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 23: Raptors 116, Grizzlies 107

Toronto Raptors at Memphis Grizzlies, December 8 2017

The Toronto Raptors went into Memphis and beat the Grizzlies last night, their fifth straight win. I missed the game unfortunately, and so I found myself living vicariously through my Twitter timeline, well after the final buzzer had sounded.

Fortunately, my Raptors Twitter feed has become on my favourite parts of following the team. With that in mind I thought I’d try and replicate the experience for you, with a few fun, smart, hilarious moments from my Raptors Twitter feed last night.

Things got off to a slow start with a way-too-easy Ben Macklemore joke

Blake Murphy provides injury- and lineup-related notes before every game, and he dropped this total groaner before tip-off:

Of course, Macklemore sold it by playing his ass off in the first half, giving us equally eye-rolling Eric Koreen response:

Macklemore finished 3-5 for 10 points in 10 minutes in the half.

Of course, he also blew a 360-dunk:

Bad jokes, terrible dunk attempt… in the end I’d say it’s a wash.

Getting the “reaction preview” from Twitter before the video hits

First, there’s this, from Eric:

Then there’s Blake’s reaction:

And finally the video from the Raptors:

That’s a hell of a dunk. OG played 34 minutes, scored 8 points and had no rebounds and no assists. But it sounds like his impact came on the defensive end, and not in the stat sheet (though he did have two steals):

The Toronto Raptors bench has impressed the Twitterati

That kinda love isn’t just reserved for OG; Twitter adores the Raptors bench. Last night, after struggling in the first half, the bench settled things down in the fourth and helped the Raptors finally take the lead.

Fred VanVleet is… The Closer

VanVleet played the final 15 minutes. They were down by one when he came back in, and finished +9. He went 3-6 from deep and finished with 12 points.

This extraordinary ‘90s-tinged exchange between Blake and Eric

Who knew Bush would tear these two apart:

The best part is, it led to this in Blake’s recap at Raptors Republic (which you should read for an actual recap of this game):

Blake Murphy Toronto Raptors Memphis Grizzlies recap w/Bush

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And there you have it. The bench found its way in the second half, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were solid, Serge Ibaka had another great shooting night and the Raps managed to put the Grizzlies away in the end.

I’m always bummed when I miss a game, but I’m grateful to have Blake, Eric, Doug, Holly and the rest of Raptors Twitter to provide an entertaining play by play…

…but of course, some things really can’t make up for watching a broadcast.

What you really miss when you miss a game is the game beyond the game, you know?

Five thoughts on Game 22: Raptors 126, Suns 113

Phoenix Suns at Toronto Raptors, December 5

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors’ fourth win a row, a victory over the Phoenix Suns at home before heading out on the road:

That was a fun first quarter

The Raptors came out with a ton of energy, as you’d expect from a team coming off three days rest (and facing a team on the second night of a road back-to-back). They were forcing turnovers, hitting the glass, getting out in transition and moving the ball on the perimeter. They notched 10 assists on 14 field goals in the quarter. They even ran a play at the end of the quarter—a longtime bane of mine under Dwane Casey, who seems to have nothing other than “iso” in end-of-quarter situations in his playbook. It was a lovely little weave play at the top of the key where four players touched the ball, and that led to a Jakob Poeltl rim runner. (Unfortunately he missed it, and the Raps were lazy in transition and Josh Jackson scored the other way, but hey. Progress!)

Did the bench let the positive press get to their heads?

After a strong first quarter it was an unusually sloppy second, as a five-man bench unit started the quarter 0-6 and added in a handful of turnovers. They were uncharacteristically sloppy on defense as well, letting the Suns have several uncontested shots; the Raptors even gave up more fast break points than they scored (4-2) and let the Suns outscore them 12-4 in the paint! Alex Len was beasting with 9 points in the quarter. All told the Suns won the quarter by 4 and had the lead down to single digits at the half. The Raps’ starters proceeded to remind everyone that “hey, we know our bench is the tops but we’re pretty good too!” in the third, scoring 42 in the frame and pushing the lead to 18—only to have the bench let it get back to 10 in the fourth! Thankfully Fred VanVleet settled things down with a couple makes, and then Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka came back in and put the Suns away.

