Clutch: Danny Green came up with both the aforementioned stops on Oladipo. First, he forced a distracted Oladipo into an eight-second violation. On the next play down, Oladipo was pressured into traffic thanks to some diligent defense by Fred VanVleet. Green provided timely help at the basket to force a jump ball, which he promptly won.
It was an ugly win, by far the ugliest Toronto’s managed this season. They’ve thrived behind the perimeter and they’ve died behind it this season; usually when the aim is that off, it’s an L. Entering Wednesday’s contest, the Raptors averaged 29.5 percent from 3 in their losses as compared to 37.1 percent over their 23 wins. (Per this NBA.com report, only the Thunder and the Warriors shoot worse from the behind the arc in games they’ve lost.)
It could have just as easily been a close loss for Toronto (four of their nine losses were decided by a margin of six points or fewer). For the second night in a row, Indiana had legitimate gripes on a last-minute call: First against Cleveland on Tuesday, during which Victor Oladipo was robbed of a foul call against Larry Nance Jr., and then against Toronto, when the referees failed to call an egregious foul on Bojan Bogdanovic behind the 3-point line. Indiana was, you guessed it, down by three. Even the Raps bench knew they lucked out:
Indiana deserved that chance to force overtime at the line. But the Pacers had let the Raptors and Leonard wear away at the cushion Indiana had created, and based on the closing minutes, an extra period’s momentum would’ve swung north. What’s worth noting—other than what may be fate’s vendetta against the Pacers—is that the Raptors made it back.
In the end, it was yet another win for the team that seems to have it all, a team that managed to escape the bad optics of a potential three-game losing skid by coming up clutch in the final moments. But as the story usually goes for people who seem to have it all—“all” here meaning an MVP candidate, your favorite role player’s favorite role players, and the second-best offense in the league—pull back the curtain, and they really don’t have it all. (Watch an early-aughts popular-kid-loses-everything teen movie. Very helpful for 2018 NBA metaphors. You’ll love it!) Of course, we’ve known this all along; their regular-season glories over the past five seasons have been stomped out in increasingly embarrassing fashion, year after year. It’s the scarlet letter they wear on their sleeves.
Dating back to their game in Oakland a week ago, the Raptors have had seven different players — Powell, Lowry, VanVleet, Siakam, Ibaka, Valanciunas and Kawhi Leonard — miss at least one game because of injury. Every player on the roster, save for Jordan Loyd in the G League, has played at one point or another.
And on Wednesday, Nurse tried all of his 12 available players, in many, many, many different combinations. For large portions of the fourth quarter, he gave up on the notion of a semi-traditional centre, excising both Monroe and Boucher to the bench. It worked, as the Raptors’ defence held the Pacers to just 11 points. Monroe and Boucher were two of the three Raptors with negative plus-minuses on the night.
Most notably, Nurse went all over the place on the wing/perimeter/whatever you choose to call the spots beside VanVleet and Leonard. That was not entirely surprising, as none of the Raptors’ options on the perimeter, aside from Lowry, Green and Leonard, the three starters, have been reliable this year. Miles and Anunoby are having awful years from beyond the arc. Delon Wright has yet to find his rhythm. The Raptors rely on VanVleet — and he hit two huge shots against the Pacers — but he has not played up to his standard this year. The importance of Powell, who entered the year as the team’s 11th man, was heightened by all of that inconsistency.
Anunoby had one of his best games in recent memory, with a stellar defensive effort and a pair of three-pointers, but Miles’ case was particularly illuminating. On Friday in Portland, Nurse needed Miles to give the Raptors a little spacing. On Wednesday, Miles played just eight minutes, missing both of his three-pointers. In the second half, he was benched, sitting behind Malachi Richardson, who was bad, and Lorenzo Brown, who was a game-high plus-eight in seven fourth-quarter minutes. In other words, Nurse was trying anything to get the Raptors going. Given the way the situation has been on the wing this year, that should not have been entirely surprising. Of course, Miles was on the floor for the Raptors’ final possession, and his effort to get an offensive rebound led to VanVleet getting a clean look for the go-ahead basket.
>> The Pacers tried to exercise their size advantage with Turner and Sabonis. VanVleet had two layups denied by Turner, who was helping Darren Collison (seven points, six rebounds) at the rim. The Raptors tried to get away with going small vs. Sabonis in the post, relying on Anunoby to defend him, but that didn’t work. The forced double-teams led to open spot-up 3s as Bogdanovic, and the Pacers stretched the lead to 77-60 at 5:05 of the third quarter. Bogdanovic shot 4-for-6 overall, including 3 3s, in that quarter.
>> The starting backcourt of Collison and Oladipo combined for 11 of the Pacers’ 23 turnovers. It’s what Toronto used to stay alive as they scored 23 points off them.The were too many predictable high ball screen sets that were too easy for Toronto to load up against to stop. It put Oladipo in a difficult position. Young acknowledged that much.
“We were making it tough on Vic,” he said. “He did what he could do go get himself free but it’s making it tough on him to lead us to the promised land. We have to step up as his teammates and be able to make plays also.”
