I remember whenever I would run a pick n’ roll on a high-school court, everything would feel cramped. There’s hardly any room to find the dive man, the help defense is a step closer, it’s frustrating. Playing on NCAA and CIS courts was always a massive help in that regard. The court feels wide open, and the tradeoff of a farther 3-pointer seems like a steal when you get all the extra room to operate. Kyle Lowry has looked like he’s been playing on a high-school court the past 3 games.
Shoutout to Anthony Doyle who voiced this opinion: “One development for me that’s really interesting for the Raptors is that it feels like it’s much more important that Lowry is great than it is that Kawhi is great.”
This feels absolutely true, and bears itself out over the Raptors 4 losses to this point. It was painfully evident last night in Boston. The sky isn’t falling, but the Raptors have found themselves in a precarious position with their star point guard.
Let’s walk through the game:
Danny Green opens things up with a triple, with a man right in his face. Jaylen Brown breaks loose in transition and gets to the cup for a lay-in. On the other side, Pascal Siakam uses the speed advantage he has over Gordon Hayward, bursting to the rim. Green, who’s lurking on the baseline gets a slick tip-in off of a Serge Ibaka miss.
Brown and Ibaka trade above-the-break triples and it’s 10-5, Raptors. Leonard gets double-teamed on the baseline, pays very little attention to it, and slots in a mid-range jumper. Jayson Tatum – who’s only 6 months old, can you believe it?! – comes off a pin-down and gets a dunk. Brown, showing off some of his insatiable effort, gets a tip-in following his own miss.
The Raptors double Tatum in the post, forgetting Irving above-the-break, Tatum finds him and luckily Irving misses. We’re still seeing some of that from this Raptors defense, but the effort is palpable right now. Leonard looks off a screen from Ibaka and dribbles into a mid-range jumper that he hits. Irving couples together a triple and a baseline fadeaway, grabbing the lead for the Celtics, 17-16.
Irving mugs OG Anunoby as he attacks the rim, Anunoby goes down hard, and Irving gets a layup at the other end. Turns out this play likely lead to Anunoby’s injury (sprained right wrist), which is fairly disappointing. A Lowry-Ibaka ‘pnr’ gets Ibaka downhill for an and-1. Irving breaks down Fred VanVleet and hits a jumper from 14-feet, he looks sharp tonight. Leonard strips Rozier in the backcourt and gets an easy flush.
Jonas Valanciunas and Aron Baynes are checked in, and matched up. It’s 28-23, Celtics. Siakam hands off to Anunoby, which leads to a triple (despite Anunoby’s injury). The Raptors switch into a 2-3 zone on defense, and they’re all defending their areas diligently. The Celtics are pretty vexed by this, and on the other end Siakam gets to the line, splitting his free throws. Wild play wraps this quarter up at 30-27 for the Celtics.
VanVleet is still spending a ton of time with the ball in his hands. He’s consistently looking off would-be passes in favour of walking it back out, but not creating anything after doing so. Marcus Morris finishes an and-1 at the rim after Valanciunas turns it over in the post. The Raptors are sloppy right now, but a clever OBO play frees up Anunoby for a corner jumper (toe on the line). Hayward hits a triple off of a DHO, and he’s looking better than usual this season. Valanciunas gets on the glass for a put-back after a great effort from Wright, albeit one that he missed.
Baynes strings together a couple of buckets, all the while maintaining his ugly (but solid) game. Coach Nurse opts to go with a 3-point guard lineup with VanVleet-Wright-Lowry. Morris ducks under a Lowry close-out and hits a tidy mid-range jumper. Morris is 4-4 right now, and he’s killing the Raptors as a weak-side shooter. The Raptors are having a lot of trouble containing the Hayward-Baynes ‘pnr’.
A Valanciunas put-back gets sandwiched between two Green triples, but the Raptors are still down 6 in this one. Leonard gets single-coverage in the post and converts on the inside, but Horford hits a triple on the opposite side. Lowry gets into the lane for a layup, but his margin of error at the rim is tiny right now.
Wright has actually done a fantastic job defending Irving. He’s been really slippery when navigating screens and hasn’t let Irving to the rim, unfortunately Irving is in his bag right now, and is hitting absurd shots. The Celtics are up 51-46, but the Raptors are trending in the right direction. Leonard hits a jumper in Morris’ grill, and finds Ibaka in the pick n’ pop to take the lead, 52-51.
An ISO for Irving on VanVleet nets the Celtics a layup, and the first half runs out at 54-52, Celtics. Irving is putting in a ton of work, and the Raptors don’t currently have an answer for his spectacular shot-making. The Celtics are playing terrific defense on Lowry. The shots we’re accustomed to seeing on the short-roll have been pushed out to mid-range. Lowry’s struggles have put a lot of tension on the offense, with Leonard and Danny Green catalyzing it. This formula isn’t sustainable, and certainly isn’t preferable.
I still don’t understand the hesitation in using Leonard as a pick n’ roll ball handler. It really vexes me. When he gets the opportunity, I generally see the Raptors wean a lot of advantages from those plays. Especially if Lowry isn’t going to put pressure on the defense. We can’t have every game be some sort of Leonard ISO show.
