Response: There was a brief moment in the fourth when the Grizzlies drilled a three to push the lead back to nine. Toronto looked tired, and could have folded in that moment, but they got three successive triples from Anunoby, Delon Wright, and VanVleet to even the game. The Grizzlies looked demoralized from that point onward.
Flipping the script
Entering the third quarter, the Raptors found themselves in a unique position. Nurse’s club is usually the one with the double-digit lead, not the other way around. Whereas Toronto has a tendency to let opponents back into games instead of stepping on their throats, it was their turn to do the rallying Tuesday.
After going down by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, the Raptors reeled off a 20-8 run in the middle of the frame to get right back into the game. VanVleet in particular was a key scorer in the Raptors’ comeback victory, and he seems to be shaking off his slow start with four consecutive double-digit-scoring performances.
The 24-year-old ended the evening with a healthy 18 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting. Lowry finished with a team-best 24 points and added six assists for good measure.
If testing his team’s mettle was what Nurse was looking for, he got it and the man answering the bell in the biggest way in this one was Fred VanVleet, as he led the charge in Toronto’s biggest comeback win with 12 of his 18 points in the final frame.
It was the biggest comeback of the season for the Raptors and arguably the most satisfying for all kinds of reasons.
Banged up for most of the season, VanVleet came down on a cameraman following a first-half score and was limping noticeably.
The limp disappeared in the second half and was a mere afterthought in the fourth quarter, when he got red-hot including hitting all three of his three-point attempts on the night the one that tied the game at 105 punctuated by a rare show of emotion from the point guard who threw a knockout punch after it went down.
“Obviously, we all know I haven’t been shooting the ball well so to get back on track is always fun,” VanVleet said. “To come from behind, I mean it takes so much out of you to climb out a hole like that you are going to show some emotion but that’s probably as much as you will see from me. It was a big shot and a big moment in the game.”
Before VanVleet got that going though, the Raptors had to find a way to slow down the Grizzlies and Nurse did that with a perfectly timed zone defence midway through the third that effectively got the Grizzlies out of their rhythm.
Kyle Lowry led all Toronto scorers with 24 and chipped in with six assists. All five starters were in double figures in scoring but only Lowry had more than VanVleet’s 18 on the night.
What makes it all the more frustrating is that the Grizzlies had one of their best offensive nights of the season. Through incredibly hot shooting of their own, they jumped out to a 71-59 halftime lead. A 5-0 spurt to begin the second half would give them a 17-point lead.
However, the fact that Memphis was playing so well offensively ended up playing into their demise. The pace of the game greatly favored the Raptors, and playing in shootouts is certainly not the Grizzlies’ style of play. The Raptors continued to chip away at the Grizzlies lead until they finally took it off a Kyle Lowry layup with just over six minutes remaining. The Raptors would never look back after that, as the Raptors would add four more threes in the final half of the quarter.
Another trend is beginning to present itself through this three-game losing streak—blowing leads. The Grizzlies blew an eight-point lead against the Clippers, a 13-point lead against the Knicks, and a 17-point lead tonight. Offenses may be more explosive than ever before in the NBA, but this is just simply inexcusable from a team of mostly veterans.
Both of the Raptors’ stars were impeccable. Lowry finished 24 points on five threes, but considering how crucial some of them were, it felt like more. Kawhi Leonard scored only 17 points due to excellent defense from Kyle Anderson, but he sealed the game with a three with less than a minute remaining.
Marc Gasol was once again at the top of his game, coming just two points short of his season high with 27. However, he suffered an ankle injury near the end of the 4th quarter which is highly concerning even though he stayed in the game. He also played 39 minutes, which is putting far too much wear and tear on his body.
The defense on Kawhi Leonard was particularly strong to start the game, holding him to 4 points on 2-5 shooting, and no assists. Overall team defense played a big part, and J.B. Bickerstaff talked about how the Grizzlies would throw a lot of bodies at Leonard in his pregame availability. Kyle Anderson’s effect cannot be diminished, however, as he played fantastic individual defense on Leonard as well.
The Grizzlies continued their surprisingly high level of scoring in the second quarter, finishing with 39 points in the period. Mike Conley also had a nice block on Kyle Lowry at the buzzer that left the home crowd on their feet heading into halftime.
Marc Gasol led all players in the first half with 15 points, dished three assists, and played with a great rhythm on both ends of the floor (shooting 6-9 and registering 2 steals). Garrett Temple also had an impact with 12 points and two made threes.
