Five thoughts on Game 24: Raptors 102, Kings 87

Toronto Raptors at Sacramento Kings December 10 2017

A few thoughts from the Toronto Raptors 102-87 victory over the Sacramento Kings, the Raptors’ sixth win in a row:

The Raptors started off strong, but inexplicably took their foot off the pedal

It was a 17-2 Raptors lead with 8 minutes left in the first quarter; it ended with the Raptors up 22-17. The Kings took the lead four minutes into the second quarter. Although the outcome never really seemed in doubt, it is frustrating how rarely the Raptors put the clamps down on bad teams. They managed to do it in Atlanta, but here, after the strong start the Raptors started settling for long shots, making lazy passes, and letting the Kings do whatever they want. Buddy Hield went 6-8 in the first half, including 2-2 from deep, as he led the Kings bench in their comeback. Overall the Kings bench outscored their starters 28-17 in the half; perhaps they were a little perturbed by all this talk of the Raps bench being best in the league.

The improvement in DeMar DeRozan’s passing has been great to see

DeRozan posted a season-high 9 assists, and he’s now averaging an even 7 per game over the six-game winning streak. And it’s not just on one or two pet plays or drive-and-kicks, either. He’s finding Jonas Valanciunas in the pick-n-roll. He’s swinging the ball back after dribble hand-offs. He’s looking for cutters when he’s in the post. And he’s keeping his head up on fast break opportunities. It’s wonderful to see.

All of that said, there was one play in the first quarter that is the exact type of play that makes the stat-heads pull their hair out when talking about DeRozan. Kyle Lowry had the ball, pump faked, got the defence moving, and drove the lane, which pulled the defense in. He kicked it out to DeMar at the top of key, who was wide open for three-point attempt. But it’s DeMar. So he didn’t take the open three, he drove straight ahead… right into the defence that was already parked in the lane. He ended up doing a spin move, followed by a fadeaway, which Buddy Hield got a piece of. DeMar passed up a simple, open shot worth three points for a much more difficult shot, worth only three points.

I mean, I love DeMar, and I can live with the three not being a big part of his game… but when a look like that presents itself, you gotta take it.

Boy, CJ Miles is struggling

He missed his first five shots of the game, after going 0-4 on Friday night. He finally hit a three-pointer in the second, after the Kings had taken the lead, so it was nice he made one when they needed it. But he forced a couple, and he’s clearly searching for something. He had a couple of sweet drives in the fourth, and I love it when slumping shooters mix it up like that. Hopefully it goes towards busting him out of it,  because the Raps need his shooting; even with OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka and Lowry shooting well from deep lately, CJ’s shot volume, range and quick release creates a ton of space on the floor for everyone else.

Speaking of struggling, Pascal Siakam went 1-7, including 0-2 from deep; he’s now 2 for his last 27 three point attempts and 20% on the year. I know the three is not his shot, but I sure hope he’s working on it. It would be a welcome addition to an otherwise well-rounded game.

The Raptors bigs had another solid game

In the first half JV had few good looks around the bucket thanks to some Kyle and DeMar passes, and he drained a three; he was 3-3 with 5 boards in 14 minutes, and finished with 9 and 8 and a +17. On one great third quarter sequence, he bodied up Zach Randolph, tipped an offensive rebound to himself, caught it and kicked it to Lowry (who rimmed out a wide-open triple). Meanwhile, Serge continued his hot shooting, going 4-7 from deep and scoring 20 points, and adding a couple great defensive plays at the rim including breaking up a De’Aaron Fox dunk attempt to open the third quarter. And I really liked the way both of them ran the floor tonight as well.

As for the big man off the bench, Poeltl had a great transition dunk off a tough Lowry pass, another great spin move off a Lowry offensive rebound and pass, and oh yeah, his first three-pointer!

This game featured one of the worst replay situations I’ve ever seen

DeMar and Bogdan Bogdanovich got tangled up on a jump ball in the third quarter. Bogdan didn’t like it, DeMar shoved him, stern looks were exchanged. The refs called for time to look at the replay, see who was at fault and assess appropriate fouls. First of all, why the need to go to replay? This happened on a jump ball, everyone is looking at the same thing! How did they miss it? Second of all, the replay review feed wasn’t working, so the refs couldn’t see the replay. Instead of cueing up an iPad or looking at the jumbotron, everybody just stood around waiting. Like, they’re literally showing it in the arena. They’re showing it on TV. But they can’t show it on the screen. SO WE WAIT. Finally they give up… and call nothing. Are you kidding? Have the officials gotten that reliant on replay that they can’t make a call without it? That was embarrassing. All that time wasted for nothing.

And for the record, DeMar should have been assessed a tech for the shove.

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It’s s 2-0 start on the four-game trip, which is excellent; the next test is tonight, on a back-to-back against the Clippers. LA is struggling; can the road-weary Raps take advantage?