This might have been Serge Ibaka’s best game of the season

Perhaps the native son of the Congo was inspired on Giants of Africa night and the presence of Dikembe Mutombo? Whatever it was, Serge was great tonight; he shot 8-13, grabbed 6 boards, had three blocks and one finger wag. He finished with 19 points in 33 minutes and a plus-10 on the night. (He even added an assist!).

Let’s talk about Giants of Africa

This is one of the best things the NBA does and I’m proud that the Raptors, through their GM, are a part of it. I love listening to Masai Ujiri talk about this program; he’s so passionate about it, it’s clearly so important to him, you can hear the joy and enthusiasm come out in him whenever he speaks about it. I definitely recommend the film if you’d like to see that passion come out, and learn more about the program. And how about the halftime act last night!? It was a wonderful hip-hop dance tribute to Africa incorporating basketballs from a diverse group of young dancers; it was fantastic. I didn’t catch the name of the group—I think it was Jane’s Hip Hop Academy? Regardless, kudos to those kids, and to the NBA, the Raptors and Masai for this wonderful program.

Sure wish I knew what happened on all those techs in the third quarter!

I try not to slag on announcers too much ‘cause it’s a damn hard job. But man, it’s frustrating when Matt and Leo (or Jack) can’t accurately tell us what’s going on. Here’s the situation: DeMar fouled Devin Booker on a J, and a technical foul was called right after. Matt said it was on DeMar; a replay showed DeMar (barely) mouthing off and then giving a “who, me?” look. But then when we cut back to live action, DeMar was shooting the free throw! As Matt and Leo tried to figure out who the tech was on and what for, another tech was called. This one was on TJ Warren, and he was ejected—making it clear the first one was also on him, even though Matt and Leo never confirmed that. So DeMar shoots and hits the second free throw. But we never learned why TJ Warren was T’ed up in the first place, never saw a replay, nothing. Then a couple plays later, Markeese Chriss got a tech! But again, no replay was shown to tell us why. What the heck, SportsNet? That was incredibly frustrating.

—–

All in all, despite some sloppy bench play, that was a satisfying Raptors win, their fourth in a row. They head west now on a four game trip starting in Memphis on Friday night!

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 22: Raptors 120, Pacers 115

Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors, Dec 1

A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors winning their third straight game, an entertaining—if at times frustrating—affair against the Indiana Pacers.

The first quarter is the new third quarter

You might walk away from last night’s game thinking, oh, the Raptors were better in the third quarter at least! And they were! But all the same problems that plagued the starters in recent third quarters plagued them in the first quarter last night. The Pacers went on a 14-0 run at one point, and it was the same lackadaisical play from the starters that fueled it. Dwane Casey went to the bench, bringing in Jakob Poeltl, then CJ Miles, then Pascal Siakam… the run continued. Until Fred VanVleet came in.

I’m eating all the crow on Fred VanVleet

He’s been awesome. Your traditional stats don’t tell the whole story; he’s averaging 5.8 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists on the season. But he leads the league in Net Rating at 20.4, which indicates the Raptors outscore their opponents by 20.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. Pretty good! I was tough on FVV to start the year but he’s turned it around completely, and has become the stabilizing force for the team off the bench. For more, check out Blake Murphy and Eric Koreen for their recent takes on Fred VanVleet.

Victor Oladipo went off on the Raps… but guess who slowed down in the fourth?

Oladipo is finally showing everyone that the potential he flashed in college is for real. (He was clearly wasted on the Russell Westbrook Thunder last year.) He’s averaging 23-5-4 on 48% shooting (43% from three) and has led the Pacers to their surprising early start (12-11 after last night). He looked unstoppable last night, torching the Raps for 20 in the first half on 9-12 shooting. He added 11 more in the third but was finally slowed in the fourth (he had five points on 0-4 shooting, 5-6 from the line); guess who guarded him for stretches in that fourth? Yep, Fred VanVleet.

