Once again, the Toronto Raptors failed to play a full 48 minutes last night. They gave up another 70 point half to their opponent! Thankfully, this time the better end came late, as the Raptors picked up the defensive intensity and outscored the Memphis Grizzlies 34-16 in the fourth quarter, en route to a 128-113 win.
It wasn’t a pretty night. Kyle Lowry left with back spasms. Nick Nurse got ejected! Aron Baynes got humiliated. But a win is a win, and we can hope, yet again, that the positive performances that emerged in the second half will carry forward as positive trends.
1. I Miss JV
I’m feel pretty comfortable saying that, after our old friend Jonas Valanciunas had 18 points and 14 rebounds at halftime, a lot of Raptors fans were missing our old centre last night.
JV completely obliterated Aron Baynes last night, finishing with 27 and 20 while Baynes finished with a 7 and 6. Most unimpressively, Baynes did not secure a single defensive rebound in the first half while JV hauled in eight offensive boards.
Valanciunas played 33 minutes, and the Grizzlies were +4 in those minutes. Had he been able to play more this one might have ended up differently!
It’s not like we needed it, but Valanciunas really shone a light on the Raptors’ big man troubles.
2. Everyone Involved
The Raptors, playing most of the game without Kyle Lowry, got big contributions from Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam last night (93 combined points) but also got important contributions from the bench too. Chris Boucher had 12 points and 10 boards, Stanley Johnson and DeAndre’ Bembry combined to shoot 4-of-4 and Yuta Watanabe hauled in seven boards against his old team.
Perhaps nothing sums up the team play better than this fourth quarter triple from Powell; Siakam is doubled on the right block, and he kicks it out; the ball is swung three times, ending up with Powell — who’s freed up by a Boucher screen.
Everyone on the floor contributed to that play’s success.
3. Bembry Theft
For all the good Jonas Valanciunas did for his team last night, this was a lowlight for him — but an absolute delight for Raptors fans:
Bembry started the second half for Kyle Lowry, who was out with back spasms, and he was solid yet again, not putting up big numbers in 25 minutes, but avoiding mistakes and playing good positional defense. I’m thrilled that he’s found a spot in the rotation.
4. Fred+Bench Lineups, No Thanks
For the second game in a row, Nick Nurse (before getting tossed) ran out a lineup of Fred VanVleet and four bench players last night. It was pretty ugly.
To be fair, that group (VanVleet, Boucher, Bembry, Watanabe, Terence Davis) actually won its minutes by three points, though it certainly didn’t feel like it in the moment. There just isn’t enough shot creation with that group, and it seems destined to fail unless it spams a VanVleet-Boucher pick-and-roll every time. (Which it probably should!)
Of course, with Lowry out, that meant a Powell-plus-bench lineup too, which was even uglier (but also won its minutes, by one point!). OG Anunoby is out too of course, which increases the necessity of such lineups, but seven minutes worth of those two groups definitely seems like a lot.
5. Why are the Raptors Complaining so Much?
The Raptors now have 28 technical fouls on the season. That’s eight more than any other team. Why? I can think of a couple of reasons:
1. They’re frustrated with their own play and are taking it out on the refs.
The Raptors are not as good this year as they have been in past years; that’s new territory for most of these guys. That’s got to be wearing them down.
2. They’re frustrated with life in general and are taking it out on the refs.
The Raptors are on a 72-game road trip with all kinds of restrictions on what they can and can’t do. That’s got to be wearing them down too.
It might be both, honestly. It also might be… Kyle Lowry’s fault?
Lowry’s the leader of this team, and has been for some time. But he’s also notoriously prickly with officials. In the past, that’s been offset by others, who are quieter and/or, um, more respectful, to officials; by DeMar DeRozan and Dwayne Casey; by Kawhi Leonard; by Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
But this team is Kyle’s through and through, and all the other long-term veterans are guys that Kyle has mentored. If they’re taking after him, well, that’s more voices an official probably doesn’t want to hear.
In any case, the Raptors should probably get this under control.
Hopefully Kyle Lowry’s absence isn’t a prolonged one! The Raptors have a very winnable game against Washington next, and then a long stretch of games against the top teams in the East: Boston, Milwaukee twice, Philadelphia twice, with two Minnesota games sprinkled in. They’ll need to be at full strength to weather this storm.