Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors at the quarter-season mark

The Toronto Raptors at the quarter-season mark

We’re 21 games in! How about a quick check-in on the Toronto Raptors at the quarter-season mark?

The bench has been the best part of the season

This is the story of the Raptors season, to be certain. Coming in to the year it was really unclear how the Raptors would replace Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and PJ Tucker, and how the young guys would respond. So far they have exceeded every expectation.

The youth amongst that group is kind of unbelievable. Outside of bench dad CJ Miles you have a rookie: OG Anunoby. Three sophomores: Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. Two third-year players: Norman Powell and Delon Wright. A fourth-year player: Lucas Nogueira. And all of those guys were drafted by the Raptors or acquired in draft day trades. It’s pretty much unheard of to build such a solid second unit out of your own picks, all of whom came out of drafts following playoff seasons. I think we have to give Masai Ujiri, Dwane Casey and the coaching staff, and all of these young men a ton of credit.

The depth has also helped them weather minor injuries extremely well; the Raps have had a few small injuries (Jonas Valanciunas, Norm, Serge Ibaka), one potentially serious injury (Delon) and one baby birth (CJ). They haven’t missed a beat! I’ve been frustrated at times with Casey’s long bench, but I’m starting to come around; everyone can play, they can all play together (except maybe Ibaka and JV—see below) and when an injury does happen, guys fill in seamlessly. It’s enabled Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to get more rest (even at the same time), which, hopefully, will reduce the likelihood of any injury to them this year.

The new offense looks great—until the Raptors abandon it in close games

The ball movement and three-point bombing has been fun to watch, hasn’t it? They’re third in the league in both scoring and point differential (+7.3); 37% of their shots are threes (up from 29% last year) and their assist rate has jumped from 47% (dead last in the league!) to 57% (still only good for 19th, but hey…). They’re even running on occasion—7th in the league in fast break points per game. All good things!

Thing is, the old habits creep in whenever the games get close. They walk it up. The ball doesn’t get swung from side to side. It goes to DeMar DeRozan and it sticks. Everyone clears out and it’s the DeMar iso-ball show. It’s cost them a winnable game in Boston and maybe another one at Golden State. And sure, sometimes when the defense tightens up that’s all you can get… but I think the old habits are dying hard in high-pressure moments.

The Serge Ibaka/Jonas Valanciunas pairing is not working out

Serge Ibaka is not rebounding. Jonas Valanciunas is not defending. They have the two worst defensive ratings (and net ratings) on the team. It was understood when signing Ibaka that he was a better fit in today’s NBA playing centre. But the Raptors aren’t using him there enough. And the game has just passed JV by, sadly. His type of centre play just isn’t the way the game is played now. Of course, the problem is they are #3 and #4 on the Raps’ salary chart, so can you sit one of them? Maybe you don’t have to. Maybe you just sub JV out sooner (three minutes) against most teams, and bring Siakam in; and bring JV back in sooner, replacing Ibaka, to play a little more with the second unit. And against certain teams (Detroit and New Orleans come to mind) he gets more run. Poeltl remains your third centre.

Kyle and DeMar have been good, but not great

At this point I don’t know if either one of the Raptors’ all-star guards will be selected to the team this year. Both are putting up totally fine numbers but Kyle started slowly and has picked up, while DeMar started strong and has tailed off a bit (only 4.4 FTAs in the last five games). I mean, I can’t complain—the team is 14-7 and in third place, after an incredibly tough schedule to start the year. But I can’t help but feel we haven’t gotten peak play from our backcourt yet. They can’t be tired—their minutes are both down and the stretched-out schedule has meant more off days. They could be a bit banged up I guess. Or maybe they’ve finally caught some of that regular season fatigue? If that’s the case I’m gonna have pretty damn high post-season expectations, especially after their well-known playoff struggles!

