Well that was certainly underwhelming, wasn’t it? The Toronto Raptors returned from their six-game road trip on a high, having gone 4-2 and generally playing consistently good basketball for the duration of the trip. A home game against the league’s worst team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, should have been an opportunity to right any wrongs from the previous game — a loss to the Boston Celtics — before a tough stretch that will seem the face the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers twice each.
Instead, the Raptors came out with no urgency, let Minneosta control the tempo and needed a last-second chance to tie it — which deservedly, rolled off the rim.
1. Process or Outcome?
The Raptors made the right plays down the stretch, putting themselves in position to score and extend the game; Kyle Lowry made a great hustle play to gain an extra possession, Lowry and Norman Powell both got to the free throw line, and Pascal Siakam made a quick, decisive move to get to the rim on his game-tying attempt.
But they didn’t get the results they wanted or needed: They went 2-for-4 from the line in the final minutes, and Siakam’s layup rolled off.
It’s tempting to say “at least the process was sound”, but the process isn’t actually complete unless you, you know, complete it. That means hitting your free throws and layups! (Besides which, the process has to extend to the rest of the game as well, including playing defense for more than a few minutes at the end of the game.)
If I were a spiritual man, I’d suggest that the missed layup and free throws were the basketball gods saying “nope, uh-uh, you don’t deserve this one after the terrible 46 minutes you just played.” I’m not, but I wouldn’t argue with them if I were.
The Raptors are just not guarding the three point line very well right now, allowing opposing teams to get comfortable out there, and it’s really beginning to bite them in the ass. The Timberwolves shot 52% from the field and 41% from downtown, after the Celtics shot 45% from the field and 51%(!) from downtown.
The broadcast has spoken about this often the past two games, and I have to agree: When you give NBA players room to shoot, there’s a good chance they’ll make the shot — and once they see a couple go down, they have positive momentum to carry forward.
The Raptors aren’t closing out effectively. They’ve allowed a lot of three-point attempts the last two years too, but they scrambled and closed out so well, those threes were always more difficult shots. This year? Way too easy.
Last night’s game was not lost on one play or bad moment, but the third quarter will certainly go down as a lowlight. The Wolves won it 37-25 while shooting 15-for 20 from the field, and at one point went on a 17-2 run, a chunk of which happened with Karl-Anthony Towns on the bench. Anthony Edwards had seven of those points, and three guys you never heard of — Jaden McDaniels, Jaylen Nowell, and Naz Reid — combined for eight (Towns had the other two).
A rookie and three scrubs on the worst team in the league fuelling a 17-2 run. It goes without saying, but you can’t let that happen.
4. Let the Fred+Bench Unit Die. Kill it, if You Have To
You’ll be shocked to hear that the above run happened mostly against a bench-heavy Raptors unit led by Fred VanVleet. It’s the same VanVleet plus Stanley Johnson, DeAndre’ Bembry, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher lineup that has stunk it up the past two games too.
Did this unit run a single play on offense? I don’t think they did! Those two points in that 17-2 run came on two Boucher free throws!
With OG Anunoby and Yuta Watanabe still out, the Raptors are down to four competent starters and two competent bench players (Bembry and Boucher) right now. Would it be so hard to stagger the lineups such that two of the starters remained on the floor at all times?
5. Not Taking Care of Business
Remember last year, when the Raptors absolutely dominated bad teams on their way to the league’s second-best record? Yeah, we all worried about their record against good teams, but it was incredibly reassuring to see the Raps take the floor against a Sacramento or a New York or a Minnesota, and see them just take care of business.
We’re not getting that this year, and I don’t think there’s a starker reminder of the differences between last year and this year. (You know, other than the whole pandemic, playing-in-Tampa thing.)
Last year’s team had Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, yes. But they were also just ready to play every night. You rarely, if ever, saw them give a subpar effort. Sometimes the shots wouldn’t drop, sometimes another player got hot (remember Ben McLemore), but that high energy and tenacious D was omnipresent.
I don’t know if it’s Tampa, the pandemic, or the absence of Marc and Serge (it’s probably all three) but I miss that effort.
Things could get rough for the Raptors, with this tough schedule coming up. Getting OG Anunoby back will help, but even then, this team could find itself on the outside of the playoff picture as the All-Star break approaches.