there is a high likelihood that you’re not going to win that game. It feels sacrilegious to the OG-hive to say these things, but with the Raptors current roster construction, that statement is less about OG’s brilliance and more about the ineptitude of the top guys on the team.
With that caveat out of the way, OG Anunoby was the Raptors best player in their 102-99 loss to the Celtics in Game 2 and it was largely due to, well, all of these things.
OG Anunoby has drilled 3s, driven + spun for a lefty layup, made sharp cuts off the ball, played awesome 1-on-1 D, helped the helper by digging down and getting his hand in the passing lane to force a turnover and a fast-break bucket, and finished strong at the rim. Just a beast.— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) September 1, 2020
Anunoby was everywhere on defense for the Raptors in both games to start this series and is proving, as if he needed to, why he’s viewed as a centrepiece to this Raptors core. With his offensive skills developing in real time, the sky appears to be the limit for young OG. That sky needs to continue opening up if the Raptors are going to fight their way back into this series, as it appears that those aforementioned top dogs are going to need all the help they can get against a Boston defense that is keen to focus on them and allow Anunoby to blossom.
Jumbo Who’s Not
Marc Gasol, Father Time’s Dark Arrival
There is a definitive sadness that comes along with aging in the professional sports realm. Fans have to watch their favourite players ability to do the things that made them their favourites with each passing moment on the court. That moment is a glaring brightness on Marc Gasol right now. His offense is all the way missing in action to the point where Boston isn’t defending him anywhere outside of the paint in order to focus on Siakam, VanVleet and Lowry. It’s working.
The tiniest sliver of silver linings is that despite being vastly disadvantaged from a mobility perspective in every prospective matchup on the floor, Gasol is still a savant on the defensive end due to exquisite footwork, anticipation and headiness.
Father Time has firmly kicked the door open on Marc’s offensive game, but if Gasol can provide high level defense and maybe one to two three pointers to keep the defense honest, it might be enough for Toronto to climb back into this series.
Pascal Siakam, Lost in the Bubble
Boy, where do you start with Pascal’s two games in this series? Do you have to go all the way back to his struggles in first round against the Brooklyn Nets? Yes, you do. As a matter of fact, the starting point should be right from the start of the Bubble, because you know what? It’s high-time that there’s a collective relaxing sigh when we talk about Pascal Siakam. While it’s true that each player has suffered through the pandemic and each player is playing through unspeakable emotional turmoil with the injustices against Black people, there is no telling how that is affecting each individual.
Say those two gigantic factors are not negatively impacting Siakam, which, come on. How about shifting the view his current play to the lens of having to be the first thing the defense thinks about it in a playoff series for the first time against a really, really good defense. The point here is that this is not the end of the world for Pascal Siakam. No, he should not be traded for a high draft pick. No, he is not the second coming of DeMar DeRozan, hunting for foul calls on aimless drives to the basket (though that scenario has definitely played itself out a couple of times). No, his contract is not an albatross.
Siakam has been bad throughout this series, yes, but the guy who has markedly improved in every aspect of his game in every season, well, that guy deserves a lot more slack.
Fred VanVleet, Brick City
Speaking of cutting a guy some slack, how about we afford Steady Freddy a little bit of the same? Fred has been shooting the lights out for the entirety of the season up until these last two games against the Celtics where he is shooting a ghastly 29 percent.
Fred VanVleet is the first player in NBA history to miss nine or more 3-pointers in each of the first two games of a postseason series.— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) September 2, 2020
But again, let’s give another guy who has steadily improved in every season he’s played some time to figure it out. He’s the Raptors steadying presence for a reason.
Nick Nurse, Boiling Over
This is not a Pascal Siakam problem. This is a Nick Nurse problem.— Daniel Hackett (@dhackett1565) September 2, 2020
And I love Nick, he’s COTY and well deserved. But that end game was brutal. https://t.co/2XfZGnuCTt
In the final play of Game 2, Nick Nurse drew up an out of timeout look he had been hiding up his sleeve to free up Pascal Siakam in the corner. Pascal just so happened to have less than an inch of his shoe on the sideline and cost the Raptors a crucial turnover. After that, the Raptors had four seconds on the clock, down three points and Nurse elected not to call a timeout. The result of that decision was a desperation heave that ultimately lead to the Raptors falling behind in the series. These tactical errors are few and far between and that’s what makes them so much harder to swallow.
With that, Nurse has some large adjustments to make heading into Game 3 on Thursday and they start with the centre position in what could potentially be a rippling effect that unlocks Pascal Siakam. Could Nurse bump Gasol further out of the rotation (26 minutes in Game 1, 21 minutes in Game 2) for the likes of Siakam at the five lineup? Might Serge get the start for Game 3? Can Chris Boucher provide anything at all other than his contribution to the bleeding away of the game in the fourth? Hey, what about a couple Rondae Hollis-Jefferson chaos minutes with a sprinkle of Matt Thomas’ three point shooting?
If the Raptors hope to come back in this series, Nurse is going to have to be at his best and continue to show why he was deserving of that Coach of the Year award.
The Refs, 0 FT
Perhaps contributing to Nick Nurse and the Raptors inability to garner some momentum in this series are the referees and the way they’ve called the first two games.
Game 1’s Ed Malloy featured crew saw the Boston Celtics shoot 11 first quarter free throws which lead to a 39-23 lead that Toronto was never able to chip away at. Game 2’s Tony Brothers crew saw the referees up the ante by awarding the Boston Celtics incredible ability to never foul a Toronto Raptor while they were shooting the ball, as well as their ability to absolutely not commit a flagrant foul when they hip check a Kyle Lowry out of bounds to the tune of zero free throws in the half for Toronto. How about this one, where Jaylen Brown barged through Lowry to knock the ball loose and definitely pass the ball from a legal position on the court directly in front of a referee?
Perhaps blatant out of bounds missed calls that lead to a fast break score on the other end aren’t your cup of tea? Could I interest you in noted never-flopper Marcus Smart somehow convincing the referees that the play below was a foul on Pascal Siakam? Yes, the referees got the call right in the end, but it cost Nick Nurse his challenge and in the NBA, you don’t get this back if you challenge successfully.
Lmaooo one of the most egregious things I've ever seen pic.twitter.com/8flWTA2xhP— John Chick (@roofthatpeach) September 1, 2020
The Raptors have had to run through the Celtics, Ed Malloy and Tony Brothers thus far and it has proven too much. What’s that? Could it be Scott Foster and Marc Davis’ music? Raptors fans better hope not.