Post-Game

Raptors drop Summer League opener to Pelicans

That wasn’t a great start.

Raptors 77, Pelicans 90 | Box Score

Nick Nurse’s head coaching tenure with the Toronto Raptors is out to a disastrous start. Okay, that is probably a step too far, but the Raptors’ Summer League squad he’s leading did not make the best first impression in Las Vegas on Friday, losing their tournament opener 90-77 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

It wasn’t quite as bad as that final score suggests, and while the Pelicans led more or less start-to-finish and spend the entire second half up about 20, the Raptors’ process was at least in the right place, which is what you’re looking for in this environment. The execution, though, needs a lot of work. The Raptors shot 33 percemt for the game, 8-of-34 on threes, and despite good individual efforts and some nice signs of aggression in passing lanes and with rotations, the defense allowed the Pelicans to live at the line. Again, not all bad, just not the best of starts, and these Summer League games run random enough that no conclusions should be taken away from the shaky first step.

Those hoping for Summer League to be an OG Anunoby showcase got the start they wanted, as Anunoby opened the scoring with a corner three and followed it up by driving for a left-handed bank shot, plus a foul. He wasn’t quite that dominant from there, but it was a nice tone-setter, and the other starters – Malcolm Miller, Alfonzo McKinnie, Marquis Teague, and Augusto Lima – settled in around him. Teague and Lima already have a nice pick-and-roll chemistry, with Lima setting some beautiful Euro screens and filling space well, while McKinnie drilled a pair of above-the-break threes, another positive sign.

Were it not for extreme foul trouble on the defensive end, the Raptors may have started pulling away. As it was, Cheick Diallo was a problem on the drive and the Pelicans rumbled to the rim with good aggression, and Miller and McKinnie both picked up three fouls early (good thing for the 10-foul limit in Las Vegas). The bench offense sputtered a little bit, too, outside of Malachi Richardson’s trademark one-dribble lefty step-back, and a buzzer-beating corner three put New Orleans ahead five at the end of a quarter.

The foul trouble persisted into the second, as Frank Jackson orchestrated a steady Pelicans attack. Otherwise, the defensive effort was solid. Shevon Thompson was a nice presence in the paint and effortful saving rebounds, while Anunoby and Miller continued to show why they’re well-regarded defensive prospects. A few stops allowed the offense to get running, which worked when Codi Miller-McIntyre was attacking the rim but not when the Raptors shot from outside, as they ran pretty cold, with air balls from Miller and Miller-McIntyre highlighting that struggle.

The Raptors were producing solid looks with a drive-kick-swing approach head coach Nick Nurse preaches, they just weren’t dropping for anyone, particularly Anunoby, who struggled with his handle some, too. Toronto’s points, then, came the hard way, with Thompson working the offensive glass, Richardson driving the baseline hard to draw fouls, and Lima dump-offs producing free throws. There weren’t nearly enough of those tough buckets, and a 0-of-7 mark on threes in the quarter – combined with great performances from Diallo and Walter Lemon Jr. – left them in a 20-point halftime hole.

“It was like textbook early, and we didn’t make any,” Nurse said. “Really textbook, extra passes, balls were there, and just nobody was making ’em. And that kinda gets into you a little bit.”

Things didn’t get much better out of the break, as Anunoby continued to struggle with his handle as a primary initiator and the lead hung in the low 20s. The defensive intensity was at least there, with Miller contesting well on the drive, Anunoby doing well to create havoc in help when engaged, and Rawle Alkins picking up a steal almost immediately upon checking in for the first time. Shortly after, Alkins was emblematic of the Raptors being in their own way a bit with their finishing, as he led the break and unleashed a beautiful cross move only to miss the layup, and his teammates would follow by missing two more chances on the same possession. The fouls kept rolling in, too, with the Raptors reaching 23 team fouls through three quarters to keep them down 19 entering the fourth.

“Defensively, I liked it, we were a little handsy, I thought we were a little bit unfortunate. We wanna play physical and I think we had 30 fouls or something like that, really high,” Nurse said. “But again, for me at this stage, we wanna start off aggressive, which means we’re gonna get called for a bunch of fouls. We’ll back off and adjust that as we go. I’ve always thought it was easier to back off from aggression than to play soft and press up into it.”

The nice thing about Summer League action is that there’s always the potential for a quick comeback, especially if an opponent starts to go to its bench. The Raptors pushed to find that tipping point with a lineup with a lot of speed and length, but the Pelicans answered an early three with a transition look of their own and Toronto maybe started to press a bit with their shot selection. When Trevon Bluiett hit his sixth three of the game with Richardson draped all over him late in the clock, the idea of a comeback was more or less put to rest. The close-out was mostly without anything notable, but Miller-McIntyre and Richardson at least had solid showings down the stretch and Alkins atoned for the missed layup with a big-time reverse on the break.

“We’re gonna be just fine here in Summer League,” Nurse said. “I like the group a lot, we’ve worked extremely hard, and our legs will come back to us here at some point and we’ll play a little better.”

They’ll get another day of practice and then have their chance to improve with two more round robin games Sunday and Monday.

Notes

  • Yes, we’re copping my Raptors 905/Team Canada recap format here with half-gamer, half-notes. I figure it lends itself better to games like these where people might not be as concerned about the game-flow as the actual player performances.
    • As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason. Take it for what it is, and enjoy.
  • RAPTORS NOTES: Rawle Alkins was probably the most impressive of any Raptor, scoring 12 points with six rebounds and a team-best +14 in 14 minutes…Codi Miller-McIntyre had nine points and five dimes in the best showing of any point guard…Alfonzo McKinnie matched Alkins with a team-high 12 points and added five rebounds, but he took 18 shots to get there.
    • Malcolm Miller (0-of-7), OG Anunoby (3-of-11) and Malachi Richardson (3-of-11) all struggled shooting. Anunoby had a team-high seven rebounds, at least, and Richardson showed good aggression when the team was trying to come back late.
    • INJURIES: Jordan Loyd (back spasms) and Fuquan Edwin (left knee soreness) both sat out.
    • IN ATTENDANCE: The Raptors had nearly a full staff in attendance for the opener, with really only Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster (still en route from the Fred VanVleet presser) notable in their absence. Also in attendance were DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, and Delon Wright. DeRozan even joined the broadcast for a bit, while the others spent time working as baseline photographers.
  • PELICANS NOTES: Cheick Diallo had a monster game for the Pelicans and was too much on the roll for just about any Raptor. Outside of a badly air-balled three, this was a great showing. He finished with 13 and 10…Walter Lemon Jr. showed a lot of aggression, which was needed…Trevon Bluiett hit 6-of-8 on threes…Frank Jackson went down with what appeared to be a left ankle injury and had to be helped to the locker room.
  • UP NEXT: The Raptors next play Sunday, tipping off against the Minnesota Timberwolves at 3 ET.

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