This certainly wouldn’t be the matchup anyone would have expected to see back at the beginning of the season.
The Toronto Raptors’ lineup is obviously substantially different, but they weren’t alone in that tonight. The visiting Memphis Grizzlies’ roster has been almost obliterated due to injuries, with Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Marcus Smart, Brandon Clarke, Steven Adams, Derrick Rose, and Jake LaRavia (basically half the roster) all out due to a variety of injuries.
While obviously this would be an opportunity for the Raptors to get a feel-good win against a weakened opponent, it looked a lot more like a tough learning curve for a young team that’s going to need to take some time to find themselves and their identity.
Despite the loss, Scottie Barnes managed an impressive 22-12-8 with 6 blocks. Far more intriguing than his ability to score in this game was his court vision and timing, finding the open man a number of times with perfectly placed dimes.
RJ also played well and led the team in scoring with 29 and 9, keeping the offence up for the Raptors throughout the game.
Turnovers were a big problem, with a mixture of tough defence forcing some, while others resulted from simply mishandling the ball.
Extra possessions and 50-50 balls favoured the Grizz as well, despite their missing personnel, as their defensive tenacity and aggression created an obstacle the Raptors just weren’t able to overcome.
Although the pace and play picked up towards the end, it wasn’t enough to earn them the win, falling even farther behind 0.500 and closer to the possibility they keep their pick in the upcoming draft.
From the moment the clock started, it was a bit tough for the Raptors, who looked lethargic right from the tip.
The first few possessions for the Grizzlies were effective, with a layup, a trip to the foul line, and a three-pointer that were all cashed in. Not many possessions went the Raptors’ way early as they struggled with a number of missed shots and turnovers, although luckily the Grizzlies weren’t able to convert on many of those extra possessions.
Scottie tried to change the tired pace with an emphatic block on John Konchar, and kept his energy up closing out on three-point shooters to deny any easy shots. Despite his effort, the one healthy component of Memphis’ core, Jaren Jackson Jr. looked great early in the quarter, taking whatever defensive matchup the Raps threw his way.
RJ Barrett responded to the spurt from Memphis with several tough and well-timed possessions under the rim, keeping Toronto in the game. The defensive effort started to turn up a bit, with Thaddeus Young taking a charge, but turnovers continued to be a problem, especially with Memphis improving their ability to convert.
A tough possession that should’ve given Scottie a breakaway dunk was also stifled by JJJ who finished the quarter with 16 points and 6 steals for Memphis, playing the entirety of the frame. RJ contributed 9 for the Raptors while remaining a perfect 4-4, and despite their struggles, the quarter closed with the Raptors down by only 5.
In the second, Dennis Schroder opened up scoring with a 3-point shot routed through Bruce Brown. Schroder continued to be aggressive early, with a tough shot at the rim between two defenders.
He wasn’t the only one fighting through contact, as Scottie was able to get open in the paint on the following possession and float the ball up and in to tie up the game, forcing Memphis to talk things over.
Substitutions and adjustments from the stoppage allowed the Grizzlies to go on an 8-0 run before Chris Boucher finally ended a three-minute scoring drought with a 3-pointer. Unfortunately, some defensive miscommunications allowed the Grizzlies to capitalize, finding the open man under the basket a number of times and allowing them to add to their lead.
On a more positive note, the Raptors’ defence was able to hold JJJ scoreless in the four minutes he touched the floor in the quarter, a significant improvement to his strong first quarter showing. Despite the deficit ballooning to 11 points, heroics by RJ and Bruce Brown late in the quarter brought the Raptors back a little to end the half down only 53 - 46.
The Raptors tried to open up the second half with a set play for Quickley, but the shot rimmed out, followed up by a blocked attempt by Thad on the next possession.
Gary Trent Jr. got called for an offensive foul as well, so early returns in the half for the Raptors were disappointing.
Memphis found the opposite, falling into stride early and making their first four shots. RJ continued to be a highlight reel for Toronto, making contested shots at the rim to keep the Raps in the mix. Scottie’s frustration appeared to finally bubble over as well, after several trips to the rim found him receiving a fair amount of contact that failed to be acknowledged by the referees.
He eventually got the call and a trip to the line, and followed up that play with a much-needed three-pointer. With JJJ in foul trouble, the Raptors found a bit of respite and an opportunity to try and cut into a growing lead, but superb shooting, especially from Luke Kennard who already had 5 long range shots with over half of the third still left. RJ’s frustration was also evident, getting a tech after reacting towards one of the officials after he got hit on a drive to the rim and coming up empty.
To end the quarter, the offence for the Grizzlies outpaced the Raptors once again, and a number of missed shots saw them fall further, now with a 14-point deficit and plenty of ground to make up.
In the fourth, the lull continued, allowing Memphis to score the first five points. Now, with a 19-point deficit, Darko tried to rally the team with a timeout. From the stoppage, RJ and Scottie highlighted the quarter again.
RJ continued to find his shot close to the rim, at times making it look too easy, and Scottie’s ability to draw defenders in the paint provided opportunities for him to pass out to a number of cutting teammates.
Despite giving up easy second chance points and a number of open shots, the Raptors were able to slowly crawl back into the game, forcing Memphis into a timeout to regroup. Not much of an adjustment was needed though, as the Grizzlies stuck with it and toughed out the last couple minutes, maintaining a healthy lead despite the Raptors’ best effort, ending the game down 108 - 100.
Although it isn’t necessarily obvious in the box score, the Raptors’ offence had some serious struggles tonight. A big part of it felt like an energy issue, with the first half dragging along. Scoring lulls were frequent, at one point exceeding 3 minutes without being able to find the basket. It’s obviously forgivable, as we’re starting to rebuild the team, but it’s challenging to watch the frustration that goes along with the growing pains.
What we can cling to as fans is the highlight plays from what is expected to be the core of the future in Scottie Barnes, Immanuel Quickley, and RJ Barrett.
Scottie’s blocks and defence are continuing to improve, and it’s nice to watch him be aggressive and call for the ball when he’s identified a favourable matchup on offence. His work down low in the paint continues to impress, especially when his fadeaway shot is falling as an alternate when he’s being guarded straight up.
He definitely tried to inject some energy into the game on both ends. RJ’s fingerprints were also all over this game, with his craftiness and athleticism under the basket kept the Raptors’ scoring going at times.
IQ didn’t find his scoring touch as much in tonight’s game, but his three-point shooting was solid, and his ability to facilitate is one of his biggest assets for the team right now, ending with 10 assists. While not coming away with the win, these flashes of brilliance and hope for the future are important takeaways.
The Raptors have a bit of a break now, seeing their next action on Friday against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers at 7:30 pm EST on Sportsnet before they head out on another road trip.