10 things: Raptors collapse on opening night vs. Pelicans despite promising start

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·6 min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 113-99 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

One — Disrupted: The Raptors were rolling midway through the third quarter. There were sloppy moments and far too many turnovers, but for the most part they looked like the better team with a nine-point lead to show for it. But it quickly fell apart, as the Pelicans went on to demolish the Raptors by a lopsided margin of 38-22 in the third quarter, and the Raptors didn’t have it in them to regroup and recover to mount any hint of a comeback. It was a disappointing loss by last year’s standards, but those standards may not apply to this year’s team.

Two — Blowout: The Pelicans got themselves back into the game with a spurt of ridiculous shot-making, hitting 9-of-10 from deep. Brandon Ingram nailed two heavily-contested pull-up threes, Eric Bledsoe broke the game plan of leaving him open by hitting four threes, and Lonzo Ball even threw in a stepback three just for good measure. On the other end, the Raptors couldn’t get anything to drop. OG Anunoby was short on two wide-open looks, Pascal Siakam cooled off after a hot start, and Norman Powell was awful from start to finish.

Three — Frustration: Shot variation is always bound to happen over the course of the game, but that was not why the Raptors lost. The disappointment comes from their lack of cohesiveness which kept them from mounting the comeback. Toronto’s guards forced its shots, specifically with Powell, Kyle Lowry, and Fred VanVleet, instead of trusting the offense that earned the lead in the first half. There were also breakdowns defensively, with Powell and Lowry both losing J.J. Redick on the three-point line, while Aron Baynes was caught between two minds on pressuring the perimeter, which then left the paint vacant for Steven Adams to roll in uncontested. Lowry threw a chair during a timeout, was visibly annoyed at Siakam over a botched inbound pass, and checked out early. That lack of poise is jarring since it was the Raptors’ calling card last season.

Four — Promising: Siakam was off to a brilliant start in the first half. Not only did he nail his outside shots with poise and confidence, but he was also able to distribute for his teammates both in transition and in the half court. His energy was strong too, as Siakam’s activity on both ends of the floor stood out just as it did during the best parts of last season. His effectiveness waned as the game went on, however, and he didn’t get the same touches that he had early on. The Raptors need to keep emphasizing Siakam in their offense throughout the game, but Siakam also could demand the ball more. It can’t always fall on Lowry to break the opposing team’s momentum. Siakam should share in that responsibility, too.

Five — Exhausting: Anunoby should be commended on the job he did defensively. Zion Williamson is one of the trickiest assignments in the league, and moves like a fridge filled with dynamite. There was the occasional instance where Williamson got to his dominant left hand or got inside position on the offensive glass, but Anunoby won the defensive battle more often than not with Williamson collecting six turnovers. Anunoby didn’t get many chances to showcase his offense, and looked to have heavy legs on his open jumpers, but filled in capably as a finisher off cuts and by running the floor in transition. By the looks of it, Anunoby won’t have more set plays called for him which might have been expected with his $72-million extension, but this is his role, and he can be great in it. What Anunoby shouldn’t do is to force his offense by creating for himself, because that just really isn’t his game and it tends to end poorly.

Six — Solid: Aron Baynes was much better tonight than he showed in preseason. He played a spirited match of rugby with Steven Adams in the paint, was a force on the defensive glass, took a charge, hit a few floaters and nailed a top of the floor three. However, the lack of connectivity with the starters still showed. Baynes and VanVleet produced absolutely nothing as a pick-and-roll combo, so much so that Siakam shifted into the screener role for the fourth quarter. Baynes’ screening is an asset for the offense, and it should benefit the guards, but the Raptors might be better served keeping Baynes away from the action as a floor spacer instead.

Seven — Encouraging: Chris Boucher was very productive with the second unit. He started off hot, nailing a bailout jumper, an elbow look, and hitting a floater out of the pick-and-roll. Boucher was playing smart by not running deep into the paint off the high screen, but instead presenting himself at the elbow and making plays from there, which was very effective for the second unit. He still made some mistakes, including an ill-advised three as the Raptors were trying to make the comeback, and by biting on a closeout and leaving his feet which led to a driving and-one finish. But on the whole, if Boucher can play like this with any kind of consistency, then the Raptors would be thrilled.

Eight — Flow: Nick Nurse ran with an eight-man rotation, with Boucher, Powell, and Matt Thomas as his main subs. DeAndre’ Bembry got a brief run mostly as a defensive specialist, but Nurse’s plan so far is fairly standard. Nurse said at the start of preseason that he wants someone to win the eight man role outright, and Thomas has done that with his three-point shooting. Flanking them were Anunoby, who played as a power forward and was made to mirror Williamson’s substitution pattern, as well as Lowry who has always found success with the second unit.

Nine — Unsurprising: It’s disappointing that rookie guard Malachi Flynn couldn’t crack the rotation, although it’s hardly surprising. The Raptors already have VanVleet and Lowry who can take all 48 minutes at point guard, and so Flynn would need to get his time as a shooting guard. But there’s no shortage of competition there, as Flynn would need to eat into Thomas or Powell’s minutes. It’s not even clear if Nurse has Flynn ahead of Terence Davis, who had his second virtual court date earlier today.

Ten — Sloppy: The easiest part for the Raptors to fix is the turnovers. Toronto committed 20 turnovers against a Pelicans team that hardly rates as a defensive juggernaut. The majority of those mistakes were unforced, with sloppy passes being a consistent theme throughout the night. The Raptors lost the transition battle as a result, and that was a huge reason for their success last season.

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