Irving puts Lowry on his hip and earns a trip to the line, but he misses both free throws. Adversely, Leonard gets to the line on the other side and hits both. A wrinkle from Nurse in this half, Siakam is bringing the ball up the floor right now, and it’s not dependent on him getting the rebound. Lowry is off-ball and Siakam as initiator is giving the Celtics some pause. Knowing Siakam’s ability to burst to the rim, they’re playing less aggressive at the point of attack.
Siakam dumps into Ibaka who hits a nice hook over Horford. Leonard looks off a screen from Lowry and knifes into the lane, dragging Tatum’s arms with him, and finishing at the rim with the foul. 59-54, Raptors. A duck-in from Horford and a triple from Tatum ties things up. Siakam gets to the rim for a bucket, the Celtics still not able to kill his dribble. Irving gets loose for a jumper to take the lead at 63-61.
Leonard gets a steal and dumps to Ibaka for a triple. Leonard has been a monster on the glass and in the lane tonight. Siakam and Lowry run a 1/4 ‘pnr’ to earn Siakam a mismatch, and he takes Irving to the rim for a bucket. Really like this from Nurse, he’s letting Siakam abuse the Celtics smaller guards. A Rozier layup and Ibaka free throws bring the score to 71-68, Raptors.
A Lowry triple and Wright’s insertion, and his defense of course, push the Raptors up 8, at 78-70. Valanciunas and Baynes both check in, presumably to smash into each-other. Tatum snakes a pick n’ roll and cans a jumper. He’s looking smoother now, he could be a problem later on. Valanciunas muscles down low for a layup, and Hayward hits a mid-range jumper after a DHO, his size is still causing problems for the Raptors. Rozier and Siakam exchange layups, the latter being a terrific spinning finish. It’s 82-78 by quarter’s end.
Leonard and Irving trade buckets, which is more or less the short version of this game. A flurry of Irving baskets and a couple of nice Siakam finishes have this game at 92-92. Irving is tremendous right now, and he doesn’t look like he plans on missing anytime soon. Irving comes back down the floor and hits a turnaround on the right baseline. During the initiation of the Celtics set, Wright snatches the ball from Irving and gets a layup. The following play, Wright breaks loose for another layup. He’s been such a force on defense tonight. It’s 96-94, Raptors.
Irving ties it up at 96 at the line, but the Celtics leave Leonard alone in the post with Smart, leading to a bucket. It’s 98-96, Raptors with 5 minutes left. Green gets a loose-ball foul that forces him out of the game. Don’t know why he chased the offensive board like that when he had five fouls. Wright is in the closing line-up in place of the troubled VanVleet. Ibaka hits a baby hook to beat the shot-clock and it’s 102-97, Raptors.
Irving snakes the pick n’ roll and finds himself enough space to put up a jumper, which he hits. Leonard steps out on the sideline and Irving hits a layup over Ibaka. Leonard and Irving trade buckets, the ball flies loose and Wright hits a massive triple to put the Raptors up 107-103. This would seem safe if Irving wasn’t dripping in kerosene right now.
Tatum gets a step, and runs to the rim for a throwdown. Siakam gets called for very, very soft over-the-back foul, which sends Hayward to the line to tie the game up with 24.5 seconds left. What a nightmare, but hope springs eternal as the Raptors can still close this out… what will Nurse draw up.
The answer is: nothing. Everyone cleared out for Leonard who pulled up with a second left, and subsequently missed the jumper. Time runs out with the game tied 107-107, and we’ve got overtime.
Hayward free throws open up overtime, and Ibaka hits from mid-range to answer. Hayward gets deep position on Wright and hits a turnaround over top. Irving follows that up with a layup, as the Raptors are still hard-pressed to stop him in any way. Tatum gets a pair of free throws, and it’s 115-110 for the Celtics. It’s looking grim for the Raptors.
Lowry dribbles for what seems like forever, but hits a step-back jumper at the end of it all. Tatum gets into the paint on the other end, narrowly clearing the fingertips of Ibaka and hitting a floater. Siakam gets another loose-ball foul call and is fouled out of the game. Siakam and Green’s exits are frustrating because the Raptors legs have been taken out from under them, but it doesn’t seem like something these players deserved. Irving hits a pull-up jumper, and that seems like the final nail in the coffin.
The Celtics take this one 123-116 and improve to 9-6 on the season, but their play indicates a better winning percentage going forward. The Raptors fall to 12-4, which is still first in the NBA, but three losses in a row is a tough pill to swallow with a team this good.
Lowry has been cramped, and crowded for some time now. He can’t get loose for 3-point shots, and the terrific passes he’s been supplying out of the ‘pnr’ haven’t been available to him, or the Raptors big men. The game against the Celtics offered no reprieve from that playstyle, except that it didn’t make him passive this time around. We can all lament Kawhi Leonard’s ISO play, or a certain guard with a proclivity to place money on himself, but if Lowry’s game gets freed up, the Raptors will soar.
The defense is starting to get much better. When Green and Leonard share the floor the defense is very good, but the Raptors shouldn’t be dependent on that. Siakam and Wright had particularly good games on the defensive end, and they showed they fit in seamlessly with a switch-heavy scheme. The offense is in limbo right now, but there is definitely defensive progression to glean positives from.
The Bulls are a bad team. Tonight’s game could be a panacea to the Raptors, or it could be a loss that sends the fan-base into unrest. I’d bet on the former, even if it’s on the second night of a back-to-back.
Have a blessed day.