Overall team defense was stout in the first half, accumulating tons of deflections, 7 steals, and making it difficult for Toronto to get into their offensive sets.
The Grizzlies went into halftime with a 71-59 cushion over the Raptors, and extended the lead to 17 early in the third. On the first possession out of the half, Conley and Gasol executed a brilliant two-man game that was essentially a give-and-go vortex with both players swirling around one another’s screens and cuts, resulting in both defenders following Conley’s drive into the paint before he kicked the rock back to Gasol for an open three-point make.
But the Raptors battled back to cut the Grizzlies lead to one point as Memphis’ defense fell flat for most of the period. At one point the Raptors were shooting 11-14 in the quarter, and the Grizzlies didn’t seem to get any stops until they strung several together to end the period. The Raptors finished the third quarter shooting 11-21 from deep, and trailing the Grizzlies 97-93.
The stellar defense on Kawhi Leonard fell apart in the second half. He finished the third quarter with 9 points and shot 7 free throws after scoring just 5 in the first half. He finished the game with 17 points, 5 assists, 2 steals, and one turnover.
The Grizzlies were bitten once again by a late-game fade.
In Tuesday’s 122-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors, owners of the NBA’s best record (18-4), Memphis squandered another double-digit, second-half lead.
In its third consecutive loss, Memphis (12-8) carried a 71-59 lead into the second half, only to have it slip away late thanks to a spate a cold shooting that featured just 5 points in the final 3.5 minutes. Toronto countered by scorching the nets late in the game, highlighted by 7-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Raptors tied things up at 105-105 with 6:48 left in the game on Fred VanVleet’s triple, then took the lead for good when former Grizzly Kyle Lowry buried a 3 with 4:35 to play.
“They do a good job of putting people in position to create those shots,” Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “They spread you out. They’re five out most of the time, then they have guys who can penetrate.”
VanVleet made all six of his shots, including three from downtown, to score 18 points off the bench. What’s more, he was assigned Mike Conley for all of his second half minutes, doing a great job of throwing the all-star off of his game. Conley still had 20, but needed 19 shots to get there. Whatever damage he was doing off the pick and roll in the first half slowed down when Fred was in his grill.
The game started looking great for the visiting side. The Raptors opened up on an 8-0 run, but a quick timeout from J.B. Bickerstaff resulted in a 9-2 run for Memphis. The Grizzlies seemingly surprised Toronto with their physicality, as they picked up a few buckets on offensive rebounds.
They also started to set a theme for the first half, as any pick and roll featuring one of Conley or Marc Gasol turned deadly. Though both teams shot over 60 per cent in the first half, it was Memphis who went into the break up 12, thanks to a flurry of mid-range floaters, dump-off passes, and swing sequences.
Give Nick Nurse some credit here, though, because the adjustments made over halftime instantly affected the game. A couple Gasol shots stretched the Memphis lead to 17, but Toronto switched their defence to a zone just before the midway point of the third. This slowed the Grizzlies down just enough, as the Raptors starters chipped away at the lead on the other end.
As the starters turned over to a Lowry-plus-bench lineup to close the quarter, Toronto got the lead down to four.
To start the fourth, presto change-o, it was now Kawhi with the bench unit. The combination of Leonard and OG Anunoby blew up a few pick and rolls from the Grizzlies, while VanVleet started to make shots on the other end.
1. RAPTORS (18-4): Huge comeback win for Toronto over the Grizzlies, fighting back from down 17 points in the second half in Memphis. In my opinion, Tuesday’s victory was the Raptors’ best win of the season against a quality team on the road. They shot a blistering 54.5 per cent on 18 successful threes. There were plenty of clutch plays, great defence and savvy usage of zone defence to throw the Grizzlies off their game.
From the eye test, it seems like Leonard has improved in isolation as the season’s gone on, growing more comfortable attacking mismatches and with the Raptors growing more adept at finding them for him. Against a big, Leonard is a threat to pull up or string a defender out before a tough first step toward the rim. Give him space, and there’s almost no chance of stopping him with a head of steam. Leonard can bully smaller defenders into the post, too, he just hasn’t been converting on those opportunities at his former, near-elite level. Leonard ranks in the top-15 in the league in free-throw attempts per game and per 100 possessions, getting to the line at the second-highest per-field goal attempt clip of his career, and the Raptors feel that free-throw rate should be even higher.
