What can you learn about a team missing three of their best four players? The Raptors can take solace in the fact the answer is: not much.
It was completely expected that the Raptors would struggle without Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby — all out due to health and safety protocols — especially following a stretch of games where all three played tremendously. Watching the reality of losing is never easy, though, and Toronto hasn’t been able to conjure up any of those surprises we so often saw over the last few seasons — even against middling opponents. There’s been no Mavs comebacks, no bench heroes who come out of nowhere to pick up some slack. It’s been almost business as usual for an undermanned roster. On Sunday night, the Raptors lost their fifth straight game and once again in blowout fashion, 118-95 to the Bulls.
From a purely entertainment standpoint, thank goodness for Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell. Tasked with leading the roster, both Lowry and Powell have been very good through this losing streak. Tonight, Powell once again led the team in scoring with 32, shooting a crisp 13-for-22 (albeit missing eight of his 11 three point attempts).
23p for #24 pic.twitter.com/y5l9HHABTM— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 15, 2021
On most possessions with Powell on the floor, there’s an air of inevitability in the Raptors’ action. He’s being asked to create for himself on single screen sets with the opposing defense keyed in on him, and for the most part he’s been successful doing so. Not only does this show his growth as a player, but it also bodes well for when (if?) the Raptors get healthy and allow him to resume his usual role.
As for Lowry, the veteran wasn’t quite as sharp shooting the ball, going 6-for-17, but excelled early at getting to the stripe, and kept at the effort of setting his teammates up throughout, posting 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds. The frustration of the past two weeks did boil over, though, as Lowry was ejected late on his second technical foul, chucking the ball the length of the floor in the vicinity of an official (maybe not malicious intent, but usually enough to draw the whistle).
Outside of those two, the Raptors were mostly awful. Chris Boucher was the only other player in double digits with 17, but had an up and down game, posting a -14. Boucher was lost quite a bit in rotations on defense, and was bullied on the glass — Wendell Carter Jr. and Thaddeus Young had seven of Chicago’s 14 offensive boards in the game, compared to the Raptors’ six, and most came with Boucher in the vicinity.
At least the young centre was capable, though. The rest of the Raptors roster spent more time struggling to catch the ball than seeing it go in the basket. Toronto players outside the three aforementioned guys went 8-for-38 (21.1%) from the field and committed five turnovers. As a team, this sunk the Raptors offensive numbers, with shooting splits of 38.2% / 26.7% / 71.4% forcing them to play from behind most of the game.
The Bulls, meanwhile, were polar opposite to the Raptors’ top heavy production. Outside of garbage time, all nine players who saw the floor for Chicago scored in double figures, led by 23 from Patrick Williams. Bulls coach Billy Donovan made the move to a veteran starting five before this game, inserting Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young for Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr., and it looked like a stroke of brilliance. Young was crafty and devastating to the Raptors’ defense with his passing, finding cutters and winning 50/50 balls throughout — finishing with 10 points and seven assists. The fire was lit under the two Bulls’ youngsters too, as White scored 13 points and posted a +24 and Carter Jr. had a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards.
Again, though, it’s easy to produce when the opposing defense is disjointed. The Raptors still don’t have any of the strings tightened on that end of the floor, and lost a lot of Bulls back cutters and open shooters at the end of possessions. Chicago was able to make just 12-for-44 from three — not quite enough to shoot Toronto out of it, but enough to keep them at bay.
That’s been the difference with the undermanned Raptors. Their DNA has been enough to keep them kicking around, but the talent and cohesion just isn’t there. The lone bright spot now is they have two days to rest and recover, hopefully return five much-needed bodies, and get ready to snap a losing streak against Detroit.