After a pair of soul-crushing, one-point losses on consecutive nights, we should see just how much physical and mental fortitude these Toronto Raptors have.
They don’t want to hear much about “moral victories” but do believe some bounces will go their way at some point. Pascal Siakam’s two point-blank misses with a win in sight in Portland certainly sting. Especially since he’d rimmed-out a makeable jumper a night earlier. But, even at 2-8, tied with old boss Dwane Casey’s rebuilding Detroit Pistons for the worst record in the NBA, Nick Nurse isn’t panicking. His team shouldn’t either. He’s getting an all-star season out of Fred VanVleet; solid, if not quite vintage work out of Kyle Lowry; Brilliant play off the bench by Chris Boucher and, finally the return of All-NBA level Pascal Siakam after his troubling start. Plus, unfortunately, with COVID-19 still raging and teams shutting things down left and right these days, this is going to be a bizarre season, forcing teams to adapt on the fly. Hopefully it doesn’t impact the Raptors much, but the point is, 2-8 right now doesn’t matter all that much, even in a shortened season. There’s much more of this strange story to be told yet. The team’s point differential and string of tight losses indicate they are much closer to a .500 or better group.
Back to Siakam, he was superb again, despite playing 77 minutes over two nights. Unlike against the Warriors, he went to the rim with the game on the line (something he said he should have done when he settled for the jumper the previous night) and it was just bad luck he couldn’t convert. He’s bullying opponents in the post, but, most importantly, running the floor like he used to, putting all kinds of pressure on opponents. The next step is Siakam doing this against top-notch defenders and he needs to get his fouls down, but this is major progress.
He averaged 24 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists and shot 53% and got to the line on the road trip.
After doing a nice job on the trip of mixing up three-point and inside shot attempts, a big issue earlier in the season, the Raptors went back to settling for outside attempts. They took 47 three-pointers against Portland, and 35 shots in the paint. Maybe it was tired legs after a tough trip and that rough one a night earlier? Hopefully that’s the case.
Portland also hoisted up 40-plus three-pointers, but the difference was the Trail Blazers got to the free throw line 25 times to just 12 for the Raptors.
The plus side was as mentioned, Toronto moved up to middle-of-the-pack in free throw attempts thanks to recent good work in that area. They’re still first in three-point attempts though and are third-last at keeping opponents off the line, per NBA.com.
Lowry is dealing with a personal issue and understandably has not been himself since returning from a one-game absence. He was as non-impactful as we’ve ever seen him through three quarters in San Francisco before nearly winning the game for Toronto by himself in the fourth and then looked way, way off against the Trail Blazers. Part of it was Siakam taking on a much bigger role as a facilitator, but Lowry’s two assists were his fewest in a game since a bubble game against Boston in August. He has just 10 games of two assists or fewer since 2016-17 (he’s eighth in the entire NBA in assists since 2016-17).
The Raptors are going to have to get Aron Baynes into the mix again. Yes, he was awful when he was playing, but his track record is much better than what he’s shown. And as well as Chris Boucher has playing (he’s the biggest positive of the season so far for the Raptors), his slight frame and propensity to foul make him a better option as a high-impact reserve. Leaning on Boucher as a starter seems less than ideal.
1 — CJ McCollum
2 — Pascal Siakam
3 — Chris Boucher
THREE STARS FROM SAN FRANCISCO
1 — Pascal Siakam
2 — Draymond Green
3 — Fred VanVleet
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