Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 133-129 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards.
One — Almost: The Raptors competed all game but couldn't deliver at the end. It's really the same story all season. The Raptors led for much of regulation, although the Wizards pulled even with a strong third quarter, but it was a fiercely contested game right until the final buzzer. The Raptors are now 11-26 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes, which is the second-worst mark in the league ahead of only the Detroit Pistons at 7-25. (The Raptors gave the Pistons one of those 7 clutch wins.)
Two — Confusing: So what goes into a team being great in crunch time? Well, a team needs to get there first, and the Raptors have made it close much more often than not, which confirms that they are competitive on most nights. But the results also speak for themselves. The Raptors are second-last in the NBA in offensive rating (they drop from 112 points per 100 possessions to 96.9 in crunch time) and their defense is only average. What's strange is that the Raptors were the fourth-best crunch time offense last season, and it wasn't as if Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol were the go-to options late.
Three — Specifics: Diving more into the numbers, the Raptors have been horrendous from the midrange at 6-for-20 on the year, and they're not much better at the long twos in the paint at 6-for-27. Those aren't necessarily the shots you want over the course of the game, but when defenses completely lock in, those are often the only shots you can get. The Raptors used to have tough shotmakers in this area, and now they don't. That's not the whole reason, but it's a big part of it. In terms of isolation scorers who can get their own shot, the Raptors are lacking.
Four — Culprit: Most of the ire from fans fall on Pascal Siakam, who has famously seen six game-deciding shots spill off the rim this season. Siakam is shooting 14-for-40 in crunch time, including 1-of-7 from three. The odd part of his performance is that he was great in the clutch last season, shooting 27-for-52 from the field, so there's likely an element of variability that is affecting the results. It's valid to say that Siakam doesn't have the ideal skillset of a closer, but nobody else on the team has it either, so the job falls to someone. And with many of Siakam's late-game mistakes, there is an element of bad luck that factors in. It's not as Siakam isn't capable of making a point-blank layup or hitting a free throw. If there is one common mistake, it's that Siakam is too determined to get into the paint and can be baited into charges, which Russell Westbrook smartly capitalized on in this loss. But otherwise, it's really a combination of the roster lacking a specific skillset, and a lot of bad luck for Siakam.
Five — Excellent: Siakam was great in this game, matching his career-high with 44 points, which he notched last season against the Wizards. Siakam dominates this matchup because the Wizards don't have a tall wing defender, their transition defense is shoddy, and they don't protect the rim. Siakam was able to get into the paint repeatedly, including in the dreaded clutch scenarios. Over the last 10 minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, Siakam scored 14 of the Raptors' 31 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and his only mistakes were rimming out three free throws and the aforementioned charge on Westbrook. It wasn't perfect, and the missed free throws were poorly timed, but it's hard to nitpick this specific showing.
Six — Confusion: The Wizards should have put the game away in regulation, but Siakam found Fred VanVleet for a leaning three to force extras. Washington then held a four-point edge with 25 seconds left, but Westbrook threw away the ball under pressure and fouled himself out after grabbing Gary Trent Jr. in frustration. The Wizards then missed one more free throw, and left the door open for another heartbreaker, but the Raptors didn't properly execute the inbound sequence. One of Toronto's two non-shooters in DeAndre' Bembry or Khem Birch should have inbounded the ball, but they raced ahead of the play, leaving only one of Siakam or Trent Jr. having to inbound without a timeout. Siakam had just four seconds to catch it in the backcourt, drive against traffic, and heave up a desperation three that inevitably missed.
Seven — Efficient: Trent Jr. was great in his return from missing the last six games with injury. He was efficient in operating without the ball, playing off the added attention that VanVleet and Siakam drew, and he finished with 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Much like his predecessor Norman Powell, it will be much easier for Trent Jr. to get his points with the starting lineup as compared to coming off the bench. Trent Jr. does have the ability to create, but he is at his best playing catch-and-shoot, where he is deadly with even a sliver of room to fire.
Eight — Quiet: But this is a pattern that afflicts every bench player outside of Chris Boucher. The same struggle is playing out with Malachi Flynn since he's been demoted back to the second unit. Flynn is 2-for-17 in his last three games, and bad habits are reappearing with Flynn settling for pull-up jumpers instead of creating for himself and others by getting into the paint. There is just so little space on the floor for the second unit, and the only play they seem to execute with any consistency is a simple pick-and-roll. It's really hard to judge anyone in particular with the second group because it has been a weakness of the team all season, and it burns the starters out late in games.
Nine — Impressive: The Raptors gave Stanley Johnson an impossible assignment, which was to shut down both Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. To his credit, Johnson was up to the challenge before ultimately fouling out. Johnson face-guarded Beal, denying him of his touches, while using his physicality to absorb Westbrook's relentless drives. Beal still scored 28 points, and Westbrook got his customary triple-double, but Johnson made them work for it, just like he did against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and LeBron James over his last three games.
Ten — Pretence: It's fairly obvious that the Raptors intend to tank instead of getting slaughtered in the play-in tournament, and everybody knows it. And yet they cannot publicly state the position because they will be fined by the league (even though the league's rules specifically reward tanking), so there is this facade when Nick Nurse is asked about it in the media. Look, what do you want him to say? It's repetitive and it's not even really up to him in the first place. Let's not waste time every game grilling him.
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