The Toronto Raptors are saying all of the right things. After coughing away a surefire victory in Game 1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, how the Raptors sounded at practice was going to carry some weight in terms of predicting where things go from here. In years past, the tension has been palpable, the confidence clearly fading in the shadow of LeBron James.
This time around, the Raptors were far more resolute. They believe they should have won that game, quite obviously, and they believe they can play much better. They’re not sad or shaken about it – at least not publicly – falling closer to mad on the emotional scale. They’re not comparing to last year or looking at any philosophical big picture. Instead, they’re focused solely on erasing the bad taste of Game 1 when the ball rolls in tomorrow.
“I don’t know if guys have gotten that intellectual over the last 12, 14 hours,” Fred VanVleet said. “More so just pissed off that we didn’t win the game.”
So, what was the message as the team went over the tape on a frustrated Wednesday session?
“The biggest thing is just remaining confident in what we are doing,” C.J. Miles said. “We did a lot of good things, we feel like a lot of things we can clean up and do better.”
Chief among them was their late-game offensive execution, where they didn’t fall into isolation patterns so much as they just slowed down and ran very basic stuff that Cleveland was prepared for. They missed a lot of easy shots, too, but they could have created even more – Cleveland is not built to defend multiple actions, and if the Raptors push the pace like they did in the first three quarters and stick to their game plan, baskets are going to flow pretty freely. At the other end, they simply have to do a better job of sticking to shooters. J.R. Smith and Jeff Green having unlikely outbursts is one thing. Kyle Korver turning into a high-volume No. 2 option is simply untenable.
The defense needs cleaning up, while it’s the near-executions on offense that are floating their confidence. As DeMar DeRozan put it, Antoine (from the classic basketball film The Sixth Man, one of my all-time favorites) was on the Cavs’ side on Tuesday, and it’s unlikely that continues.
“A lot of shots I know we normally make, some mistakes we made as far as the way we want to cover certain situations . Those are very correctable,” Dwane Casey said. “You can pick out a million things you wish could have done differently and could have done to get one basket or one stop. It was encouraging. There is nobody with their head down in the locker room, no one giving into the Toronto versus Cleveland thing. They’re a good team but we’re a good team also.”
Game 2 is not a Game 7, by the way. The Raptors are very eager to get back out there – DeRozan lamented the wait, Kyle Lowry literally had the hours counted down – but VanVleet called it no more of a must-win than Game 1 was.
“’I’ll let you guys look to the future or condemn us if things don’t go our way,” he said. “It’s our job to say locked in, don’t get too level headed, don’t get too high or too low and we try to stay that way through the wins and we gotta do it through the losses. Flush it and get ready for tomorrow.”
He’s absolutely right that the obituaries are premature. It’s good that the Raptors are saying the things you want them to say this year, and most carry it believably. Still, Thursday is monumentally important.
VanVleet minor update and clutch shooting comments
Fred VanVleet provided the standard update on his shoulder: It’s still sore, he did take a hard foul but the treatment from trainers he received is the same treatment he’s been getting at every break the last two games, his minutes were dictated more by matchups than his health, and at least the second clutch shot he missed felt good out of his hands. This is, obviously, going to be an ongoing thing. He was adamant he doesn’t want to make excuses but did concede, “Do I wish I wasn’t hurt? Yeah.”
- VanVleet also had a great quote about the highs and lows of getting to take clutch shots:
- “You think about it. It’s natural. I’m a human being. I have a pretty good grasp on it. I’ve got thick skin. I’m going to take those shots every time. If you don’t want me to take them, don’t put me out there, don’t pass it to me, because it’s going up to me if it does and it’s the right shot. When you make it you’re the hero. When you don’t, you suck. That’s what makes making them that great. The pain of missing them and the agony of having to sit through the night and sit on that until the next chance to go out and play, those highs and lows of the game is what makes the game so great. I’m a competitor…Mine didn’t go in. It’s over with. That was yesterday. If the same situation comes, I’ll step right in and shoot them again.”
- Here’s Casey on the decision to have him out late: “He got hit on his shoulder, but I think it scared him more than anything else. We knew that going in, but he was ready to go back in. Our confidence in him, his teammates’ confidence in him is at an all-time high, so we’ll take those shots every time down, because we’re very confident he can make them.”
- VanVleet also had a good answer for his would-be scuffle with LeBron James: “Restrained? That’s not what I was talking about. It’s more about the compete level, just bringing it every time you step on the court. It’s just the game. Those things happen, pushing and shoving. He pushed me. I was just trying to get my push back, that’s all. Nothing crazy.”
- I’ll be posting some updates/quotes/T-shirt news/etc regularly on my Instagram story throughout the playoffs.
- Over at Vice Sports, I wrote about these New Raptors introducing the same old questions with their dispiriting Game 1 loss.
- On Spotify, I made you a mixtape to bridge you from Game 1 to Game 2. No, seriously.
- Ty Lue made it sound like Cleveland isn’t changing their starting lineup for Game 2 despite its struggles in Game 1.
- A few people tried to bait the Raptors to talk about Drake and Kendrick Perkins but nobody really bit. “I don’t care. I love Drake,” Dwane Casey said at one point. Same, man.
- In asking about the team’s film session, someone referred to the tape as the “highlight pack,” which Kyle Lowry got a kick out of.
- Jerry Stackhouse is back with the team after a bit of time home and on the interview circuit. Him and Norman Powell were going at it 1-on-1 long after practice ended, which was fun to watch.
- Casey is still pretty displeased the Raptors weren’t granted a flagrant review for Kevin Love’s elbow to the head of DeMar DeRozan. Here he is when asked if he got an explanation: “Not a good one, not a good one, not a good one. I don’t think they felt like it was a, they said it wasn’t intentional, it was incidental. My thing is let’s review it, that’s why we have a $50 million replay centre, let’s get it right. Nobody’s right or wrong and if they look at it and say ‘Hey, it wasn’t intentional,’ OK, but let’s at least look at it.”
- Here’s Lowry with a quote that I think pretty much sums up the vibe of practice: “We played the right way. We played our game. We executed the plays down the stretch. Gotta role with it. That’s the things about this league, it’s a make or miss league.”