The Toronto Raptors have lost three games in a row. Opposing players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, and Jayson Tatum sat out those three games, but it didn’t matter – teams can now feel comfortable resting their stars against the Raptors. Toronto held sizeable leads in all three games and have been close in the final minutes, but just haven’t been able to close. They’ve lost on last-second rip-through fouls, questionable timeouts, and all sorts of unfortunate, uninspired crunch time possessions. The team is discovering new ways to lose basketball games almost nightly which, depending on your outlook on this season, is either deeply frustrating or a display of exquisite tanking.
Toronto is now 20-27, which puts them at 12th in the East and sixth in the lottery standings. This evening they face the New York Knicks, who are 25-22 but 1-2 against the Raptors this year. The Raptors’ most recent win was a 123-121 OT victory at Madison Square Garden, though they came within inches of blowing that one too. VanVleet poured in 33 points next to Scottie Barnes’ 26 that game. In the teams’ first matchup this season, the Raptors won on the back of a 52-point performance by Pascal Siakam. If the Raptors want to win this game, and win the season series 3-1, they’ll need one of their stars to step up.
Where to Watch:
TSN4, 6:00 pm EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa
New York – Jalen Brunson, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Jericho Sims
Toronto – Otto Porter Jr. (foot - out for season), O.G. Anunoby (ankle - questionable), Fred VanVleet (ribs - questionable), Dalano Banton (hip - questionable)
New York – Mitchell Robinson (thumb - OUT)
After being gradually reinserted into the team’s rotation following his ankle injury, Precious Achiuwa got his first start of the season yesterday with VanVleet sitting out. Achiuwa had a very visible impact on the team’s defense, and in particular excelled as a one-on-one defender vs Jaylen Brown. He’s still a work in progress offensively and can make some mistakes, but he also makes coast-to-coast plays and drives to the rim that wow you.
According to https://t.co/sYPPBnBUUN, Achiuwa guarded Jaylen Brown on 26.2 partial possessions tonight, holding him to 4 points on 2-of-9 shooting. Brown scored 23 points on 8-for-14 vs everybody else.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 22, 2023
Achiuwa finished his first start of the season with 17 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks in 37 minutes. With O.G. Anunoby potentially missing today’s game, Achiuwa could be in line for another start. While the team’s season has taken a downturn, it’ll be exciting to watch Achiuwa’s development the rest of the way.
Crunch Time Woes
I’ve alluded to it already but it’s worth mentioning multiple times: the Raptors have been simply miserable closing tight games as of late. Their offense was clicking all night against the Timberwolves, until they were held scoreless for over four minutes and let the lead slip away. Part of it is fatigue. Siakam has dealt with a massive workload all season, and looks tired at the end of some games – which makes sense, considering he carries the halfcourt offense for 40+ minutes a lot of nights.
But beyond just tired legs, the Raptors’ offense often becomes stagnant in crunch time. Transition opportunities dry up as they grow tired and defenses buckle down, and their offense often devolves into an isolation jumper. Whether it’s trusting teammates to make the right play with the ball, remaining active off the ball, or creativity in the play-calling, something needs to change for the Raptors to finish games.
RJ vs Raptors
Continuing the longstanding tradition of Canadian players showing out vs the NBA’s lone Canadian team (a practice known as ‘The Wiggins’), RJ Barrett scored 30 and 32 points in his two games against Toronto this year. Aside from the magical Canada factor which the Raptors simply can’t help, Barrett has benefited from a defense that’s prioritized limiting Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle.
After putting the clamps on Jaylen Brown yesterday, could Precious Achiuwa draw the Barrett assignment? They’ll need someone who can move quickly enough to cut off his driving lanes, while presenting the length to bother his shot. If Achiuwa does indeed defend Barrett, Barnes could serve as Randle’s primary defender while VanVleet (if he plays) takes Brunson. Let’s see if RJ scores 30 again to make it a hat-trick.