The Toronto Raptors erased a 15-point fourth quarter deficit last night, but a coach’s challenges couldn’t erase a late foul on Damion Lee — and his two free throws were the difference maker, as the Raptors fell 106-105 to the Warriors.
It would be easy to blame the outcome on that call, or on the Raptors’ final play (an 18-foot fadeaway from Pascal Siakam). But too many offensive lulls, too many missed free throws and a terrible game from the Raptors bench (outside of Chris Boucher) doomed the team on this night.
1. Starting Small
Well, in some ways, the small-ball lineup that started the game — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby — was a bit of a bust. But it was still the right call, to give it a shot; if Norman Powell had been even half the player he was in his last two starts, the Raptors probably would’ve won this one.
Instead, he was terrible, picking up two early fouls and playing “Bad Norm Bingo” (bad passes, mistakes in transition, dumb fouls, driving 1-on-3, losing his man on D) all night. When Chris Boucher came in and blocked two shots, picked up two rebounds and scored four points in his first two minutes on the floor, it looked like he should have been the man inserted into the starting group.
That may come to pass tonight in Portland. Boucher finished with 15 points, six rebounds and six blocks last night. We all know what he gives up on the boards, and foul trouble will probably be an issue when trying to play him extended minutes. But he’s the only player beyond the “core four” who is contributing on both ends right now, and I think he’s earned a shot.
2. Get Something from the Bench
Malachi Flynn, Yuta Watanabe, Terence Davis and Stanley Johnson played a combined 33 minutes and scored just eight points along with eight rebounds and five assists. Collectively, they played well on D — Watanabe and Flynn were targeted, as you might expect, but they held their own, and Johnson had an excellent game on that end. But the Raptors desperately need someone to help lighten the scoring load on Siakam, VanVleet and Lowry.
I have to be honest, I’m surprised that neither Aron Baynes nor Alex Len could get into this one. I think we’ve established that Baynes just isn’t a good fit with the starters, and Len has been pretty inconsistent. But I don’t think that means they should be banished to the bench, never to play again. Surely Baynes can give you 10-12 minutes to help relieve Boucher and/or OG, and give the opponent a different look? Especially when the Warriors roll out Kevon Looney?
Nick Nurse has been pretty consistent in his “once you hit the doghouse, you don’t get out” position; see Johnson, Stanley 2019 and Thomas, Matt 2020. But playing small ball doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the centre position completely!
3. Process over Immediate Results
The Raptors completely locked down Stephen Curry yesterday, but through three quarters, it looked like it didn’t matter; Steph wasn’t scoring, but everyone else on the Warriors was hitting shots, and Golden State entered the fourth up 17 and rolling. But that’s why you put in the time to do something right even if it doesn’t yield immediate results.
In this case, once the Raptors made their fourth quarter run, you knew Warriors were going to turn to Steph. But the Raptors stuck to their game plan, kept him bottled up, and the other players… stopped hitting their shots.
- Non-Curry Warriors through three quarters: 32-for 59
- Non-Curry Warriors in the fourth quarter: 4-for-18
That’s variance regressing to the middle and/or role players who aren’t expected to score down the stretch reverting to type. Even the Warriors’ final play rings true here; Curry tried to get free, couldn’t, dumped the ball to Damion Lee and only a Flying Dragon Death Kick sent him to the line to win it.
(About that foul: Yes, Kyle Lowry tapped Lee’s arm as he gathered for the shot. So, technically speaking, upon review the officials made the right call. However. You and I both know that foul calls in that situation, especially when it’s not a star player taking the shot, are rare. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that the officials would have swallowed the whistle if Lee hadn’t sold the contact so well. And that stinks. But as someone who has watched Kyle Lowry sell approximately 3 billion calls over the past eight years… well, I have to admit, it’s a bit hard to complain about it.)
4. Kyle Was Off, Until He Wasn’t
Something sure appeared to be bothering Kyle Lowry last night; he was not at all his usual aggressive, animated self through three quarters. But whatever it was, he shook it off in time for the fourth: he had 14 in the quarter, along with five rebounds, as he tried to put the team on his back and will them to win.
Unfortunately his performance was completely emblematic of the Raptors this year: Both individually and collectively, the team just can’t seem to put it all together for 48 minutes. Whether it’s integrating new guys, the short offseason, being away from home or whatever — if the Raptors want to dig out of this hole, they’ve got to start playing consistent ball on both ends for more than a few minutes at a time.
5. More of This Please
The draft buzz on Malachi Flynn was that he was a natural, pass first point guard. That seemed to show itself in his extended minutes in the preseason, but that was mainly with other bench players; I think for a lot of us, the promise of Flynn’s game was that, as a pure PG, he could unlock Fred VanVleet as an off-ball shooter.
That hasn’t happened yet, which is fine of course, as Flynn is still finding his way. But with 2:30 left in the third quarter, we saw a glimpse of what this might look like:
That’s Malachi bringing up the ball, flipping it to Yuta Watanabe — and then going to set a screen for Fred VanVleet, who ran off Terence Davis’ man, then through Flynn’s screen, then another from Chris Boucher going from the left wing to the right. Now, Boucher slips the last screen early so the action doesn’t fully free VanVleet up for the shot, which I think is the ideal outcome (he eventually dribbled into the lane and scored). But the germ of it is there. VanVleet is an excellent spot-up three point shooter and although I know he sees himself as a lead guard, I think in the long run the team needs more of his shooting than his playmaking. This type of play is the sort of thing I want to see with some regularity to free that up.
The Raptors are back at it tonight, trying to finish off the “road” trip (this whole season is a road trip) with a win in Portland. No easy task, but if all the good things they’ve been doing for the first three games on this trip can finally come together for a full 48… they should finish the trip 2-2.