Sometimes it’s nice to put teams away, but drama is fun too

Even though I never felt the Raptors were in danger in this one, the Pacers managed to keep it interesting down the stretch, getting to within five with two minutes left. A poor stretch by Serge Ibaka—a missed jumper and two bobbled balls—gave the Pacers hope, but the Raps closed it out on the free throw line. On the one hand, it’s more fun to watch that than say, a blowout like the Hawks win; but on the other, you’d like the Raps to play a little more evenly in the final minutes.

This an important stretch for the Raptors

Their next eight games are against opponents with sub.-500 records, including 2 each against Phoenix and Sacramento. This is a great opportunity for the Raptors to both make a move in the standings and fix some of their nagging problems (namely, the inconsistent play of the starting unit). Five of those games are on the road, though, including a 4-game west coast swing. I’d really like to see a 7-1 record coming out of it!

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Next up for the Raptors—after a nice three-day rest first— it’s our old friend Jay Triano (former Raptors and team Canada coach) and the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night!

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 19: Raptors 112, Hawks 78

Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks, Nov 25

A few thoughts from the Toronto Raptors blowout victory over the Hawks in Atlanta on Saturday night:

Early on, it was clear both teams were on a back-to-back

It was a slow, sloppy first quarter as both teams tried to find their legs after playing the night before. Each team had 6 turnovers in the opening frame, and yet neither team converted any of those turnovers into a single fast-break point; that’s the very definition of sloppy! For the Raps, it was clear they wanted to get their big guys going. Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka combined for 9 shots early, and Jakob Poeltl came in and added three more; that’s 12 of the Raps’ 20 shots in the quarter. I appreciated that the Raps were trying to establish JV, as he struggled on Friday night, but I think he may have been pressing too hard—he had 3 of those 6 turnovers.

The bench dominated the second quarter

The Raps were without CJ Miles again, but it didn’t matter on this night. The Raptors all-bench unit (Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Lorenzo Brown, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam blew the Hawks out of the air in the second quarter, opening the frame on a 21-3 run. Fred VanVleet had another solid game; he’s really settled into his role now, and I have to respect that, after he struggled earlier in the year. The Hawks added 6 more turnovers in the quarter—Norm and Pascal each had 2 steals—and the Raptors turned them into 13 fast break points. Pascal, Norm and Poeltl combined for 38 points in the half, and the Raps turned a 3-point first quarter lead into a 28-point(!) halftime lead.

The Raps didn’t come out sloppy in the third

After getting killed in the previous two third quarters, and with a healthy lead already in this one, I suspected the Raps would go into a lull and let the Hawks back in it. Instead, they buckled down and didn’t let the Hawks catch their breath. Once again the Raps chose to feed JV, and he settled in and scored 12 in the quarter, on 5-6 shooting. The Raptors were +13 in the quarter, and that meant the starters could rest the entire fourth—a much-needed respite for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (each played less than 28 minutes). DeMar had another rough night so hopefully the rest will do him good!

Marco Belinelli is wasted on this Hawks team

Jack and Matt opined on former Raptor Marco Belinelli in the first quarter, and about how he could help a winning team. As he drained two threes I couldn’t help but envision him back in a Raptors uniform and I thought: I’d trade Lucas Nogueira for him in a heartbeat. Bebe still has potential and could use lots of playing time on a bad time to develop it. The Raps need more three-point shooters (and fewer centers). Makes sense! But I actually went to the trade machine to try this out – doesn’t work, unless you also throw Bruno Caboclo in too. I might still do it! Maybe.

That was a bogus flagrant on Jonas Valanciunas

The refs stopped play (in the middle of a possession) to review another “body control” situation—this time, JV caught Dewayne Dedmon with an elbow on the previous play. It was dumb enough to stop play—Jonas was gathering into his shooting motion when he was stripped of the ball, and his momentum kept his arms moving in an upward motion, and Dedmon stuck his face in. But not only did they stop play—they assessed him a flagrant 1! What a ridiculous call. Especially in the third quarter of a 30-point blowout.

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Overall it was an unsuccessful and unsatisfying 1-2 road trip for the Raptors. They don’t play again until Wednesday, the first of three in a row at home—here’s hoping they come out of that stretch better than 1-2!

 

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.

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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?