Raptors News

Pre-game news & notes: Morris fined, Game 5 time set, VanVleet sits (and speaks)

In recent years, there may be worry of a bad loss spiraling for the Toronto Raptors. They’ve never really been a team prone to long stretches of poor result, but they’d been prone to stretches of ineffective play and weren’t quite as adept as they are now at getting back on the right foot immediately. That’s changed this year, and the team sounds confident that they’ll be able to bounce back following an ugly Game 3 loss to the Washington Wizards. After all, this is a team that didn’t lose three games in a row all season and only lost even two in a row five times.

“This team this year has always responded to a bad game, a bad loss and bounced back,” Dwane Casey said at practice Saturday. “I have to go on how we have reacted this year. Two or three years ago? We probably would have crumbled in the first two games so I can’t go back either way and say how we would have reacted back then.”

They’ve been resilient like that, and they’ve even flashed that skill in recent postseasons – as Josh Lewenberg points out, the Raptors have won eight consecutive playoff games following a loss, excluding teams who employ LeBron James. That’s a bit arbitrary, but it speaks to this team generally finding their footing quickly, Casey making good adjustments between games, and even unsightly losses not stressing them out too much. That composure is important, and Friday’s loss likely served as a reminder of the level of play Toronto has to bring to head home with a chance to close the series out in five. Plus, the Wizards haven’t lost at home in the postseason in seven games and are 10-2 there since 2014-15.

“That’s what every game is in the playoffs. Every game’s a different game,” Kyle Lowry said. “They played extremely hard, extremely well. They did things they wanted to do last night and we didn’t give any fight as much. We fought, but we didn’t give enough. So we’ve just got to be more locked in and in tune with what they’re trying to do, and we’ve got to execute what we have to do.”

How do the Raptors bring that level of focus and energy? You got it: Treat this one like a Game 7. Or in other words, bring a level of urgency to their play befitting an elimination game, since letting Washington even the series and shrink it to a best-of-three really extinguishes any further margin for error.

“We’ve got to play every game like a Game 7,” Lowry said. “We didn’t play Game 3 like a Game 7. That’s what happened. We did not play that game like a Game 7. So our Game 4 has got to be played like a Game 7. We have to go out there and just channel everything we’ve got and leave it all on that floor.”

The Raptors treated Games 1 and 2 like Game 7s and went 2-0, improving their record over the last five postseasons in games that are actually a game 7 or are treated like a Game 7 to 4-2. Treating Game 4 like a Game 7 would seem to give them pretty good odds here. I know tallying these fake Game 7s has probably run its course as a gag, but I can’t not laugh at it, even if where Lowry and the team are coming from in terms of attitude and approach is entirely understandable and, to be honest, playoff appropriate.

Game 4 tips off at 6 on TNT (Spero Dedes, Mike Fratello, Jared Greenberg) and Sportsnet One on TV and on Sportsnet 590 on radio. You can check out the full game preview here. Your officials are Derrick Stafford, Derrick Collins, and Josh Tiven.

Note: I’m not on the road, so thanks to the other Raptors beat people for passing along quotes/transcriptions/tweeting updates.

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 2, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.

Raptors updates
Fred VanVleet is not available here. The Raptors weren’t comfortable with how he looked in Game 2 and are going to take their time getting him back in there. Over at The Athletic, I went deep inside Fred VanVleet’s attempt to make it back for Game 2 and how frustrating the process was. It has to be even more frustrating now that he’s missed two more games. The Raptors got ahead of it pretty early this time, too, listing him as doubtful (though he was also doubtful for Game 2). The Raptors really, really miss him, and the bench has been uncharacteristically bad throughout the series in his absence.

“I think it’s just that second unit, that continuity in the second unit,” Lowry said. “Those guys having a better flow together. Norm’s coming in. LB’s coming in. They’re playing me a little bit more with the unit coming in early. There’s just a lot of things that are different. But Fred’s just keeping that calm consistency that that group has had.”

The solution here would be to tighten up the rotation rather than continue expanding it. The starters have been mostly excellent together, and while they lead the postseason in minutes per-game as a fivesome, that can be expanded even further. The Raptors don’t have much choice but to continue trying DeMar DeRozan-and-bench units, and the Lowry-and-bench unit should be effective if given time together (the starters and DeRozan-and-bench are the only groups that have appeared in all three games). Casey doesn’t sound like he’s champing to ramp DeRozan and Lowry up to 40 minutes and stagger them with the bench like old times, but it might be necessary here.

“No, their time has slowly gone up, but we believe in those guys and we are not going to turn on them as far as yanking the plug on them now,” Casey said. “We are going to continue to go with them. Whether tweak a player here or there, we still have the prerogative to do that, but we believe in our second unit, they are going to be out there, they just have to play better. They’ve got to step up, meet the moment, and take advantage of the opportunity.”