Those third quarters…

I wrote about it the other day, but, the Raptors third quarters are really the only negative on the year. On the one hand, you could call those Knicks and Pacers games outliers; after all, on the year they’re only getting outscored by a point in the third. But… looking a little deeper, their net rating in the third is a negative 5.3, good for 22nd in the league; their defensive rating is 115, good for dead last. So it’s something that still needs work. Subbing JV out sooner, as noted above, may help. But mostly I think it just comes down to coming out of half-time being prepared to play, not taking a lead for granted or taking teams lightly. CJ said last week it’s all mental and I tend to agree.

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Overall I’m extremely pleased with the team at the quarter-mark. The early schedule has been tough (and they’ve got another four-game west coast trip coming), to be here at 14-7 after the departures the team saw in the offseason is damn impressive. Let’s see if they can keep it up for another 61!

Image via Getty images 

Five thoughts on Game 20: Raptors 126, Hornets 113

Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors, Nov 29

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors giving away another third quarter, but hanging on to beat the shorthanded Hornets:

The Raptors’ third quarter problems persist…

Dwayne Casey sounded pretty livid after the game, with good reason. The Raptors gave away another third quarter with sloppy play: poor shots, unforced turnovers, poor transition defense, poor perimeter defense, poor rebounding position… I mean, it was embarrassing. And once again the bench had to come in and settle things down. I mean, there’s a small part of me that’s glad the fourth was interesting—blowout fourth quarters are boring—but I’d rather see a close game throughout, rather than watch the team choke away a big lead.

… as does their habit of playing down to shorthanded opponents

Once again a Raptors opponent was missing their best player and once again the Raptors struggled to take advantage. Kemba Walker is fully capable of going on a 19-2 run all by himself (like his team did to start the third); there’s literally no one else on this Hornets team to fear. And yet the Raptors let these guys hang around. I was really disappointed in the Raps’ defensive efforts; Walker is a tough guy to guard because he can beat you inside and out. But Dwight Howard, Michael Carter-Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist… these are fairly one-dimensional players. They can’t shoot—yet the Raptors crowded them and allowed blow-bys to the rim. And that led to a ridiculous 35-11 free-throw differential.

It took him 20 games, but Kyle Lowry looks like himself

This was a vintage Kyle performance tonight; yeah, he sucked, along with everyone else, for the first six minutes of the third. But he was stellar in the first half (19 points, and helping turn a 7-point first quarter lead to 19 by halftime) and stellar in the fourth. He wasn’t going to let the Raptors give this one away; he went 3-4 from deep in the fourth, and found DeMar DeRozan on a drive that led to a DeMar hammer dunk that sealed it. He scored 36 on 18 shots with 8 made threes (a career high). He also took his league-leading 14th charge, and acquired approximately 23 new bruises, scrapes and cuts. Glad to see old Kyle back!

Lucas Nogueira is hurt again

Tell me if this doesn’t sum up Bebe’s career: Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl were both battling foul trouble tonight, which gave Bebe an opportunity to play after being the odd man out the past several games. He comes in, hits a three, picks up three fouls, and leaves, injured, after 8 minutes. Sigh.

I’m actually a fan of Drake on the broadcast

If I only tuned in to the occasional game, having Drake chime in with Matt and Leo for a quarter might bug me – that’s not what I want to hear, right? But when you watch every day it actually adds a nice bit of color every once in a while! And he clearly is having a great time, he loves it, he’s funny… I dig it. And Matt and Leo seem to dig it too… And hey, if Kyle’s postgame interview is any indication, he digs it too. And that’s all right for me.

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The Pacers are in town Friday. Can the Raptors fix their third-quarter woes before then? Remember what happened the last time they played Indiana

Five thoughts on Game 18: Pacers 107, Raptors 104

Toronto Raptors at Indiana Pacers Nov 24

A few observations from the Toronto Raptors loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the Raptors’ second in a row on this three game road trip:

It was another game of runs early.

