Toronto’s disappointing 116-112 loss on Sunday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves has put a damper on what was a strong stretch of play for the Raptors during their road trip. Much of the night belonged to the Wolves who rank dead last in the league at 7-20. They shot a blistering 10-of-14 from the corner while all five starters scored in double figures for the first time all season. A flurry in the third quarter led by 2020 first overall pick Anthony Edwards put the Raptors behind, and Toronto was unable to put together the consistent stops needed to win down the stretch.
MIN snaps a 16-game road losing streak to Raptors with a 116-112 victory.— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) February 15, 2021
Wolves shot a season-best 62.2% eFG%.
Had all 5 starters score 10+ for 1st time this season.
And hit a season-high 10 corner-3's (10/14). pic.twitter.com/mYnmZDNuzW
Chris Boucher and Aron Baynes both performed poorly, combining for just 12 points and nine rebounds. Kyle Lowry played 40 minutes in a game that should not have been close from the beginning. The loss of OG Anunoby to injury was prominent in the contest with Toronto having trouble guarding the Karl-Anthony Towns pick-and-pop in the final frame. Toronto played just nine players and still struggled to put the game away. After a very promising road trip, it was a frustrating result considering the Nick Nurse-led Raptors have historically handled below .500 teams with ease.
Traveling to Milwaukee tonight, the Raptors are looking to avoid what already could be their fourth 3-game losing streak this season. Milwaukee have been struggling with the absence of Jrue Holiday, losing three consecutive games themselves (albeit to much stronger opposition than the Wolves).
Here are the details for the game.
Where to Watch:
SportsNet, 8:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Milwaukee – Donte DiVincenzo, Bryn Forbes, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Toronto – OG Anunoby (calf – doubtful), Yuta Watanabe (ankle – doubtful), Patrick McCaw (knee – OUT)
Milwaukee – Jrue Holiday (health and safety protocols – day-to-day), Jordan Nwora (ankle - out)
The Second Unit Offense
The staple of Toronto’s bench the last five years has been their best player, Kyle Lowry. The Lowry + four reserves lineup that had always been a plus-minus monster will eventually come to an end and Toronto hasn’t found the starter to carry it forward. The depth of the team is not there this season, hence Toronto relying on two-starter lineups with the bench. However, if Toronto wants to continue their regular season dominance in the future, a strong bench and great depth are the best ways. The recent absence of OG Anunoby has not helped matters either.
Fred VanVleet was the only starter on the floor while Minnesota was on its 17-2 run. VanVleet’s strongest asset, his shooting, is nullified when he’s on the ball as much as he is. Against the length of Minnesota, VanVleet struggled. It culminated in a moment during the run when his three was blocked by Karl-Anthony Towns and led to a clear path foul against the Raptors. Unlike Lowry, VanVleet has difficulty attacking the basket against taller and stronger defenders. If the Raptors want to avoid a scoreless drought like that happening again, having someone who can consistently break the defense down is needed. Unfortunately, VanVleet is not that player yet.
With the addition of Jrue Holiday in the off-season, Khris Middleton was seeing a little less of the ball. However, it seems to have done him good. He started the season on a tear, shooting an incredible 51 percent from the field, 44 percent from distance, and 90 percent from the free throw line. It’s been the most efficient stretch of Middleton’s career so far, but the most important revelation this season has been his assist numbers.
Wanted to highlight Khris Middleton's 12th assist last night.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 9, 2021
This is a pass Middleton and Antetokounmpo have struggled to connect on in the past and they hit it last night in a big moment. pic.twitter.com/CvVm2RRhHI
When Holiday was ruled out in early February due to the league’s health and safety protocols, Middleton was asked to play more on the ball, and it’s worked. While the Bucks have stumbled a bit, his passing and efficiency from three levels has added another element to Milwaukee’s offense. He’s hit double digit assists twice in his past four games, more than he has all season. If Milwaukee is to realize their championship aspirations, they need to play Antetokounmpo off-ball more. Middleton’s progression in this aspect will help them when teams start to build walls against Giannis.
Decisions at the Five
The centre position has been a problem for Toronto this season. Aron Baynes, who was brought in as a stop-gap measure to keep the books open for free agency 2021, has shown glimpses of solid play but has overall been a weakness for the Raptors. Chris Boucher, whose early season play surprised much of the league, has been up and down since. Boucher is not a natural centre, and never will be, but with the holes in the roster, he’s been asked to play that position to some mixed results.
With reports of the Raptors and Cavaliers in trade talks centered around Andre Drummond surfacing, it begs the question: Is this the right move for Toronto? The Raptors rank last in the league in rebounding and the addition of Drummond alone can push them to the middle of the pack. He’s big and agile, a lob threat, and considerably better than Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher as a centre. The problem lies in the cost. Is Drummond’s value worth, say, a Norman Powell? It’s a steep cost and it’s one that makes going for him a tough task.