It might be worth getting more aggressive with four-at-a-time subs and minutes for the stars considering how poorly transitional lineups have performed. I know some prefer to go deeper and mix-and-match looking for a spark, but I’m not sure that’s going to let anyone get in a good rhythm together. Using 33 lineups over three games is just a lot.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Alfonzo McKinnie
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
OUT: Fred VanVleet
INACTIVE: Malachi Richardson

Wizards updates
Washington probably won’t deviate too much from the 10-man rotation they seem to have settled on, though Scott Brooks probably won’t give the all-bench lineup without John Wall or Bradley Beal too big of a leash. The Wizards starters have been mostly outplayed by Toronto’s, but the rest of their mixing and matching has proven more effective, somewhat surprisingly since Washington’s depth is not a strength. Ty Lawson, Mike Scott, and Ian Mahinmi all have gargantuan net ratings so far, while Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre are moderate positives and everyone else – including the stars – are negative. Not all of that is going to sustain, of course, it’s just interesting since it runs counter to what most expected.

PG: John Wall, Ty Lawson, Tim Frazier
SG: Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky
SF: Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre
PF: Markieff Morris, Mike Scott, Jason Smith
C: Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi
TBD: None
OUT: Jodie Meeks
INACTIVE: Ramon Sessions, Chris McCullough

Pre-game news and notes

  • Fred VanVleet spoke with media before the game about the status of his right shoulder. Quotes as passed on by Eric Koreen, my best friend in the world (for today).
    • On how he feels now compared to the morning after the injury: “A hundred times better, and that’s the problem. That’s kind of why you saw me in Game 2. I was starting at negative a hundred, I got to zero and felt like I was at a hundred. The pain from that point on has gotten better with each day. I’m obviously still restricted in some areas. There are some things I can do and some things I can’t. As long as can get to the point where I can play my game without dragging, that’s the goal thing for me.”
    • On the risk of making the injury worse: “Honestly, that’ll be the risk for six more weeks, taking a hit. Kyle took a crazy flagrant one when we were at home. I was kind of cringing (thinking) if that was my shoulder. Those types of things happen.”
    • On when he might be able to return: “I’ve just got to get a point where I can do those things comfortably. It will be painful for a while. The risk of re-injuring will be the same today probably as it will be for a few weeks. That’s not the concern so much as not being limited out there. Me at 50 percent, that won’t help anybody. But I tried. It didn’t go as planned. Now I’ve got to take the opportunity to get back right.”
    • I went deep inside Fred VanVleet’s attempt to make it back for Game 2 and how frustrating the process was. There’s a bunch more detail in there.
  • Markieff Morris was fined $25,000 by the NBA for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official” in the first quarter of Game 3. That came after his scuffle with OG Anunoby. Funny enough, Marcus Morris got fined $15,000 the same day, so it was a tough weekend for the Morrii.
  • Both coaches mentioned potentially switching more on defense, with the intention being to better handle the pick-and-roll without sending extra help off of shooters. That’s a bold strategy with certain bigs on both sides in this matchup, but both teams have struggled to keep both stars and 3-point shooters in check at the same time, so it’s worth exploring. The Raptors have been very good switching across positions this year, though they do have a penchant for over-switching and accepting unnecessary mismatches, especially off the ball.
  • Good Casey quote on the Raptors deciding to start OG Anunoby earlier in the year: “He’s going to be our starting 3 for the future, so why not go now?”

Assorted

  • I’ll be posting some updates/quotes/T-shirt news/etc regularly on my Instagram story throughout the playoffs.
  • Gates open at 4 for today’s viewing party in Jurassic Park/Maple Leaf Square.
  • Game 5 will tip off at 7 p.m. on NBA TV on Wednesday. There was a possibility of that game having a 6, 7, or 8 start time.
  • Air Canada flew a bunch of Raptors fans out for Game 4, including William Lou, Harsh Dave, and Faizal Khamisa. You can follow their trip along at the hashtag #ACFanFlight on Twitter or Instagram. I can’t wait to get a call from the airport police at 1 a.m. tonight that someone needs to come collect my son Will.

The line
Game 1: Raptors -8 (Series Raptors -630) (Raptors 114, Wizards 106)
Game 2: Raptors -7 (Series Raptors -800) (Raptors 130, Wizards 119)
Game 3: Wizards -1.5 (Series Raptors -1600) (Wizards 122, Raptors 103)
Game 4: Raptors -2
Series: Raptors -650 (implied probability of 86.7 percent)

The Raptors are 2-point favorites, a 3.5-point swing from Game 3 despite the Raptors playing quite poorly in that one. That’s a hard one to read – I had originally anticipated Game 3 to be the most pro-Wizards line given how well they play at home and the desperation of being down 0-2, but it’s interesting that the swing is basically as large as a change to a neutral location. The Dwane Casey between-game adjustment bump! The over-under is set at 217, which the teams have beat in each game of the series. The Wizards hit the under uncommonly often during the season but neither of these teams have seem particularly interested in good defense so far.

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