You may ask yourself: Who do the Toronto Raptors still have to play?
It’s funny that you should question that, because I asked the same thing before writing this.
Tonight, the Toronto Raptors will take on the Brooklyn Nets at home, for what will be their ninth game without Pascal Siakam.
In some ways, it’s felt like their 99th, because within these two-and-a-half weeks, the Raptors have lost a plethora of additional players beyond Siakam. And the list has only grown since their heartbreaking loss to the Atlanta Hawks last Saturday.
Where to watch:
TSN, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Thaddeus Young
Brooklyn Nets — Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant, Royce O’neale
Toronto Raptors — Precious Achiuwa ( Out - Ankle), Dalano Banton (Questionable - Illness), Scottie Barnes (Questionable - Knee), Justin Champagnie (Out - Back), Otto Porter Jr. (Out - Back), Pascal Siakam (Out - Adductor)
Brooklyn Nets — TJ Warren (Out - Foot), Yuta Watanabe (Questionable - Hamstring)
Yes, you read that correctly. Cross one off the injured in the form of Gary Trent Jr., who is likely to make his return tonight, and put another one up in Scottie Barnes, who is still questionable to play.
In the eight games since MVP candidate Pascal Siakam (yes, I am still using that nickname) went down, the Raptors have split with an even 4-4 record. This was likely a stretch where they would have liked to extend their wins, playing some non-playoff competition, but with the depleted roster the Raptors have put out every night, they themselves are likely considered non-playoff competition.
We have seen the likes of OG Anunoby step up tremendously in half the team’s absence. In the past four contests, Anunoby has averaged 26 points per game, while remaining the team’s (and maybe the league’s) best defender.
Despite missing a brutal, potentially-game-winning layup last Saturday, Barnes has also continued to show growth this season. Despite a mild sophomore slump, Barnes finished last game just one assist shy of a 28-point triple double.
You can tell the 3-point shot was a real focus of his this off season, and it continues to be a plan of attack for his offensive game. Despite, the odd games where he goes 0-4 or 2-7, he continues to shoot with the same mindset each night, and that itself shows growth in a young player.
Even though he won’t play tonight, we also received some positive news on the Pascal Siakam front. Adductor injuries can be scary, and for Siakam to only miss three weeks, could be a major blessing.
Raptors hoping Pascal Siakam can return from his adductor strain next week.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) November 22, 2022
The big question though was not necessarily how much time he would miss, but would he be able to return at a similar production level as before the injury?
Gary Trent Jr. returns
One thing to watch out for tonight is Gary Trent Jr. on the defensive end. Yes, his return as a whole is exciting, because Toronto needs every bit of potential half court creation that they can get.
But one thing that all Toronto fans know is that Nick Nurse has a history for calling players out, and getting fantastic production out of those guys the next game. I can’t know this personally, but I have to assume that Nurse not only is open and honest with the media, but directly to the players’ face as well.
Nurse also not only calls guys out and leaves them in the trash bin at the end of the road. He has often challenged his players, and then given them ample opportunity the very next game to prove him wrong.
It looks like Gary Trent Jr. is the next victim of Nurse’s previously explained motivation tactic.
Nick Nurse was asked about Gary Trent Jr's deflections, which are down from 3.4 per game last season to 2.4. Had some strong words.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 22, 2022
"It's disappointing... We want him to be a disruptor. He kinda fits us if he does that, and if he doesn't, he doesn't fit us." pic.twitter.com/21xuvzso0J
My favourite part about this Nurse quote is how he explains Trent as how “he kinda fits us” when he is a disruptor defensively. Nurse couldn’t even fully commit with the compliment end of his quote.
Another thing to look out for, is a guy who is potentially playing tonight for the Nets, Yuta Watanabe. For the past two seasons, the Raptors were searching desperately for 3-point shooting.
Last year, Toronto was in the bottom half of the league, barely cracking 34% as a team, and little did they know that they had the league’s best shooter on their bench.
Well, it would be nice if that was the case. In his last season in Toronto, Watanabe shot a team average of 34% from 3-point range on 2.1 shots per game.
Watanabe has managed to increase that slightly, shooting his way up to a league best, 57%!
When the Brooklyn Nets, a team who also needed to surround their stars with efficient outside shooting, needed to acquire players who fit that mold, their addition of Watanabe seemed odd. Watanabe is a great player on other areas of the court, but shooting was never his strong-suit.
Yes, he has only shot 42 3-pointers this year, but in his last three games, Watanabe has shot 12-18 from 3-point range before having to sit last game out.
I will be extremely intrigued to see how Nurse defends him, or even sharp-shooter, Joe Harris.
As we’ve seen in all of the past years, Nurse’s defensive philosophy is to often shut down the opposing team’s superstar, and force the rest of the team to beat you. I have to assume the main focus will be Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, despite Ben Simmons coming on strong as of late.
But, this tactic will leave some great shooters open. And yes, I know, this has been Brooklyn’s game plan all along in acquiring these three all-star level players.
I’m interested to see if Toronto will decide to double guys like Durant and Irving a notable amount of the game, or if they will allow their defenders to play them straight up.
Rest vs rhythm
This game is the ultimate test of what plays better between rest and rhythm. The scheduling has seemed odd this year as a whole, and tonight’s game is no different.
Brooklyn is following this game up directly after a 115-106 loss in Philadelphia last night to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Raptors on the other hand, had three whole days off, and get to play this one at home.
To be fair, if any team needs the rest, it’s the Raptors, or the Miami Heat, they’ve been fairly banged up as well.
Will the rest time benefit the Raptors, or will the Nets utilize their opportunity to get a bounce-back win directly after a loss? The Nets took game one of this inter-division matchup back in October, so Toronto will be scrapping for revenge.