The trade deadline action yesterday put the Raptors’ fanbase into a rollercoaster of emotions, as the team dealt fan favourite Norman Powell for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood. Later on, the fanbase celebrated the failed Lowry trades. For one day, the Raptors’ issues were forgotten. However, their first game back reminded us of everything that’s gone wrong this season.
Toronto’s small-ball identity went toe-to-toe with the Phoenix Suns, getting excellent early contributions from Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. However, Chris Paul and his crew are a force to be reckoned with this season. Paul dissected the Raptors defense at every turn, and Deandre Ayton and the rest of the Suns dominated the paint, 58-32.
All of it added up to another loss for the Raptors, 104-100, which came despite a late push against Phoenix.
There was a stark contrast between the team’s centre play. The Suns ran plenty of action involving Ayton, while the Raptors could not get anything positive from Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher for most of the game. Ayton ended up with 19 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks for the night.
The newly minted Raptors struggled, and perhaps left the fanbase thinking they could have won the game if Norman Powell was on the floor instead. In his debut for Toronto, Trent Jr. posted a “Bad Norm” game of 8 points on 4-for-11 shooting with plenty of zeroes on the scoreboard.
The Raptors’ offense would get stagnant several times throughout the game, especially to start the periods. However, their poise and their defensive intensity would get them back into the game and give them a chance to steal the game. Pascal Siakam came up with another strong game, putting up 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists, but was quiet for most of the third quarter. VanVleet dropped six three-pointers en route to 22 points, but was outfoxed by Chris Paul late in the game, forcing him to commit a crucial foul late in the game. Chris Paul led the Suns with 19 points, eight assists, and six rebounds.
The Raptors maintained their small ball starting lineup by giving newly-acquired Gary Trent Jr. his first start as a Raptor. Both teams appeared to be in a good rhythm to start the game, as they traded baskets early on. Fred VanVleet started hot behind the arc, hitting his first three shots. The Suns went through Ayton early, trying to take advantage of his height mismatch against OG Anunoby and Siakam. He started 3-for-3 despite having issues with the Raptors’ collapsing defense. Rodney Hood made his first appearance as a Raptor as the first guy off the bench. The Raptors would lead by as much as five as Siakam warmed up, and the Suns would hit a dry spell, but Cam Johnson came off the bench to score five quick points to tie the game at 26. The Suns would take the lead at the end of the quarter, 29-28, despite a strong first quarter from Siakam.
The Suns opened up with seven straight points, extending their run from the first quarter to a 15-2 run. Malachi Flynn broke that run with an excellent midrange shot off a PNR play. Lowry’s transition three pulled the Raptors within two, which forced Monty Williams to call a timeout and bring Chris Paul back. Flynn’s three-pointer capped an 11-0 run and wrestled the Suns’ lead back, 39-36.
Paul led a 9-3 Suns comeback, where he either scored or assisted his teammates’ basket, taking the lead back, 45-42. The Raptors hit a dry spell going scoreless for three minutes, while the Suns continued to attack Aron Baynes, pushing their lead to five. The Raptors got some rare hometown cooking as the scorekeeper failed to start the clock on time after a jump-ball on the Raptors’ end of the court. It was a long 4.5 seconds with the ball bouncing around, ultimately ending up with Siakam putting in a layup. Siakam’s and-1 pulled the Raptors within two, and the half ended with the Suns leading 53-51.
The Suns started the second half involving Ayton on every possession, and it yielded them easy baskets. On the flip side, the Raptors’ offense was sluggish — partly because of the Suns’ defensive intensity, which forced an early timeout from Nick Nurse after the Suns jumped to a 61-53 lead. The timeout did not help, as the Raps turned the ball over right away, leading to a layup by Bridges. VanVleet and Lowry would hit back-to-back three-pointers to keep them in the game. But the Suns won’t let up, attacking from everywhere, pushing the lead to 73-59. Ayton’s impact in the paint and on the boards forced Nurse to go with Baynes early.
The Raptors would creep in to get the lead back to nine several times, with Siakam starting to impose his will. However, they could not put together good offensive and defensive possessions consecutively, at least not until Paul and Ayton hit the bench. Siakam’s free throws and assists to VanVleet and Baynes brought them back within 4, 77-73. The Suns would finish the quarter ahead 83-77 behind a stellar 12-for-16 shooting inside the paint.
The Suns opened up the quarter attacking Baynes, and they converted in three straight possessions. Bridges’ corner three would push the Suns lead to 92-81. The Raptors would come up with empty possessions, while the entire universe, except for the Raptors coaching staff, knew that the Suns would keep attacking Baynes, forcing the Raptors to call a timeout to stop the bleeding. Lowry’s three-pointer cut the lead to eight, but Paul would answer back with his patented midrange game.
The Raptors would make one more push, starting with Siakam’s lefty hook shot to cut the lead to 98-91. The Raptors’ full-court pressure forced a Suns turnover and had coach Williams calling for a timeout. The Raptors executed their hammer play off the timeout, which led to VanVleet’s sixth trifecta, cutting the lead to four. Another stop and Siakam got to the line for his 10th and 11th free throws that cut the lead to two with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
The Suns were having trouble putting the game away, but Trent’s transition three attempt with one minute left missed everything but the glass. That shot would have given them the lead. Paul almost iced the game after that, drawing a foul from VanVleet that pushed the lead back up to four, but Fred would respond with a quick layup. OG then forced Booker into a tough shot with about ten seconds to go, but the Raptors failed to secure the rebound — the story of the game. Booker’s two free-throws sealed the game for real.
The Raptors failed to capitalize on a rare off-shooting night for the Suns, who went 2-for-18 from behind the arc in the second half. Meanwhile, yes, the Raptors played the game once again short-handed, this time without Paul Watson Jr. and DeAndre’ Bembry due to the league’s health and safety protocols. No word yet if they will be available against the Portland Trail Blazers this Sunday.