The Raptors started out 5-0, off of a Kyle Lowry three and a Serge Ibaka steal and dunk. The Pacers then went on a 12-0 run and it looked like this was gonna be a long night. But the Raps then went 7-0… before giving up a 13-0 run, while looking like the same team that rolled over to the Knicks in the third quarter on Wednesday. So the Raptors naturally decided to end the quarter on a 13-4 run. And Fred VanVleet kept it going with a little 6-2 run of his own to tie it at the start of the second.

Third quarters are becoming a problem

That’s two straight games the Raptors have had double-digit leads at halftime, only to give it up in the third and enter the fourth trailing. On this night, the third quarter certainly wasn’t as bad as Wednesday—the Raptors only lost by 11, not by 31—but still. It’s a little concerning that your starters—ostensibly, your best unit—can’t hold a 10-point lead.

Casey did some experimenting tonight

Some of this was due to CJ Miles absence (his wife delivered their first child on Thursday night) and Delon Wright’s injury, but there were a couple odd sub patterns in this game. DeMar DeRozan got a longer run with the bench at the end of the first quarter, and both he and Kyle played 39+ minutes—not ideal on the first night of a back-to-back. After being the first centre off the bench in recent games, Lucas Nogueira was behind Jakob Poeltl on this night—and he only played 2 minutes. Most notably, though, was Jonas Valanciunas starting the second half on the bench, with Pascal Siakam inserted into the starting lineup. This is a move that Raptors Twitterarti have been asking for; the thinking being, Serge Ibaka and JV can’t play together and Serge is better served playing centre. The stats back it up; the Raptors give up 113 points per 100 possessions with Serge and JV on the floor together, but are plus-10 when it’s Serge and Pascal. But it didn’t work on this night, as the Raptors squandered their lead with Serge and Pascal on the floor.

I honestly didn’t even know Lance Stephenson was still in the league

I was shocked when he got into the game; I assumed he’d played himself out of the league by now. Naturally he made me pay for my foolishness by catching fire in the second half and all but sealing the game: he went 6-7, 3-3 from deep and had 7 rebounds in 15 second-half minutes. He also committed two egregious fouls on DeMar DeRozan that weren’t called, that might have swung the game back in the Raps favor. I’ll let it slide, since I suspect Pacers fans are still smarting from the non-call that DeRozan got away with in game 7 against the Pacers two years ago.

This was not a good DeMar night

Aside from getting bullied by Stephenson and softballing the potential winning layup (there may have been contact, but come on DeMar—you gotta take it strong there), DeRozan only shot 6-16, only shot 2 free throws, and had 3 rebounds and 2 assists (and 4 turnovers) in 39 minutes. His backcourt partner picked it up with a near-triple double (24-9-10, include 5-9 from deep) but without CJ and Delon, the Raptors really need DeMar to be his usual self (or better) to win. 13 points (and lackluster defense) isn’t going to cut it.

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The Raptors need a strong performance in Atlanta tonight to salvage this trip. They’ve already allowed Cleveland and Detroit to surpass them in the standings (I know it’s way to early to scoreboard watch, but I can’t help it) and need to get back on the winning side of things!

Five thoughts on game 17: Knicks 108, Raptors 100

Toronto Raptors at New York Knicks Nov 22

Five thoughts on an incredibly dispiriting loss to the New York Knicks for the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night:

The Raptors started off well…

Right off the bat Kyle Lowry hit DeMar DeRozan on an alley-oop reverse, and that set the tone, as the Raptors guards came out aggressive. DeRozan then dropped a three pointer from the wing and and ended up with 11 points in the first 8 minutes. Kyle and DeMar played the entire first quarter; it led to an 8-point advantage at the end of the frame. The Raptors assisted on 8 of 12 field goals in the frame, and the ball movement was wonderful to see. It led to a Norman Powell three point barrage at the end of the quarter—he went 3-3 from deep in his first quarter back after missing three game with a hip pointer. Then in the second, an-all bench unit held serve over for the first 5.5 minutes before Kyle and DeMar came back. The Raps finished the second quarter +3 and had an 11-point lead at the half.

