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Raptors News

Practice news & notes: Trusting what got them here, Stackhouse meeting with Knicks, VanVleet non-update

A lot of minor stuff within.

Throughout the playoffs, we’ll be giving you brief notebooks after every practice, shootaround, pre-game, and post-game, just as we have the last few postseasons. They’ll vary in terms of length and analysis based on what’s said, what happens, and what else is going on. The videos will all eventually go up on the Raptors’ YouTube page, anyway, but rest assured you can use us as your first stop for the relevant quotes and notes each day during the postseason. Feedback on the format and focus of the notes is appreciated so we can spend our time accordingly.

If there’s a word to describe the vibe at practice on Sunday, it’s probably calm. Not complacency, not satisfaction, but after finally getting the Game 1 narrative off of their backs, the Toronto Raptors seem like a team that’s very comfortable in its own skin. The message throughout was that there’s still room for improvement, naturally, and that the Raptors believe they showed Saturday that what got them to this point – the first seed in the Eastern Conference, the highest win total in franchise history, and their first ever Game 1 win at home – can continue to carry them.

“That’s who we are,’ Dwane Casey said. “That’s something we gotta understand. We can’t change who we are. We have to continue to shoot the basketball, play our style of basketball, not slow it down, we can’t start waking it up the floor, that’s not who we are…We have to be who were are. We based our whole offensive philosophy around shooting the three and volume threes and at some point we’re going to make a lot of them.”

To wit, the Raptors had 26 assists in Game 1, the third-most in any playoff game during this run. They hit 16 threes, a franchise playoff record. Seven different Raptors hit threes, nine had assists, and 10 scored. Chief among them was C.J. Miles, who hit four triples and went without a primary assist, instead delivering a secondary assist on one of the game’s sharpest possessions once Washington started overloading to keep him off the arc.

“That’s been the emphasis since the day I signed. That was one of the first things coach talked to me about,” Miles said. “That’s one of the things he wanted to change and that’s one of the things we worked on all year in the offence. It’s become a part of who we were. I think we went from almost last in the league in assists last year to I think sixth this year. That’s a tremendous turnaround. We take pride in that. If they’re going to take away certain things, we’ve got to move the ball.

They also ran 11 deep, even without Fred VanVleet. That’s surprising in and of itself given how playoff rotations normally run and what convention would dictate, but the Raptors succeeded this way all year and see little reason for change. The bright lights of the playoffs – most of the team’s young rotation players have played only minimally, if at all, in the postseason – have not gotten to them. This, despite the Raptors entering the postseason with the second-youngest roster and their minutes-weighted average age in Saturday’s game checking in at 26.6. Like with the ball movement and passing, the Raptors have put in the work to build that faith.

“The belief in the work that guys have put in all year. It started before the season and then during the season,” Miles said. “Just the growth. Throughout the season, since training camp, we’ve just gotten better and better, especially those young guys. They’re proving themselves over and over. They’re proving they want to win. They’ve been battle-tested all year. You’ve got to let them get a shot at this.”

None of this means they won’t pivot if things don’t work. Norman Powell wasn’t used in the second half, and Nogueira only got a shot when some other looks weren’t working. VanVleet’s return will make minutes even harder to come by. Whoever gets called, they’ll have Casey’s trust.

Areas for Improvement

Casey was asked what “one” thing he’d like to improve on heading into Game 2, and his response speaks to how well the Raptors understand Washington’s talent and the threat of getting too self-satisfied in a long playoff series.

“A lot. A lot. A lot. A lot,” Casey said. “What’d we have 11 turnovers? 10 turnovers in the first half? And some of them were self-inflicted. We know that Washington is a very aggressive defensive team, a gambling defensive team, playing the passing lanes. And we didn’t make the right decisions in those situations. And then defense, there’s a lot we have to clean up. They put us in certain situations where we want to handle differently, and we’ll clean those up and make some adjustments and change some things, how we guarded certain things.”

That’s how Casey is always going to respond, even after solid outings. Washington is good, and the Raptors did well to execute within the plans at both ends, even if there’s room for improvement. (Casey can help his own case there by excising certain transitional lineups that have been ineffective regularly. He mostly coached an excellent game on Saturday regardless.) It’s important for Casey to deliver this message and for the team to continue to work – it’s 1-0, even if the game felt weightier – and it’s also important to maintain an appropriate frame of reference for the circumstances.

“I think we didn’t do anything bad, I think it was just playoff basketball,” Lucas Nogueira said. “You can study about what every single play is, but they’re so talented, even if you study, they’re gonna make tough shots. Like (Markieff) Morris, like (Bradley) Beal, they’re gonna make it. I think we have a great defense, I think we play very well on offense, too, but you’re not gonna win by 40. It’s the playoffs, those eight teams in the playoffs are capable to play good games. Yesterday, I don’t think we did anything bad to fix, I think they hit tough shots like is normal. I think we played good basketball.”

There’s a lot of truth in that. The Wizards shot 47 percent, took advantage of Toronto’s turnovers, and got a little too much inside the arc in the pick-and-roll, and Casey was adamant that there’s plenty to work on. Nogueira’s perspective is an important one, though, and the type of level-headedness teams need over the ups and downs of a playoff run.

Notes

  • I’ll be posting some updates/quotes/T-shirt news/etc regularly on my Instagram story throughout the playoffs. Selfies if I look cute.
  • ESPN and ABC ratings were up 19 percent over last year for Saturday games, hitting a five-year high. The Canadian viewership doesn’t impact U.S. television ratings, which is why the Raptors get fewer national TV/prime game slots in general (something we should all understand by now), but don’t let anyone tell you the Raptors aren’t worth watching. They did have the lowest share among the four games – again, the Canadian market doesn’t count – and even that was up 17 percent over their Game 1 against the Bucks last year.
  • Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat both suggested the volume at the Air Canada Centre played a role in their ability to communicate on the defensive end, so good on you guys.
  • The Knicks are trying to finalize meetings with head coaching candidates this week, including Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As we’ve covered here extensively, Stackhouse has more than earned the chance to interview for NBA jobs and should be one of the hotter names for vacancies, along with Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian. Best of luck to Stack in the process.
  • Fred VanVleet is still day-to-day. He got shots up on Sunday and is feeling better, but Casey said there was no firm update. “And if there was, I wouldn’t tell you, anyway.”
  • There were a ton of great Nogueira quotes but I’m saving them for a story instead of burning them here.
  • After the game last night, Drake entered the locker room and had all of the Raptors sign the Humboldt Broncos jersey he was wearing. The Raptors released a short video of the moment today. It’s not immediately clear what OVO plans to do with the jersey, but sending it to the team or auctioning it to raise proceeds would both be really nice gestures.

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