Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

No Coast Zone

Pressure makes diamonds and the Raptors have 11 games left to stack up some gems for the playoffs.

The official stance of Raptors Republic on the Raptors coasting into the post-season—and I’m calling it now for every contributor, sorry but it’s the law after this—is absolutely not. They shouldn’t do it. This is a no coast zone. That goes for everyone’s personal activities too. If you want to coast, if you so much as want to visit a coast in the near future or cruise alongside one on a scenic drive with your betrothed, then get out of here. Oh you want to catch some waves and the coast is the perfect place to do it? Think again, coasts are dangerous and you could sooner smash up against one than ride a triumphant wave safely past. Coast into the weekend? No way pal, we’re living every day of the work week like a perpetual Wednesday, the most productive day of them all, for the next two weeks.

Coasting is a siren song. It’s a seductive option undertaken by many an NBA team with a playoff spot clinched. Cleveland, all but checked out by mid-March last year, did it. Most likely they were feeling pretty good about their playoff chances as reigning champs and did proceed to handily breeze through Indiana, Toronto and Boston, but were dealt a decisive end to their postseason pace by the Warriors. Not saying coasting was the only thing to take into account for that loss, Golden State was a freshly pressed juggernaut then, but they certainly didn’t come up with any new tricks before the postseason got started that they could pull out in the 11th hour against the Warriors.

For the Raptors, a team already so riddled with playoff baggagebouts of seemingly inexplicable bad mojo and impromptu vanishing acts by its team leaderscoasting, however alluring given the next couple weeks in Toronto’s schedule, low-level injuries and general fatigue, just can’t be an option. Energy is everything to this team. There’s a reason this was the simplest yet prolific Keys to the Game ever offered up in franchise history:

End of season fatigue is absolutely taking its toll on the Raptors, but the one main difference this year from last is that this is a team capable of pulling off fourth quarter wins when they’ve let a game coast on hovering too close to a near loss. It’s heartening, but not comforting. Those kinds of close final few minutes of a game aren’t going to exist in the playoffs. I don’t mean in general, since the last few minutes of a playoff game can last for a literal hour, but the space for them in the team’s collectively mentality—there can’t be room for it.

Now is the time for Toronto to turn it on, even in excess if they have the reserves for it. Handy flourishes on offensive plays, dominating the defense, getting Every. Single. Offensive. Rebound. Seeing what they can do now with energy reserves hovering precariously close to low is where creative sparks come from that eventually kindle into the kind of combustion that can win a series. And it’s happening a little, albeit still centred on the key pieces of the Raptors game.

Sitting Lowry and Derozan, for rest and for niggling pain, respectively, is a good thing. It gives them both time to recalibrate and reflect, and to watch from a completely different position. It’s also yielded some pretty wacky lineups and in those created room for clutch plays and potential players to lean on postseason, like Bebe delivering dunks like he finally means it when handed some primetime minutes. I’d venture so far as to say that working through the roster to sit a few more of the regular rotational players could yield up some interesting compromises on the floor, since another aching ghost that haunts the Raptors is opposing teams puzzling them out fairly quick in their past limited catalogue of a postseason playbook. It’s not going to hurt this franchise at all to have a few more tricks to pull out of their compression sleeves, even with the bench being as fluid as they are. The problems always come for the Raptors when things get too predictable and when other teams use this to effectively jam them up. Likewise, where the Raptors can keep a continual pressure on teams is where we’ve been seeing them make diamonds this season and when they let up, things get sloppy.

The numbers reflect this. In this past Sunday’s matinee against the Thunder, Toronto’s offensive rebounds took a dive to 24.2 against OKC’s 37.8. It was the equivalent of a loosening grip and turnovers spiked as a result, Toronto 17.3 to the Thunder’s 14.2. In Tuesday’s game against Orlando, offensive rebounds were also a factor, 16.8 to the Magic’s 11.5. And going back to the Raptor’s last staggering loss in the grand scheme of this season, it was the Thunder again who threw the Raptors under the bus with their offensive rebound rate—35.7 to Toronto’s 15.9—and proceeded to tear-ass away with the game so quickly that I swear there were tread marks on the Chesapeake Energy Area court.

Now look at the feel-good wins of this season, still bright in each of their respective afterglows. The Sunday matinee against the Knicks with a weekend in New York City and losing an hour in the time change to contend with, Toronto still came away with 32.6 in offensive rebounds to New York’s 17.4. Harken way back to January if you can, against an always athletic and rangy Bucks team, the Raptors were up 34.3 in ORB% to Milwaukee’s 13.9. Turnovers were slightly cranked, but that’s a given with the inevitable pace of a game between these two. And what was the sweetest win of them all this season? One smoking hot enough to drive the chill of early January out of memory? When the Raptors absolutely pummeled Cleveland, they whittled their turnovers to 7.5 and had an offensive rebound rating of forty point nine (it just feels better spelling that out in its entirety) to the Cavs own 16.7.

Fast and close used to make this team nervous and now it is exactly the sweet spot where they excel, but with just enough room to be able to back-peddle in the moment to slow it down, make some space, and swing it around. Defensive pressure, offensive ingenuity, communication, trust, these are hard won traits for Toronto and exist now within the very DNA of the team, it’s true, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be practiced or pushed on a little to check for cracks. Pressure makes diamonds and we’ve got exactly 11 games left to store up some gems for our soon-to-be most significant eleventh hour yet. No coast zone.

@wtevs