The Toronto Raptors are reeling, just a bit, after a Friday loss to the Sixers that featured something we don’t normally see — a disappointing effort.
Facing a Philly team without Joel Embiid, the Raptors nevertheless allowed a career-high explosion from playoff heel Tyrese Maxey, who dropped 44 points in a 112-90 win. Sure, there was a need from their opponent to get back to form, but the Raptors let down in all the areas they’ll need to be consistent in order to hang with a tough Eastern Conference. They were sloppy defending dribble drives, weren’t able to execute help sequences on James Harden, and allowed an undermanned, struggling team to get in a groove.
It’s a vibe that wasn’t lost on Fred VanVleet (who is usually very much with the vibes).
Fred cont'd: "We weren’t very good as a team doing anything. A lot of that was on me. I’ll definitely take responsibility for that loss, which is my job."— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) October 30, 2022
The Eastern Conference never lets up either, and tonight the Raptors will host the 4-2 Atlanta Hawks — who have seen their off-season acquisition Dejounte Murray fit right in alongside Trae Young. The two are averaging a combined 51.5 points per game coming into this one, if you can believe it.
Atlanta hasn’t had the toughest schedule to date. With wins over the Rockets, Magic and two over the Pistons, nobody is moving them up the ladder from a play-in tier team. They hung with the Bucks on Saturday, though, losing 123-115 (Trae Young scored 42), and will look to play spoiler on the road tonight.
Let’s look at the morning details and get into things to watch for.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
Atlanta – Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela
Toronto – Otto Porter Jr. (out - personal)
Atlanta – Bojan Bogdanovic (out – knee)
It’s a great problem to have, but the Raptors’ offense has struggled so far this season with a glut of mouths to feed — especially among the starting unit. So far this year, there’s been a dozen or so possessions per game where players seek out their own shots outside of the flow of the offense. It hasn’t hurt too much, but it did against the Sixers on Friday. Even VanVleet, usually a steady hand, forced shots in the third quarter that set Toronto back significantly.
It’s early — it’s early — but one thing the Raptors need to do over the early part of the season is build their cohesion. Chemistry shows up through most of the game. The two-man games exhibited by Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam, and Siakam and VanVleet in crunch time, have both been pillars Toronto can build on. How they get shots for OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. early on, and help them get their legs under them, will need to be a point of emphasis against a run and gun team like Atlanta.
Find a way against Trae
While not a Raptors killer per sé, Trae Young has had his share of outstanding games against Toronto — and comes into Monday as hot as you can be. Young has recorded three straight double-doubles against the Raptors, most recently in April when he had 15 assists to go with 26 points.
That first number is where the Raptors need to be careful. Help defense, a sore spot against the Sixers on Friday, will need to be sharp against Young. While sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic will miss Monday with a knee injury, there’s still a plethora of shooting and cutting on this Hawks roster, ready-made to score off Young’s gravity. While Dejounte Murray presents his own challenges, the key figure for the Raptors’ defense will need to be Trae.
Run, run, run
Raptors-Hawks matchups over the past few seasons have always delivered on scoring and capitalizing in transition. Even more than in the past, though, this is a Toronto team that comes in thriving off steals and blocks — the hit-aheads, running into shooting lanes, and working off Pascal Siakam’s blossoming creation game. The Raptors come in 29th in the league in pace to the Hawks 13th, but are fourth in the NBA in points off turnovers, averaging 18.3 per contest. This says a lot about how they need to play on Monday. After two days off, the Raptors should have no problem matching Atlanta’s pace and feasting off their run and gun style.
Look for a bounce back from Fred VanVleet, who has said all the right things after a dismal Friday showing. Beyond that, Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa are two other figures who can make the amazing happen in transition, and will both similarly be looking to round back into form after a weekend of thinking about the last loss.