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Utah Jazz v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Toronto Raptors choke in the fourth, lose to Utah Jazz 116-122

New vibes, revamped rotation, same ol’ terrible defense spoil Jakob Poeltl’s debut.

Yikes. Despite the vote of confidence by Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors rewarded him by showing how bad they can be defensively, especially in the fourth, choking a 14-point lead and surrendering to Utah Jazz, 116-122.

The Raptors showed excellent ball movement to start the game and played better defense, especially once Jakob Poeltl was inserted into the game. The Raptors held a double-digit lead for most of the game, but the Jazz kept coming back. The Raptors’ defense slowly cracked in the second half and progressively got worse when Poeltl was taken out of the game in the fourth.

Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes’ point-of-attack defense against Collin Sexton, especially in the fourth, was negligible. It’s too bad that Malachi Flynn could not contribute offensively, as he’s the only player who slowed down Sexton. It also doesn’t help that coach Nick Nurse gave the Jazz coach Will Hardy a masterclass on how to tank a game in the fourth. It’s criminal for Siakam not to get touches in the fourth the way he was cooking, and not finish the game with Poeltl with the way the Jazz’s big men were murdering the Raptors’ front court with 76 points in the paint.

Pascal Siakam led all scorers with 35 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Gary Trent Jr. found his rhythm in the second half, with 14 of his 19 points coming after halftime. Scottie Barnes had a quiet first half scoring-wise but finished with 12 points, seven boards, and nine dimes.

New-ish Raptor Jakob Poeltl came off the bench to play seventeen minutes and finished the night with six points and four boards. However, his impact was felt everywhere. For seventeen minutes, the Raptors had a competent defense. It’s great to have someone that can box out several players, grab boards, and anchor the defense. Offensively, his space-producing screens were as advertised.

The Jazz had three players with at least 20 points — led by Lauri Markannen’s 23 points and nine boards, while Collin Sexton was unstoppable going downhill, finishing the night with 22 points and six assists. Walker Kessler punished the Raptors inside the paint with 23 points and ten boards while shooting 10-12 inside the paint.

Siakam started the game on fire, just like the other night, scorching the Jazz with 11 points in the game’s first four minutes. Precious Achiuwa tested Kessler’s rim protection but got the better this time, dunking all over Kessler. That dunk should be on any top plays of the game tonight. The Raptors showed excellent ball movement the entire first quarter, leading as much as 11, but a late rally led by Jazz’s Markannen cut the Raptors’ lead to 34-28 after one.

The second frame saw the Raptors revert to their bad habits: the ball sticking for too long, lapses in defense, and not going for the extra pass. Chris Boucher playing erratic, while Malachi Flynn had a tough stint. The duo did, however, one-upped Achiuwa’s dunk, as Flynn stole the ball from Markannen and found Boucher streaking, dunking all over fellow Canadian Kelly Olynyk. However, the Raptors could not expand the lead further, instead allowing Sexton and Kessler to chip into their lead, going on an 11-4 run to close the half. Siakam had to work his magic and get a tough fadeaway to give the Raptors some breathing room, leading 61-58 at the half.

Achiuwa felt the need to respond to Boucher’s dunk, so he opened the second half with another impressive dunk, this time a two-hander. However, it became increasingly difficult for the Raptors to contain Kessler. Good thing that the Raptors’ ball movement came alive, and everything was humming except for the ball spilling off Barnes’s hands every time he drives to the basket. Siakam makes his season-high three-point make at five, but Markennen answers back. Siakam and VanVleet pick up their fourth foul midway through the third, so they get some rest (shocked!).

Trent Jr. and Poeltl got acclimatized to each other this quarter, and I bet you that Trent Jr. loves the space that the screen Poeltl provides. Barnes finally started looking at the basket, nailing consecutive post-ups, giving the Raptors their biggest lead at 90-76.

The Raptors looked like they were on their way to cruise to their fourth straight win, with the momentum slowly swinging towards the Raptors’ side. Trent Jr. with a pick-six, Boucher tip-dunks Barnes’ miss, and Siakam went to work with back-to-back middies, giving them a 111-98 lead with just over five minutes to go. However, the Jazz played tougher defensively and out-executed the Raptors offensively down the stretch. The Raptors’ defense got utterly exposed as the Jazz went on a 17-3 run to take a 115-114 lead with just over two minutes to go. The Raptors continued to give Sexton a red carpet to the basket, and all they could do was foul. Down 120-116 with 10 seconds remaining, Nurse drew a play to get VanVleet an open three-pointer which he bricked. What an embarrassing loss.

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