….except for Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka did not figure into that first half success. He was 0-7 from the floor, and did not acquire a single rebound or assist. He finished the half with no points, no rebounds, no assists, 2 blocks and 2 fouls. He played better in the fourth (4-6) but overall, he looks like he’s forcing things; he’s not passing the ball well and doesn’t seem to be in sync with the offense. I’m not sure what the solution is. He just doesn’t seem to be brining much to the table at this point. And I’m more than a little concerned about how his contract will play out over the next three years.

I guess we gotta talk about the third quarter

When your team wins 3 out of the four quarters in a game, you’re usually in position to win said game. When you lose that one quarter by 31 points however… it becomes a different story. The Knicks just completely obliterated the Raptors in the third, using a 28-0 run to win the frame 41-10 and turn an 11-point halftime deficit into a 20-point lead. What is there to say? The Raptors were bad on defense, transition defense especially; they were bad on offense, making lazy passes, forcing 3-pointers, going on-on-one; they were bad on the glass, getting outrebounded 17-5. (Obviously you can caveat the latter by pointing out that they went 1-16 while the Knicks shot 16-24, giving the Knicks far more rebounding opportunities.) I was physically uncomfortable watching the period; it’s like watching a friend get beat up knowing you can’t do anything about it.

Tim Hardaway Jr. had his way with the Raptors in this one

Hardaway showed that he might be worth that giant contract after all. He was, frankly, awesome in this game. He played extremely hard and aggressive, bullying his way to the rim and getting after Kyle and DeMar on the other end. He finished with 38 on 27 shots, and added 6 boards and 7 assists. He also clearly fed off the crowd in the third , where he scored 12 points; he’s clearly a good fit for the Garden crowd.

Let’s look for some positives

The Raptors bench once again proved they can pick it up when the starters are off; they outscored the Knicks by 12 in the fourth… Dwane Casey was much quicker on the timeout trigger than he’s been in the past, calling two during that Knicks run (to little avail, unfortunately) and subbing out his starting frontcourt when the wheels came off… Siakam once again played solid defense on Kristaps Porzingis (8-21) and was his usual speedy (sorry, hard-running) self in transition… Norm looked good in his return, off the bench… hmm, I think that’s all I got.

—–

They say basketball is a game of runs, and that sure was true tonight. Hopefully the Raptors washed the stink of that third quarter off in the fourth, and that’s what they’ll remember when they go into Indiana on Friday.

Five thoughts on Game 16: Raptors 100, Wizards 91

Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors Nov 19

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors taking down the shorthanded Washington Wizards 100-91 on Sunday afternoon:

It was bombs away for the Raptors, right from the opening tip (and I love it)

The Raptors shot 8 three-pointers in the first 5:10. Sure, they only hit 1 (and finished 3-12 in the quarter, and 10-39 for the game), but I love the dedication to the three. The percentage is ugly, but as I’ve said before, they need to remain consistent in their attempts; they’ll fall, and for now they’ll keep the defense honest. The other great thing about it was just how many Raptors got involved in shooting them; 6 players had four or more attempts.

The Wizards’ three-pointers kept them in the game

Washington shot 11-19 for the game, and it seemed like every time the Raptors looked like they were gonna pull away, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris or Otto Porter canned one from deep. The Raptors did put the clamps down on the perimeter in the fourth though; they held the Wizards to just 1-4 from distance in the final frame.

It looked like Bradley Beal was going to bury the Raptors in the first half.

Beal had 23 points in the first half, and was generating offense inside (2-5 in the paint) and outside (4-6 from 3-pt range). But the Raptors switched things up in the second half, sticking closer to him on screens and forcing him to the outside, rather than the middle. He went 2-8 in the second half, and scored only four points—none in the fourth quarter. Various Raptors guarded him down the stretch, including Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and even Fred VanVleet, and they all deserve credit.