When he’s not drawing contact inside, Leonard uses the difficulty of guarding him against the defender, pulling up from around the elbows for smooth mid-range jumpers. Leonard ranks in the 90th percentile among forwards in the portion of his attempts coming from the long mid-range (from 14 feet and out), the 97th percentile in the short mid-range (4-to-14 feet), and the 97th percentile in the mid-range overall, per Cleaning the Glass. He’s always been a high-usage mid-range player, but these rates are extreme even for him and would represent career highs. His effectiveness on those attempts is down some from his formerly elite levels, though he’s still hitting at a solid enough clip.
The combination of his three and his mid-range pull-up being a little behind supports the idea that maybe his legs aren’t all the way under him just yet, and his shot spectrum suggests he’s maybe a little more comfortable pulling up in attack mode than barreling all the way to the rim.
Through all of this, as well as his middling rate as a pick-and-roll orchestrator, is the sense that Leonard is still finding his fit. On drives and in transition, he’s picked up a nice chemistry dumping off to cutters out of the dunker spot, particularly Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. It’s been slower to come on post-ups, where Nurse says the Raptors are still trying to establish a familiarity with where they’ll be for him when double-teams come, and in the pick-and-roll, where Leonard is only beginning to thread passes to Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. In addition, only 28.8 per cent of Leonard’s two-point field-goals have been assisted on, and he ranks in the sixth percentile among forwards overall in the portion of his baskets that are assisted by teammates.
Leonard’s assist rate of 13.8 per cent is down from where he’d last established himself, particularly in the postseason before he went down hurt in 2016 when his playmaking appeared to be evolving. Using Cleaning the Glass’ assist-to-usage stat, Leonard is in the 27th percentile for his position in terms of creating assists relative to his overall usage. He’s not a bad passer, in terms of pass quality, he’s just been a little shot-focused; the Raptors assist rate as a team jumps from 54.6 to 61.1 per cent when Leonard sits.
That’s neither good nor bad as an isolated stat, but it is descriptive. Leonard is passing just 26.4 times per game, per data from NBA.com, which ranks just sixth on the Raptors (he receives 37.3, third on the team, and touches the ball 49.3 times per game, second only to Kyle Lowry). He’s in the top 50 in the league for average length of a touch and average dribbles per touch, which isn’t entirely unsurprising given his style but feels notable (Fred VanVleet is the only Raptor to join him in those top 50s). Of course, Leonard is also second to Antonio Blakeney (!) in points per-touch, so there’s some justification there.
The Raptors will look to remain unbeaten on the road against Western conference teams tonight and although Kawhi Leonard leads the team in points, rebounds and steals, head coach Nick Nurse believes Kawhi is yet to reach his full potential.
He’s got his top three lieutenants — Adrian Griffin, Sergio Scariolo and Nate Bjorkgren — rotating through stretches of about 10 games in each of the disciplines and, eventually, Nurse will settle on consistent job descriptions.
“We have kind of roughly planned it out but it’s not in stone,” Nurse said of the 10-game chunks. “It’s just an idea and when it gets close to that time we start thinking about who’s going to rotate where and all of those kind of things.
“And it’s like our rotations a little bit on the floor. We monitor which ones . . . when it gets down to the end of the year and playoff time we’re going to go with what we think is our best lineup.”
Until then, though, having different coaches do different things for different periods of time keeps everyone fresh. Each assistant gets to run the practice time for whatever aspect of the game he’s handling — pre-practice film, on-court work, post-game video compilation — and sharing means no one gets locked into one part of the game.
“What went into it was, first of all, just developing all our coaches, that they don’t just get stuck over in a corner of defence, offence or special teams or player development or whatever it is and try to develop them,” Nurse said.
“Two was just to give them a chance to be more objective, right? So when I’m asking them for advice on things that they’re a little bit more objective rather than like, for instance, if I was the offensive coach that I would say, ‘Play all the shooters all the time,’ you know what I mean? Or if you were the defensive coach you’d say, ‘Play all the defenders all the time’ and if you’re the special teams coach say ‘He’s got to be in because he’s our best inbounder.’
“Hopefully it’s to make us a little bit more objective but mostly the learning and developing the coaches and give them a chance to really hone their craft in all the areas.”
The Raptors are down an assistant this week because Scariolo is off doing his other job as the head coach of the Spanish national team as it plays Turkey and Ukraine in the next FIBA World Cup qualification window.
After a miserable first half and a sluggish start to the second, the Raptors rallied behind Fred VanVleet and a series of huge three-point baskets to beat the Grizzlies 122-114 and extend their winning streak to six games in a row.
