Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 119-114 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
One — Agonizing: This was a game for the taking and the Raptors just wasted it. All due respect to the Spurs, but they are not very good and they did not play that well. The Raptors just kept making mistake after mistake, could never get a firm grasp on the game, trailed at several points, and even with all that, the Raptors still had a four-point lead with just over a minute left. To lose this game to the Spurs is to say the Raptors are on their level, which is not a good thing.
Two — Unfortunate: Three plays killed the Raptors down the stretch. First, Pascal Siakam drove in and was called for an offensive foul against Patty Mills, who had slid underneath the Cameroonian forward but was given a pass by the official. Siakam should have been at the line to extend the lead to six, but instead it went the other way. Two, the Spurs went ahead on a play where they won a loose ball around the basket after about 10 seconds of jockeying. Three, down one in the final sequence, Kyle Lowry found himself wide open courtesy of a breakdown by the Spurs defense. Lowry seemed to be surprised by the space and was short on the wide-open look.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 27, 2020
Three — Mistakes: Being out-rebounded and outmuscled in the paint by the Spurs is simply unacceptable. Their starting lineup features four guards surrounding by one lethargic veteran center in LaMarcus Aldridge, who sleepwalked through the entire game. And yet the Raptors still allowed 14 offensive rebounds leading to easy putbacks for the Spurs. The sequence that cost the Raptors the game wasn’t even the most egregious one — that happened earlier in the game were point guard Dejounte Murray won the offensive rebound against four Raptors player. Much of that just comes down to effort. You can’t be small like the Raptors and still get out-hustled. That’s going to lead to losses.
Four — Disappeared: Pascal Siakam was brilliant in the first half aside from missing some open threes. He got to the paint at will, his activity on defense and on the glass set the tone for the entire team, and created for his teammates with five assists. But it was a tale of two halves, as Siakam was hardly noticeable coming out of halftime. The pace slowed down so there weren’t as many transition opportunities, but Siakam also failed to capitalize on the looks he got. Siakam demanded the ball with two minutes left despite being out of rhythm, only to leave his layup short at the basket. His efficiency around the paint continues to be a worrying sign, as what used to be the foundation of his game has been missing for most of 2020.
Five — Details: In all fairness, Siakam is showing growth in other parts of his game, specifically with his playmaking where he matched his career-high with eight assists. The Spurs collapsed on Siakam, and he was diligent in finding the open shooter. Making the right read instead of forcing his offense will be the best way for Siakam to create opportunities for himself. His skillset just isn’t advanced enough to impose his will against the defense, and so he needs to outsmart the opposition. Seven of Siakam’s eight assists were on three-point shots, while the other was a dump off to Aron Baynes at the basket. That’s a great sign.
I can't get enough of Pascal on the drive pic.twitter.com/M290Iap2ov
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) December 27, 2020
Six — Porous: The biggest surprise of the season so far is how easy it is to score on the Raptors. The vaunted swarming scheme from last season is a few steps behind, and the mistakes are glaring. The second and third quarters were particularly bad,. The Raptors opted to aggressively trap DeMar DeRozan into forcing him to make the pass, while also choosing to double Aldridge in the post to neutralize the size mismatch against Chris Boucher. The Spurs used simple ball movement and cutting to collect layups and open corner threes which vaulted them into the lead. The scheme is very similar to last season, but the cohesion isn’t there. Nick Nurse tried calling for his patented zone coverage to stop the bleeding, but it was more like pouring gasoline to stop a fire.
Seven — Reality: The bottom line is that the Raptors won’t win if they don’t defend. They are mostly average offensively, so they need to be airtight on defense to produce wins. The talent drop-off at center from Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to Aron Baynes is real, but that doesn’t explain why the perimeter players are so late on their rotations. Playing Norman Powell and Matt Thomas together off the bench isn’t ideal either, especially with Powell struggling badly on both ends. But overall the talent should be enough to steer the Raptors back into the top-10 with a bit more experience. Given the short training camp and the massive changes at the most important position defensively, it might just take some time to get on the same page.
Eight — Standout: Boucher was nothing short of sensational off the bench, scoring 22 points, securing 10 rebounds, and racking up seven blocks. Boucher got three putbacks just off Powell’s misses, and his loopy threes have continued to fall following a promising season opener. Boucher also didn’t allow Aldridge to go off, although double teams helped with that, and Boucher easily outplayed former Raptors reserve Jakob Poeltl. This is Boucher’s first shot at a consistent role, and it’s a make-or-break year for his career. So far, he’s acing it.
Nine — Struggling: It’s been a tough start for OG Anunoby since signing the $72-million extension. He was assigned to guard DeMar DeRozan for most of the game, but DeRozan was unstoppable down the stretch and finished with 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Offensively, Anunoby finally hit his first two threes of the season, but was never really involved beyond a timely basket cut in the first quarter. Any expectations of a breakout year was always optimistic since his role on the team hasn’t changed despite Anunoby’s instance that he can do more to score, and quite honestly, the Raptors need him to fulfill his defensive upside before giving him more looks. A good start would be on the defensive glass. The Raptors clearly need help there, and Anunoby is stronger and more athletic than the majority of the players in the league.
Ten — Shuffle: Nurse should consider extending his rotation, especially since the Raptors are off to a slow start. In both games, the Raptors ran out of steam in the second half, and there is no good reason for Siakam playing 43 minutes on the second game of the year. Nurse is running with eight players at the moment, with Deandre’ Bembry slotting in occasionally as a defensive specialist. Bembry could probably see more time especially with how bad the defense has been, and it should come at the expense of Powell’s minutes given his lethargic start to the year. Backup guard Malachi Flynn should also get some consideration, especially since the second unit lacks a secondary playmaker who can also bring it on defense.
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