Do you know what the beauty of playing in back-to-back games is? You get the opportunity to bounce right back the next day! And man, do the Toronto Raptors ever need a bounce back. They will get that opportunity tonight, as they head to Indiana to take on the Indiana Pacers.
Where to watch:
Sportsnet 1, 7:00 PM ET
Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Christian Koloko
Indiana Pacers — Andrew Nembhard, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Jalen Smith, Myles Turner
Toronto Raptors — Precious Achiuwa (ankle – out), Khem Birch (knee – out), Pascal Siakam (adductor – out)
Indiana Pacers — Chris Duarte (ankle – out), Daniel Theis (knee – out)
My high school football coach always told us that we get 24 hours to do whatever we need to do after a loss. Whether we want to be angry, sad, disappointed; the 24 hours following the completion of the game were ours to cope with.
Sometimes in the NBA season, you don’t get that luxury. If Toronto were to play in a way that their emotions and motivation were in a sulking mindset, they would probably look a lot like they did last night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Losses are difficult to manage as an NBA fan. That is why being a fan of a professional sports teams can have the biggest highs and the biggest lows, and right now, Raptors fans are riding a serious low.
Nobody thought playing a minimum of two weeks without Pascal Siakam was going to be easy. In fact, if you asked me, I probably would have said that their offense would be in shambles. It basically has been.
Now, if you factor in missing two key bench pieces in Khem Birch and Precious Achiuwa, Toronto’s depth and offensive creation ability are going to be seriously tested.
This seemed like a pretty simple part of the schedule. Factoring in the key injuries to Toronto, a quick three game win streak against three teams below .500 still appeared as a realistic outcome.
One messy win against the Houston Rockets, and a beyond messy loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder later, and the Raptors still have the chance to go 2-1 in this three game stretch.
Without Siakam, Toronto doesn’t have a consistent offensive creator. The defense is still going to be fine in my opinion, despite everyone getting blown by on the first attempt last night, but the offense is where Toronto will struggle.
The struggles are already apparent when Siakam sits on the bench for a few minutes. If Fred VanVleet isn’t creating looks out of the pick-and-roll or hitting difficult 3-pointers; if Scottie Barnes isn’t breaking the defense down and using his size to get into the paint, and if guys like OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. aren’t attacking off advantages, Toronto’s offense is toast.
The only issue is, every single one of those is an exceptionally inconsistent option.
The Indiana Pacers head into this game with three days of rest. They are a young team lead by future star, Tyrese Haliburton, and Canadian rookie, Bennedict Mathurin, and they have nothing to lose.
This team plays hard every night. This team plays fast every night. And if Toronto brings the same level of energy they did last night, they could lose a couple quick ones to teams who are in the bottom half of their respective conferences.
Yes, there are lots of things to look for, and lots of things to improve on from last night. However, if I were to watch for one thing specifically, it would be to see how the rookie, Christian Koloko bounces back tonight.
I think it is fair to say that Oklahoma City isn’t strong in the big man department. Besides Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, they don’t even have a guy who puts a ton of pressure on the rim. Koloko looked like a rookie last night, and that’s alright, that is expected.
Heading into a game against a strong, established, versatile big like Myles Turner though; Koloko doesn’t have the benefit of looking like a rookie two nights in a row. The Raptors are counting on him in a starting center role, and are a team looking to compete. They don’t have time for nights on end of rookie mistakes and rookie lulls through this grueling 82 game season. Especially if the other young guys on the team aren’t quite ready to lead a team yet.
Koloko has been Toronto’s starting center for eight of the 13 games this year. This is partially due to him earning it, but partially due to the Raptors’ inability to produce a healthy roster consistently. He is going to have his hands full tonight against a veteran in Turner, and with a couple quick guards who can finish inside.
I do want to give a quick shout out to the bench though. Even though they still haven’t put it all together, I openly ripped them at the beginning of the year, and their bench production is part of the reason they have stayed alive in Siakam’s absence.
Even though it doesn’t show up on the box score, Thaddeus Young and Otto Porter Jr. for the most part, have given the Raptors a calming presence on the floor when games begin to get frantic.
Also last night, while it was nap time for the rest of the team, Chris Boucher bounced back after a three game lull, and lead the team in scoring and rebounding with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
There isn’t much to say aside from Toronto needing to look better. When you’re missing your best player, you have to be able to take the easy ones, because the games against playoff competition are going to be that much more difficult.
Time to see if the Raptors can bounce back in their mini three game road trip, and actually gain some ground in the win column for their first time this season.