VanVleet made all six of the shots he took on the night and finished with 16 points as Toronto gave up 71 points in the first half before buckling down in the second.
Kyle Lowry had 24 for the Raptors and the other four starters were also in double-figures for Toronto, now an NBA-best 18-4 on the season.
With some of their most ineffective play of the season at both ends, Toronto worked itself into a 17-point third quarter hole but with a barrage of three-pointers — five in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter — it took a six-point lead with about four minutes remaining.
Against those .500 or better teams, the Raps are basically the same, putting up a 106.3 rating.
But, stripping out those exactly .500 teams, and adding the New Orleans Pelicans game — a team that is well over .500 when Anthony Davis plays — the Raptors defense paints an uglier picture: a 109.5 rating which would see the Raps slip to 13th.
Now, this isn’t Toronto carrying around one of the three worst defenses in the league, and of course the better the opponent the worse your defense will perform. But to me, it’s the number one thing Toronto fans should be looking at this month. Because that league average defense also includes two games with the Celtics and one with the Pistons. Neither team sits in the top half of the league in offensive rating.
By comparison, the Raps will play eight games in this next month against top-10 offenses. Toronto also plays the Sixers twice, meaning they have 10 games against offenses currently in the top half of the league.
So far this season the Raps have only played eight games against the league’s top half offenses. Their defensive rating in those eight contests: 109.6 — or almost right back in the middle.
The other concern is the elephant (dinosaur?) in the room: can Kyle Lowry stop elite guards? No one is saying that Lowry isn’t as smart a defender as they come, and he generally helps the team on defense more than he hurts it — but that’s largely due to his smarts, not his physical tools. When the Raps struggle defensively it often stems from an inability to slow down opponents at the point of attack. Or in this case: when teams have point guards who can attack.
This trip will see the Raps face off against Mike Conley, Eric Bledsoe, Damian Lilliard, Steph Curry (but maybe only once), and rising stars Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray. Beyond the raw numbers, how the Raptors manage to contain this parade of electric point guards, and how well they are able to keep the shape of their defense will go a long way to determining whether the next month is a preview of the best Raptors post-season in history, or a replay of past failures.
The Warriors are set to face the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night, one of those “the result of this game is probably meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still a big matchup” type of nationally televised games that has NBA fans frothing at the mouth as winter starts to form its grip.
The Raps are soaring, boasting the best record in the NBA at 18-4, a suddenly terrifying duo in Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry and a deep supporting casts that rivals that of, well, anyone. A reporter asked Klay Thompson after the team’s game against the Magic how much attention he’d been paying to that team up north, and Thompson’s mind was already thinking about the summer.
“Right now they’re the best (team in the East), and I expect them to be there for the whole season,” Thompson said. “Kawhi is back and playing at an MVP level.It’s going to be a great test for us. Who knows, it might be a preview of June.”
With LeBron James out of the picture, the Celtics talking like they’re close to hitting rock bottom and Leonard breathing new life into a Raptors franchise that desperately needed it, a Raps-Warriors NBA Finals isn’t all that far-fetched.
37 PTS, 50% FG% (12/24), 30% 3P% (3/10 3PM/A), 14 REB, X AST, 2 STL, 4 BLK, 0 TO, +14 +/-
The swarm tried to take away Boucher’s three-point shot, so he had to put the ball on the floor and was very successful at it. Boucher’s quickness was too much for Chinanu Onuaku who had to guard him from the perimeter and just don’t have the lateral quickness to hang with Boucher.
This game was probably Boucher’s worst game defensively, as he was eaten alive by Chinanu Onuaku in the paint. Onuaku hung 27 points against the Raptors 905 primarily against Boucher, who offered very little resistance to his post moves.
Boucher’s non-existent box-out effort also reared its ugly head in this game, giving up multiple rebounds — especially on the defensive end — simply because he just failed to box out.
Boucher’s defensive awareness when he was subjected to several pick-and-rolls was also suspect, as he got exploited by getting caught in no-man’s land.
Overall defensively for Boucher, aside from excellent help defense blocking layups that are coming his way and staying vertical around the basket, it felt like I was watching 2014-16 Bruno Caboclo out there.
Opposing teams are contesting Boucher’s perimeter shots more and more, and it’s starting to reflect in the stats. The Swarm are much more aggressive with chasing Boucher off the three-point line — all three of his eventual three-point makes were uncontested.
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