Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 129-114 win over the Indiana Pacers.
One — Letdown: The Raptors must have burned through all their reserves in the first game, because they had no energy tonight. Forget schemes or sets and all that, this was just a total letdown in terms of effort. The Pacers lost Domantas Sabonis early on to injury, and even with Pascal Siakam also sitting, you would expect the Raptors to handle their business. But instead the Raptors were always battling from behind and finished with one of their worst games of the season. This is the frustrating part of being average. One night they look amazing, and other times you don’t recognize them. Being great takes consistency, consistency comes from playing defense, and the Raptors definitely didn’t defend tonight.
Two — Porous: The Raptors were shockingly bad on defense, especially considering the circumstances with Sabonis out for most of the night. The big difference was on the pick-and-roll, particularly with the combination between Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner. Part of it was a tight whistle that saw Brogdon and Turner combine for 30 free-throw attempts, but it was also just genuinely poor defense by the Raptors all around. The ball pressure wasn’t the same, the rotations were late, help at the rim was soft and lazy, and they didn’t secure the defensive glass. The difference in the two games was Brogdon, who responded to a miserable 5-of-22 effort with a career-high 37 points. Save for a short stretch where the Raptors shifted to a zone in the third quarter, there were no positives at all on the defensive end.
Three — Messy: Kyle Lowry returned to the lineup after missing the past two games with a toe infection and was completely out of sync. Lowry made the decision to play later in the day after going through his workout, and his last-minute reinsertion was hardly helpful. Lowry is typically a steadying force, but he was borderline reckless with his decisions tonight. Everything was forced, he barrelled to the basket without much of a plan, pulled out a behind-the-back dribble that got stripped, and was just generally off. The most concerning part of Lowry’s night isn’t the 2-of-11 shooting, which does plague Lowry once per month, but he only recorded one assist. Lowry is typically so good at adapting his game when one part is off, but nothing worked out, and it disrupted the Raptors’ rhythm.
Four — Tough: Lowry’s night ended with an ejection after he slowly sauntered across the lane in the final minute during a free throw. It’s unclear what he said to the officials, or if he said anything at all, but they had reached a breaking point. If Pascal Siakam was disciplined for leaving the Sixers game early, then how does the coaching staff receive this move? Probably nothing will happen, given that Lowry has earned a lifetime of goodwill and it did appear to be a quick hook by the refs, but it’s just a bad look for your leader to be sent off in that fashion. Nick Nurse picked up a tech to follow Lowry’s, and honestly, it just looked like sour grapes on a night where the Raptors tried to half-ass a game and lost.
Five — Leader: The constant for the Raptors is Fred VanVleet, who continues to deliver on both ends of the floor. VanVleet is scoring at all three levels, including some new wrinkles in the midrange, while also providing improved playmaking and reliable defense. There are some instances where VanVleet holds onto the ball, or that he calls his own number, but those are minor inconveniences. VanVleet continues to make strides in his fifth season, and there is a credible argument to be made that VanVleet has been the Raptors’ best player this year. That’s not how the Raptors were constructed, but VanVleet is the least of their problems.
Six — Aggression: The only nitpick in Norman Powell’s recent performances is that he missed two dunks, but that’s just a symptom of a positive trend. Powell’s timing is coming around, and he is attacking the basket with relentless force. Turner is leading the league in blocks with nearly two more swats than the next closest player, and yet Powell didn’t once hesitate to attack him. There’s a fine line to walk between being aggressive and being selfish, and Powell is now on the right side after a slow start the season. The next challenge is for Powell to continue his production off the bench, and there really isn’t a reason why he shouldn’t be able to carry it over.
Seven — Empty: Powell’s promotion to the starting five left the bench barren, and once again the Raptors struggled to generate points from the second unit. Chris Boucher is pretty much the only reliable scorer for the second unit, and his scoring isn’t exactly guaranteed despite his hot start to the year. Nurse reached deep into his rotation, but didn’t quite settle on anyone who could score. Terence Davis hit a three, but he also threw a mindless pass directly into the defenders’ hands leading to a transition basket, and so he was benched. Matt Thomas had a four-point play but his shift was limited to two minutes. The other options are all mostly hustle players who can’t score reliably even when they’re left open.
Eight — Energetic: Yuta Watanabe matched Boucher as the leading scorer off the bench with nine points. He nailed a heavily contested three in the third quarter during the Raptors’ best stretch of the game, and he followed up a pair of wild drives by Lowry for a putback and two free throws after getting fouled on the boxout. Watanabe is a smart player who gets into the right spots, and he is a quick decision maker in terms of passing, but he needs to start converting on his open looks. if he starts hitting threes consistently, Nurse will have no choice but to leave him in the rotation.
Nine — Concerning: Aron Baynes is coming around right as Boucher is cooling down after his torrent start, but the center position remains an area of weakness for the Raptors. Every team hunts Boucher in the pick-and-roll no matter how many acrobatic blocks he comes up with, and it generally works. Meanwhile, Baynes is too limited to guard anywhere outside of the paint and Nurse doesn’t trust him enough to close games with him. If the Raptors have any ambitions to win this season, they have to add another center to bring stability to the group.
Ten — Sweet: Many health protocols were broken, but it was sweet to see the Raptors congratulate former Raptors assistant and Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren after the game. Bjorkgren and Nurse shared a conversation at halfcourt, while some of the players even went to see Bjorkgren’s kids. Every bond from the championship is precious, and although so many people have moved on, the connections are still there, and they always will be.
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