Five thoughts on Game 14: Raptors 125, Pelicans 116

New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors Nov 15

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors’ Wednesday night victory over the New Orleans Pelicans:

For eight minutes, it looked like it was gonna be a long night for the Raptors

The Raptors got off to an atrocious start in this one, and it looked like we were gonna have to chock this one up to the Raptors playing their first back-to-back of the season, on the road. At one point they had four straight turnovers, mostly due to lazy passes; and they were just as lazy gating back in transition, as the Pelicans scored 9 points off turnovers in those first eight minutes. They were getting beat on the glass, beat on cuts… it was just sad. Thankfully the bench came in and saved them, which is becoming a habit.

CJ Miles is beasting

A key part of that comeback was CJ Miles. He’s shooting without conscience, which is exactly what the Raptors need. I’ve said it before, he’s a threat and even his misses are good for the offense. He finished 5-9 from three, and contributed in other ways as well: a nasty one-handed jam off a Delon Wright offensive rebound, a lovely pass that led to a Jakob Poeltl dunk, and my favorite moment, a completely dismissive stare down of a riled up DeMarcus Cousins in the fourth quarter. He averaged 15.3 ppg on 57% 3-pt shooting on the road trip.

Does DeMarcus Cousins hate basketball?

I feel like Cousins is the most joyless player in the league. Maybe even in league history. He looks like he absolutely hates playing basketball. He seems to have nothing but disdain for the whole affair. I mean no one wants him (or anyone) to be Dwight Howard, goofing around from the tip, but come on man. Show that you like or are at least interested in your job! I’ll tell you this, from a fan perspective, he’s just awful to watch—and it’s sad because he’s so freaking good.

I am so bummed about Delon Wright’s injury

Wright injured his shoulder in the second quarter battling for a rebound; the Raptors are reevaluating him today, but it’s the same (right) shoulder he’s had issues with in the past. I would hate to see him miss time, not only because the Raptors need him but because he’s been playing so well, and so much more consistently, lately. The second-unit defense just won’t be the same without him. And his injury means more time for Fred VanVleet, which isn’t ideal—though I’ll be the first to admit FVV tends to step up when you least expect it! Like in the Wizards game when Lowry got tossed, or against the Celtics when he took the elbow that got the Raptors one final shot. Even tonight, he hit the three that gave the Raptors the lead at the end of the first half.

For the love of God, please stop reviewing fouls for flagrants

I blame Draymond Green for this, for that whole deal with the leg kicks and “unnatural acts.” But this has gotten ridiculous. Cousins runs into Kyle Lowry, and gets his knee up and is called for the offensive foul. Then they have to review it for a flagrant? What? In the fourth, Anthony Davis and Lowry battled for a loose ball, and in the melee Davis whacked Kyle in the face. Loose ball foul. Then they have to review it for a flagrant? What!?!? Give me a break, guys. Neither of them ended up being whistled flagrant; these are basketball plays. Bodies are crashing. People are gonna get whacked! (I sure do wish it wasn’t Kyle every damn time. The guy leads the league with 10 charges taken!)

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That’s a 2-1 mini-road trip for the Raptors, which is an excellent result. Now it’s home for two (before another 3-game road trip); first up it’s the new-look Knicks and Kristaps Porzingis on Friday, who currently sit one game behind the Raps in the east standings.

Five thoughts on Game 13: Raptors 129, Rockets 113

Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets Nov 14

A few quick thoughts from the Toronto Raptors “signature win” of the season, a 129-113 victory over the Rockets  in Houston:

OG Anunoby probably played himself into more minutes

OG Anunoby started for the injured Norman Powell, played 30 minutes (his most of the season), scored 16 points on 6-8 shooting and finished a game-high +22. Dwane Casey doesn’t generally allow injured players to lose their starting spots, but, I wonder if OG might make Casey reconsider. I mean, James Harden is an MVP candidate, but OG held him to 8-25 shooting and frustrated him into 9 turnovers (and several fouls).

The refs were… confused? And the game was a bit out of control

Speaking of fouls, 83 foul shots were taken in this game. PJ Tucker got tossed, Mike D’Antoni lost his shit multiple times, Harden was in foul trouble but still shot 19(!) free throws himself, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combined for 26 FTs… yeah, not super-fun to watch.

Casey went 12 deep again! Even with Norm injured

Sure, Alfonso McKinnie and Lucas Nogeirua only played a combined 7 minutes. But surely those minutes could have gone to Pascal Siakam (19), Jakob Poeltl (14) or, god forbid, CJ Miles (17). Overall the Raptors are continuing a disturbing trend of playing up to the competition, with solid wins against excellent Western conference teams on the road (Portland, Utah, Houston), but blowing games to undermanned teams (Boston, Washington) and nearly blowing it against Chicago. I feel like a more consistent performance will emerge when a more consistent rotation emerges.

CJ Miles is making his case, but is Casey listening?

Miles had his best performance since the first game of the year, going 6-9 from downtown and pouring in 19 points. And yet as noted above, he only played 17 minutes. What does the guy have to do to earn more?