Bebe is the favored backup centre again, it seems

Lucas Nogueira was the first big off the bench again, and he played well in his 14 minutes, putting down three alley-oops and adding a block. Jakob Poeltl has remained ready though, and he added 4 boards and 5 points in 10 minutes, including a nice putback of an offensive rebound where he quickly went straight back up without bringing the ball down to gather (a young big man mistake; it’s possible he’s learning from Jonas Valanciunas, who has become a master at the quick putback, as seen in the first half of this game). Ultimately though, the Raptors went with Serge Ibaka at the 5 and Pascal Siakam at the 4 down the stretch. I’m not sure what prompted Dwane Casey to stick with Ibaka against Marcin Gortat (Siakam was having a stellar game and deserved the minutes) but it worked, as Gortat went 0-2 in the fourth quarter and the Raptors never trailed in the quarter.

Fred VanVleet giveth, and Fred VanVleet taketh away

I suspect I’m being too hard on Fred VanVleet overall. I should probably just chill; the kid is playing just fine in his role. But still. He has this amazing habit of doing something that makes me grit my teeth in frustration, then following it up with a positive play that makes me pump my fist—or vice-versa. To wit, after Kyle Lowry picked up his third foul with 3 minutes left in the first half and had to sit down, FVV came in and drove into the heart of the D, and kicked it out to DeRozan for a three. He then missed two wide open threes on the next possession. Or how about the fourth quarter? Casey stuck with FVV all the way down the stretch, including with Kyle and DeMar in a three-guard lineup. At one point, FVV hit a three, and on the next possession drove with nowhere to go and turned it over. He then forced a pass on the break when he had an open look, turning it over again; but two plays later he drove, spun and hit CJ Miles in the corner for an and-1 3! To cap it all off, with under two minutes to play, the much taller Markieff Morris buried a three over FVV’s outstretched arms (after a solid defensive possession, I must say); FVV came back the other way and answered with a three of his own. He giveth, taketh away, and giveth again.

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Overall, this was an extremely entertaining game. We even got another Lowry-to-DeRozan backcut alley-oop! That’s 3 wins in a row and 6 of 7. Can they keep it going Wednesday night in New York?

Five thoughts on game 15: Raptors 107, Knicks 84

New York Knicks at Toronto Raptors Nov 17

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors’ beatdown of the New York Knicks on Friday night:

Injuries gave the Raptors a new look starting lineup

Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Delon Wright all sat this one out. (Delon has a separated shoulder; no timetable for his return yet.) Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby started, and they did not disappoint. Siakam was everywhere, running the floor, moving the ball, even finishing delayed breaks with his left hand! And he guarded Kristaps Porzingis on the other end! (More on this in a minute.) Anunoby was equally impressive, guarding multiple positions and stretching the floor on offense. He somehow amassed a ridiculous +30 (!) in the first half. (Here’s an amazing stat: They ended up 10-10 from two-point range combined, but only went 1-11 from three-point range. In other words: Still lots of room for improvement.)

Kyle Lowry looked like his old self again

Lowry came out aggressive, going 3-4 with 2 assists in the first 8 minutes. (Another great stat: the Raptors assisted on 7 of their first 10 buckets, and 29 of 44 overall; they are so much fun to watch when they’re moving the ball.) Kyle ended up two rebounds shy of a triple-double in 32 minutes; one his 10 assists was a gorgeous alley-oop to DeMar DeRozan on a backdoor cut that brought the crowd to its feet, a play we haven’t seen those two connect on in some time. What’s really comforting, though, is the long-range shooting, which appears to be rounding into form. Lowry went 5-7 from distance, and is now 19-42 (45%) over the last five games.

