If you had “Carmelo Anthony turns back the clock for four minutes” on your “How Will the Raptors Lose Tonight” bingo card yesterday, well, congratulations I guess?
Just like Sunday night, the Toronto Raptors did all kinds of good things last night, and Pascal Siakam was great, and Chris Boucher was great, and the game was thrilling, and the Raptors had a chance to win… but we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. The Portland Trail Blazers got a throwback performance from ‘Melo — on both ends of the floor! — and squeaked out a 112-111 victory over the now 2-8 Raptors.
And once again we’re left to reminisce on all the good things we saw, and believe they’ll lead to positive results at some point.
1. Basketball is Fun Again
Sure, basketball will break your heart, but at least the Raptors are now proving that it can be enjoyable for good long while before it does that. Earlier in the season the team looked miserable, and they weren’t playing like a team at all; the results were disheartening and there didn’t seem to be any hope for a turnaround.
Now, at least, there is joy to be had in watching them play, if not the final score. Pascal Siakam looks like he’s having fun, and roasting defenders big and small. Fred VanVleet is menacing opposing scorers and firing rainbows in from the sun. Kyle Lowry is doing Kyle Lowry things, and Chris Boucher is mounting a convincing Most Improved Player campaign.
And the games are entertaining. In the last three the Raptors put on an offensive clinic against Sacramento, harassed the hell out of Stephen Curry and lost by one to Golden State, and nearly held off the Blazers on the second night of a back-to-back.
It a) beats losing by 20 every night and b) gives you hope that the team is a few bounces away from becoming a winning team again.
2. Inconsistent Kyle
Is Kyle Lowry showing his age? He was not himself for three quarters on Sunday, and he wasn’t himself for long strectches of last night either — including the entire fourth quarter, which saw him shoot 0-for-4 from the field (including a couple forced, badly missed threes), commit two turnovers and fail to notch a single assist.
Perhaps most oddly, to my eyes, is that he didn’t try to got two-for-one as the clock dwindled down in the fourth quarter. The Raptors got the ball back, up one, with 38 seconds to go; I expected Lowry to hurry things up and try and score quickly, meaning the Raptors would have the final possession. Instead he held the ball out, and Fred VanVleet took a three with 20 seconds to go, giving the Blazers the last shot.
Oddly, CJ McCollum elected not to hold for the final shot, giving the Raptors another chance. But it was an odd choice by Kyle.
Given the compressed schedule, the season-long road trip and his age, it wouldn’t be a shock if Lowry were tired out, mentally and physically. Here’s hoping these two days off allow him to recharge his batteries a bit.
3. Need More Than Five
I feel like I’ve written this multiple times now, but the Raptors need to get something more from outside of Lowry, Siakam, VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Boucher. Stanley Johnson has been fine on D, but doesn’t need to be guarded on offense, Norman Powell and Terence Davis are maddeningly inconsistent, and Baynes and Len, well, their play speaks for itself (although I still can’t understand why Baynes isn’t getting 7-8 minutes off the bench).
Yuta Watanabe and Malachi Flynn have also shown flashes, but it looks like Nick Nurse doesn’t think they’re quite ready yet, and he’s probably right.
Truthfully, the real problem is Powell, who has been unable to recapture his 2019-20 performance. I don’t think we should be surprised —inconsistency has been his hallmark, after all — but I suppose we all hoped he’d moved past that. Whether that’s just who he is or whether he’s missing Marc Gasol’s passing or Serge Ibaka’s gravity, who knows. I just know that of everyone on this team who’s not performing at the highest level, Powell is the one that I think the team was expecting the most from, and so far he hasn’t delivered.
4. Brutal way to end a half
I wrote about this yesterday, but when you lose a game by one, it’s easy to blame it on the last shot or a mistake in the clutch. But games are won or lost over 48. Case in point, you can trace a lot of last night’s loss back to the end of the first half.
The Raptors had a double-digit lead (ugh) when Chris Boucher went to the bench and Alex Len came back in — and Portland promptly went on an 8-0 run. The lowlight of which was the final 33 seconds; the Raptors got the ball back and Pascal Siakam tried to get a two-for-one. He got the shot off but missed, and a scramble ensued underneath the hoop — one that took so much time that Portland got the last shot.
Then, after a missed Robert Covington three, Enes Kanter somehow got position under the hoop, got a bogus foul call for an and-1 with two seconds left.
Momentary aside here: I don’t like to rag on officials, but in what universe is this a foul on Siakam?
Anyway, Kanter missed the free throw… but Alex “you have one job!” Len failed to box out Covington, letting RoCo grab the rebound... and then Len proceeded to foul him, giving him two free throws.
If you’re doing the math, that’s four points in 0.5 seconds of game time.
The Blazers carried that momentum into the second half, and quickly took the lead. The Raptors promptly took it back, even building it back to 14 in the fourth quarter, but tired legs did them in. Might have been nice to have had that double-digit lead at the half!
5. Stanley Johnson for three!
Stanley Johnson three pointer? Stanley Johnson three pointer!
That’s it, that’s the thought. Hey, it’s the fourth straight West coast game, whaddaya want from me?!
Clearly I need these two days off as much as the Raptors do. They have two very winnable games against Charlotte this week, so let’s hope the positive play carries over and they can finally notch a couple more wins.