The Raptors three-guard lineup was effective

I am not a fan of playing Lowry, VanVleet and Delon Wright together, but it worked on this night. (I’m not a fan of playing FVV at all, at this point.) This was the unit that lead the scoring binge in the second quarter (45 points) and started off the fourth quarter strong. It may have been Delon’s best game of the year, going 5-5 from the field and playing excellent defense on Eric Gordon down the stretch. You have got to love the length that OG Anunoby and Wright bring to the table; Siakam too. When they lock in, they really are an excellent line of defense on the perimeter.

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The Raptors close out this mini-trip in New Orleans against the Pelicans tonight—their first back-to-back of the season. Even if the Raps drop this one—and the Pellies will be looking for revenge after the Raps beat them last week—the Raptors will have a winning record through 14 games, which is an excellent result considering 9 of those games were on the road (8 of those against the West). Let’s hope they come through with a W either way!

Five thoughts on game 12: Celtics 95, Raptors 94

Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Nov 12

The Toronto Raptors dropped a close one yesterday against the Celtics in Boston. I missed the game but I’ll offer a few observations based on the stats, highlights and post-game reports…

Norman Powell’s injury might be serious

Norm left the game with what they called a hip pointer, and didn’t return. He was on crutches after which isn’t a good sign. OG Anunoby started the second half in his place, which I think is the right call, based on his defence. The argument for CJ Miles there is strong but if Casey thinks he needs CJ’s offense with the second unit I can’t argue with that.

CJ Miles needs to play more

That said, CJ only played 21 minutes yesterday, and only averaged 16 over the previous three games. That’s pretty bizarre from a team trying to get better at spacing and shooting, to limit your best 3-point shooter’s minutes. I understand, again, Casey has a glut of wings to give minutes to, but, the Raptors need Miles’ shooting. He should be playing 23-24 mpg. I’m sure there are a few Fred VanVleet minutes that Miles can easily gobble up (and I would love to know why the heck FVV was on the floor for those final two possessions).

Pascal Siakam vs OG Anunoby is entertaining as heck

Speaking of the glut of wings, I’ve debated who of the Raptors young SFs deserve more minutes here, and although I’ve leaned towards Anunoby, Pascal Siakam continues to play extremely well. He played 19 minutes, had 8 points and went 2-3 from deep with 6 rebounds as well. With Norm out, both should see an uptick in minutes; they’ve both earned them!

It was the same old Raptors down the stretch

Lots of arguing about the final play selection. The Raptors had two chances, down 1 with the ball; on both, it was DeMar DeRozan iso-ball. In those situations, it’s hard to argue with the call; you want the ball in the hands of your best player. And on the second, DeMar generated a strong look, within 15 feet and just missed it. (If you want a counter argument, maybe it’s that one of those shots should have come from Lowry, who had what might have been his best shooting game of the year). What’s concerning is that it seems that’s what the Raptors were doing for the previous several minutes. We’ve seen it over the last two postseasons, that type of offense just doesn’t work. The Raptors need to keep the ball moving and work for better shots.

The Raptors are blowing great opportunities against important eastern conference foes

Last Sunday the Wizards were without John Wall and the Raps let that one get away. Today, the Celtics were without Kyrie Irving (and of course Gordon Hayward) and the Raps couldn’t put them away either. These games could come back to haunt the Raptors when it comes time for playoff seeding.

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The Raptors are in Texas tomorrow to take on the team with the league’s second-best record (behind Boston), the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have won six in a row—can the Raptors stop this streak?

Five thoughts on Game 1: Raptors 117, Bulls 100

Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors Oct 29

Five thoughts on an easy Raptors victory:

  1. Kyle and DeMar looked kinda like… playoff Kyle and DeMar. Shots were off, they were hesitant at times, and tried to force things other times. Ibaka was also kinda invisible. Norm and Jonas looked good though! Jonas missed a few chippies (and bricked a triple) but had a pretty complete game, Norm was aggressive and on point from deep.
  2. The bench was sensational. The full platoon change in the final minutes of Q1 was an oddity, but it worked! The amazing thing is, all five subs played well. Sure, Anonuby had his rookie moments (a weak drive), Poetl continues to pick up cheap fouls (two moving screens) and VanVleet’s shot looked off, but as a unit they blew the Bulls off the floor. And CJ and Delon were the best players in the game, along with Jonas.
  3. The Bulls are… wow, they are bad. I know they were missing two potential starters (because they got in a fistfight in practice, come on now) but still… that’s a really terrible NBA team.
  4. I definitely have issue with Casey leaving Kyle and DeMar in as long as he did in the fourth (especially bringing them back with two minutes left). He said he wanted to give them extra minutes to shake off the rust, and I guess I get it, but man… the injury risk is so high. Much greater that the reward of a couple extra minutes of burn, in my mind.
  5. CJ Miles is a pure gunner, and while he’s definitely not going 6-9 every night from downtown I love that the Raps have someone like that on the team. A deep threat like that opens up the floor for others—witness the drives that Anonuby and Wright had—and keeps the defense moving.

It’s tough to judge too much on one game against a weak opponent, but every win counts! Nice to see the Raps open the season this way.