Dwane Casey only played 11 guys!

Though I’m sure if even one of Wright, Powell and Ibaka were healthy, he’d have gone 12 deep again! A few bench notes: Lucas Nogueira was the first big in, ahead of Jakob Poeltl. Not sure what caused Casey to go that route; if I had to guess, the mobility of Kristaps Porzingis? But Bebe had 3 blocks, 3 boards and 2 alley-oop dunks in his first 7 minutes. (Of course, he also missed a three.) And when Poeltl did get in, he committed 3 fouls in 2 minutes. Yikes. Meanwhile Lorenzo Brown got his first action of the season, after being called up from Raptors 905 to take some of Delon Wright’s minutes. He was solid, playing 18 and while he didn’t score, he did nab 3 boards and 3 assists, and most importantly, didn’t force anything (0 turnovers). CJ Miles played great again, with an impressive 14 points on 3-5 shooting (he shot 6 straight free throws, after being fouled on 3-point attempts, to close out the first quarter) and he actually broke 22 minutes for the first time since October 27. He also added 2 blocks!

Kristaps Porzingies struggled mightily in this one

The unicorn didn’t look very legendary tonight, finishing with just 13 points on 3-13 shooting. I can’t complain; as a Raptors fan, obviously I want him to have his bad games against my team. But still, I was excited (like, nervous excited) to watch him play; he’s been sensational this season, keeping the Knicks afloat. Give credit to Pascal Siakam for some of Pozingis’ struggles; Pascal’s length and quickness really allowed him to stay with KP as he floated out around the 3-point line. But sometimes, even the greats have off nights. (Dare I point out that, despite KP’s off-night, the bigger problem might have been Doug McDermott? McBuckets came in with an 8-0 record against the Raptors! But Toronto held him in check (2-10) and finally managed to snag a W!)

The Raptors won this one by playing D, and by taking advantage of New York’s weaknesses

The Raptors defense was solid throughout, holding the Knicks to 33% shooting and using the aforementioned length of Anunoby and Siakam to stifle any momentum. But on the other end, the Raptors deserve credit for getting out on in transition off those NY misses (26 fast-break points) and for taking advantage of the Knicks lackluster defense (56 points in the point). Even when the Raptors committed sloppy turnovers and the Knicks looked like they might threaten, the Raps would get a stop and drive it into the heart of the defense on the other end, with DeMar DeRozan in particular muscling up tough shots around the rim (he finished 4-8 in the paint, and was fouled on at least two of those shots) . The Knicks may have cut the lead to 10 in the second half but the Raptors locked it down and won going away.

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The Wizards are back in town for another Sunday afternoon game tomorrow. Can the Raptors get up for this one against a full-strength Washington squad?

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!)

—–

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 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.

—–

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 11: Raptors 122, Pelicans 118

Toronto Raptors at New Orleans Pelicans Nov 9

Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors entertaining victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night:

This Pelicans team reminds me of… the Raptors

They’ve got great players who at times look like throwbacks in today’s NBA. And they’re trying to be a ball-movement-oriented, three-point shooting team. When it works, it looks great! DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are good passers, when they want to be, and can handle the ball, and have range. And overall the Pelicans probably have more shooting than the Raptors do. But when the two bigs combine with starting PG Jrue Holiday to shoot 5-19 from behind the arc, that’s trouble.

The Raptors shot threes in volume

42 three pointers! They only hit 16, although there were some timely ones, especially from Kyle Lowry. But more importantly, I think, was the willingness to let fly. Even if the shots aren’t falling, for the offense to work you have to keep shooting! Within that 42, there are some good signs: Kyle Lowry and CJ Miles, the teams’ two best shooters, shot 18 of them. Over time, they’ll hit more than 6. DeMar DeRozan took 6! The two he made were from the corner, which is a spot I’d like to see him shoot more from. (One he missed was a hilariously all-advised turnaround fadeaway, which had zero chance of hitting). Norman Powell shot 5, which is a good sign his confidence is coming back.

