Just when we thought the Raptors were about to turn things around, a couple of losses put them back to where they were before, which is inching closer to the crossroads where the management would need to make tough decisions on this roster.
The Raptors suffered a disappointing loss against the Memphis Grizzlies last night. The visitors imposed their will, showing physicality and size. They dominated the paint and the boards and got whatever they wanted on the offensive end. The Grizzlies made life difficult for Pascal Siakam, who had to account for his own offense and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Despite an “off night,” Siakam finished with 25 points, 10 boards, and four assists before fouling out.
The most disappointing aspect of the game last night was the effort. They allowed the Grizzlies to beat them in the transition game. It was so bad that the visitors got transition baskets even on the Raptors’ made/missed shots.
Nick Nurse: “I don’t know if the play tonight gives me much optimism at all. It’s pretty unacceptable with the effort we gave.”— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 30, 2022
The Raptors are now 2-8 over their last ten games and have fallen a half-game behind the Chicago Bulls for the final play-in spot. They just can’t catch a break health-wise, with key rotation players going in and out of the lineup.
Gary Trent Jr. was the lone bright spot for the Raptors, putting up another productive game off the bench with 20 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the perimeter. OK, I’m kidding. We finally saw Chris Boucher show up and gave us plenty of effort plays that we’re accustomed to last night.
Fortunately for the Raptors, their last opponent of the calendar year is just as banged up as they are. The Phoenix Suns are in town but will be missing the services of Devin Booker, Landry Shamet, Cam Payne, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder. That’s worse than the Raptors missing Otto Porter Jr., Fred VanVleet, and Precious Achiuwa.
Devin Booker (left groin strain), Landry Shamet (right Achilles soreness), Cam Payne (right foot strain) and Cam Johnson (right meniscus tear) all remain out for tomorrow's game against the Raptors— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) December 30, 2022
Like the Raptors, the Suns are limping towards the next calendar year, as they have lost four of their last five games and are just 5-10 over their last five games. Their last stop was in Washington, DC, where they let Rui Hachimura drop 30 points off the bench as the Wizards stepped on the gas in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Can the Raptors squeeze another win before the year ends?
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto Raptors – Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Juancho Hernangomez
Phoenix Suns – Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Torrey Craig, Jock Landale, DeAndre Ayton
Toronto Raptors – Precious Achiuwa (ankle – questionable), Otto Porter Jr. (toe – out), Fred VanVleet (back – questionable)
Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker (groin – out), Jae Crowder (personal – out), Cam Johnson (knee – out), Cam Payne (foot – out), Landry Shamet (achilles – out)
Back to Basics
The Raptors are facing yet another big in DeAndre Ayton tonight. Given how Ivica Zubac and Steven Adams dominated them in the paint, the starting lineup remains a bit of a sore point. Christian Koloko got another start last night but was just pushed around by every Grizzly on the floor.
Coach Nick Nurse should go back to what’s worked well in the past. If they need to have some size on Ayton, then the Raptors need to start Khem Birch — if he’s healthy. Last year, we had enough sample size to show that he’s a decent fifth guy on the starting unit.
If VanVleet is playing tonight, then they should stick with the lineup that’s been working for them over the past few games. It’s important to get the team defense going and provide Siakam, Barnes, and VanVleet with the spacing they need to operate.
Help the Helper
Pascal Siakam is the engine of the Raptors’ offense, but we have seen a few games now where teams were able to slow him down effectively.
The team can’t afford Siakam to have an “OK” game due to the injury situation. They need him to play at the superstar level unless several of his teammates catch fire. On a night when the majority of the quality shots he created for his teammates were wasted, it might be better to get the ball back to Siakam — but not to ISO again. Nurse has to tweak his offense to get Siakam scoring opportunities without going through the entire defense waiting for him. We had several years of data of Kyle Lowry spoon-feeding Siakam easy buckets, so it’s not like he can’t play off-ball.