Can I just paste the introduction from my last five thoughts column in here? The Toronto Raptors are still missing three starters, all of whom are pretty important offensively and who are probably the three best defenders on the team. It’s really hard to win basketball games without players like that!
As such, after falling 114-104 to the Charlotte Hornets, the Raptors have lost four straight games — very winnable games, against middling opponents.
It’s awful to watch, but the results are not at all surprising.
1. Adjust the D
So this is game four without Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, the team’s three best defenders. Why are the Raptors trying to defend the same way with such different personnel?
The Raptors, as we know, like to collapse on D, closing off the paint and trusting their perimeter defenders to be able to rotate, recover and closeout on shooters when the ball is kicked out.
It hasn’t been nearly as successful this year as it has in the past, but without VanVleet (who applies the best on-ball pressure) and Anunoby and Siakam (who both cover a ton of ground and can guard multiple positions), it’s obviously significantly worse. Surely you noticed how easily the Hornets scored from long range last night (an opponent-record 15 threes in the first half).
So why hasn’t the team adjusted? Especially against an opponent like Charlotte, who doesn’t present much of an interior scoring set, surely it makes more sense to sit on the three point line a little more? Watching the Hornets just shoot open three after open three was excruciating. The team’s unwillingness to try anything else on the defensive end is mystifying.
2. Uhhhhh Norm
If you wanted to see something that summed up last night’s first quarter pretty well — and, heck, the whole game — it was the final possession of Q1, when the Raptors got the ball back, with eight seconds to go… and Normal Powell proceeded to walk the ball up, with no sense of urgency or pressure on the defense, then nonchalantly pass the ball to Chris Boucher when there was no longer enough time to get a shot off.
fouling lamelo 30+ feet from the basket while in the bonus and then not even getting a shot up with 8 seconds on the clock. no wonder nurse is on the floor yelling at his guys. they're failing the basics— William Lou (@william_lou) March 14, 2021
It was truly one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen, making it very clear the Raptors’ heads were just not in this one.
3. New Look Guys
If there was anything good about the shorthanded Raptors getting down big early, it was that it meant Nick Nurse went deep into the bench early on, searching for answers.
That meant some early minutes for Paul Watson and Matt Thomas, and Henry Ellenson’s debut with the big club.
Watson continues to impress. I would like him to be more of an offensive threat — he’s got good size and a nice-looking stroke — but he seems to consistently be in the right spot on both ends.
Ellenson, well, he just doesn’t have the foot speed to play in the NBA; his advantage is his shooting, although that certainly wasn’t on display last night. I won’t judge him too harshly on one game, and he did score a couple buckets in garbage time, but if Ellenson can’t knock down open shots there’s not other reason for him to be out there.
Which, of course, is exactly what you can say about Matt Thomas.
4. Matt, Just Shoot It
With just under three minutes to go in the second quarter, Matt Thomas drained a long three to cut the Hornets’ lead to 14. Then the Raptors got a defensive stop, Thomas grabbed the rebound, and the Raptors went the other way looking to cut the lead down to 12 or 11.
As the Raptors went through their set, Thomas received the ball at the top of the arc, found himself open for a split-second, and turned down the shot. He then tried to drive and dish the ball to Chris Boucher. Naturally, he turned it over, the first of there straight for the Raptors, ending the threat.
Thomas might not get minutes for his defensive challenges, but to me, these plays are even more frustrating than anything he does on the other end. You’re in there to shoot!
5. This is Getting Tough
I first started blogging about every game at the start of the 2017-18 season, so I’ve had it pretty good. In all that time, the Raptors had never lost four in a row in the regular season. Three and a half seasons I’ve gone without having to write about four straight losses. Not a bad run, eh?
Since I’ve only had to write about good Raptors teams, I’ve often wondered whether or not I’d be able to maintain my enthusiasm when the team got bad again. Not gonna lie, this has not been easy… and it’s only four games! And there’s hope on the horizon with the team hopefully getting back to full strength in the coming week.
If they were really, really bad, I don’t know, this might have to turn into “Five Thoughts on Last Week” or something. Can I really keep doing it every game??
Well, we get to do it all again tonight… hooray? Maybe the Raptors can take something from the garbage time success the deep bench found last night? We’ll have to hope so.