The Raptors big men played as well as they could…

Facing Cousins and Davis is no easy task. Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl were better than most! They held the Pelicans’ twin towers to 38 points on 38 shots, and the Raptors outrebounded the Pelicans 48-38.

… but Jrue Holiday exposed their weaknesses

Ibaka and Valanciunas are not great at guarding in space, and when smaller players drive off a pick-and-roll, they’re often left behind the play, flat footed. Holiday scored 34 on 20 shots, most of those coming at the rim after leaving a Raptors’ big in his wake. Still, if you have to pick your poison, I’ll live with taking away the opponent’s two best weapons and asking their third-best player to beat us.

I think OG Anunoby has solidified his case for more minutes

Dwane Casey played 12 guys again, which is insane to me. (The Pelicans played 8; granted, they have a couple injuries, but still.) OG’s stat line—3-4 from the floor, 1-2 from deep, 8 points, 2 rebounds in 14 minutes—is solid enough. But his defense on Holiday in the fourth quarter was splendid. After torching the Raps for 32 through three quarters, he scored only 2 points on 1-4 shooting in the fourth, and the credit goes to OG for hounding him on the perimeter, forcing pick and rolls to start farther out, using his size and strength to keep Holiday out of the paint. (Fred Van Vleet, by the way, was 1-7 in 14 minutes. I think it’s time, Dwane.)

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The Raptors head out on the road now for a tough three game trip: At Boston, at Houston, and then on to New Orleans for a rematch with the Pelicans.

Five thoughts on Game 10: Raptors 119, Bulls 114

Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors Nov 7

Five quick thoughts on a Toronto Raptors victory over the Chicago Bulls that was much closer than it had any right to be…

The starters might have played their best game of the season

Every starter except Norman Powell shot better than 50%, every starter hit a three, and every starter except Norm had at least four rebounds. OK, it was another tough night for Norm. But overall the starters played a complete first quarter, a complete third quarter, and held the fort in fourth when things looked dicey…

This time, it was the bench that (almost) squandered things

On Sunday, the bench brought the Raptors back against the Wizards, and the starters blew it, giving up a late 12-2 run. On Tuesday, the starters began subbing out up 18 in the third; the Bulls slowly started catching up, 17, then 15, then finally Bobby Portis went on a mini-run and it was 108-98, and Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Norman Powell came back in. The momentum had clearly swung and it got as close as 3 in the final minute before the Raps closed it out.

Three-pointers were the difference—in the Raptors favor, for once

The Raptors had their best shooting night from distance, going 13-25 from behind the arc. That’s still not enough volume on threes—they need to be shooting at least 30 a night to make their offense really sing. But getting CJ Miles 6 shots is a good thing. Lowry’s 1-4 remains disconcerting, though he did finish 7-13 overall (and, you know, didn’t get ejected). And I’m still not willing to get too excited by DeMar DeRozan’s 2-2 night.

The passing still isn’t where it should be

The Raptors assisted on 22 of 44 made field goals, which is not terrible but again, not where they need to be to succeed as a ball-movement oriented offense.

The rotation is still too deep

I know it’s only 10 games and there’s still lots of time to figure it out. But I’m surprised Dwane Casey’s still playing 12 guys. I know it’s not an easy call, but, that’s why he’s the coach! I think he needs to shorten the rotation to 10, maybe 9. To me, the first two choices have to be Fred VanVleet (fine last night, after his great performance the other night) and Lucas Noguiera (invisible in 10 minutes last night). The third choice is the most difficult; it should be one of Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby, and they’ve been very, very similar so far this year. I do think Anunoby might’ve the slightly higher upside, though, so I might give him a 10-game run.

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The Raps have one game left in this mini-home stand before going back out on the road for three. Here’s hoping they close it out with a win against the Pelicans on Thursday!