>> Toronto’s defense forced Oladipo to pass, making others beat them. Pascal Siakam (17 points, seven rebounds) disrupted the Pacers at every turn, and got out in transition. They pulled Greg Monroe (13 points, eight rebounds) as the Pacers began to get in in space to defend on ball screens and attack his feet. Pacers didn’t adjust to their adjustments in the fourth. Turner didn’t post up deep enough when he was being defended by guards and when he did get the ball it was with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock. Their giveaways and lack of efficiency on offense is how the Raptors won though they only shot 38-of-93, or 40.9 percent. They attempted 13 more shots and had 11 offensive rebounds to manufacture their points.
The Indiana Pacers looked like they were going to win the basketball game they played in tonight, But then they didn’t. It was a tough loss, as the Pacers led most of the way but ultimately couldn’t get it done.
Elephant in the room – the refs blew another call at the end of the game. And, like in the Cavs game last night, it could have changed the outcome of the game. With Indiana down three with a few seconds to go, OG Annunoby fouled Bojan Bogdanovic on a three-point attempt, but it went uncalled.
Ideally, you don’t let the game get to that point. But it was at that point, and the refs have to get that right. Two nights in a two the refs have missed a call that tangibly changed the game. Tough. Moving on.
The team’s offense completely died in the fourth quarter. McMillan stopped running plays, and the guys just isolated every possession. They only scored 11 points in the frame while Toronto scored 24. Ballgame.
Also, Kawhi Leonard is really good. 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists while being a complete menace on defense the whole game is just insane. He’s insane. Moving on.
Indiana actually scored the first three points of the fourth to push their lead to 13, but from there, it was just a complete mess. In the final 10 minutes of the game, they were outscored 24-8, shot 4-15, and committed five costly turnovers, including a rare 8 second violation and losing a jump ball, both coming in the final minute of the game.
Victor Oladipo committed both of those turnovers, capping a fourth quarter in which the Toronto defense bottled up Indiana offensively, turning them into an isolation team late. As a result, the Pacers had an even lower assist total tonight compared to their terrible night against Cleveland, dishing just 19. Oladipo had six turnovers, but he wasn’t alone: Darren Collison had five more.
Outside of a couple of big buckets late, Collison offered up very little, finishing with seven. Oladipo himself had 20, but struggled with coming up with the right play late in the game. Indiana also struggled late in the game with offensive rebounding. Toronto had three of their 11 in the fourth on two possessions, and they scored on both, including the go-ahead three by Fred VanVleet with 26 seconds left.
Despite that, the Pacers actually continued to hold up well defensively. The 24 point quarter for Toronto tied their lowest of the night and Myles Turner was a force, blocking two shots in the last 2:30, also altering another. However, with the offensive as poor as it was in the fourth, there was little chance of the defense bailing them out. Turner had another double double with 10 points and 14 rebounds, blocking five shots on the night.
But luck had nothing to do with the Raptors’ decision to turn it up on the defensive end. For most of the first half, Toronto couldn’t stop Indiana at all. Domantas Sabonis was having his way in the post (12 and 10 on 5-of-10 shooting), Myles Turner was everywhere (14 rebounds, five blocks), Bojan Bogdanovic was making it rain (18 points on 3-of-6 shooting from three), and Oladipo was having himself a game (20 points, some incredible circus shots). And all the Raptors could do was search, and search, and search.
With Indiana’s lead ballooning to 17 in the third, coach Nick Nurse was trying every lineup combination he could to find what clicked for Toronto. Norman Powell got 15 minutes in his first game back from injury, C.J. Miles was given a few tries to get going, at one point Malachi Richardson and Boucher were in the game together, and then, somehow, Lorenzo Brown checked in for the first time midway into the final quarter (much to our chagrin). That 17-point lead somehow marked the turning point. The Raptors’ injuries had officially driven everyone mad. Then Kawhi got a monster hammer dunk, Toronto’s ultra-switch (and zone) defense got cooking, leading to 23 Indiana turnovers (and 23 points off those TOs), and things started to turn.
“We just played with energy,” said Pascal Siakam of the Raptors’ second half flow, in which he played at centre. “We’ve got a lot of guys with length that can do different things. We just used it, switching and just playing harder than we did in the first half.”
When Danny Green pulled up lame for a shift in the fourth it felt like a cosmic joke. Him too? But his quick return only made the story feel complete. At 92-92 after a driving lay-up from Siakam — who had 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists in a nice performance after hurting his back — it truly did feel like anything was possible. The Raptors had managed to patch together a ludicrous 24-11 fourth quarter. VanVleet hit his game-winning three, and then Green iced it with a pair of free throws. And then, just for good measure, the Raptors managed to bottle up Oladipo, win a jump ball, and knock the ball away from Bogdanovic in the final final seconds to keep the Pacers from even getting a shot at the win.
Despite Nurse’s belief in his 12 “interesting” players, not all of them are exactly deserving of such optimism — at least not when all playing at the same time. Still, I don’t know, there is some weird motivating energy in watching this motley crew come together to beat the Pacers (or, if it happens, any NBA team). This isn’t the true Raptors squad, the one with all its proper moving parts, the one with Finals aspirations. We won’t often see Zo Brown recover a rebound and try to dunk it on Myles Turner with the game on the line, for example. Just like we won’t often see Kawhi out there trying to make a pick-and-roll play work with Malachi Richardson.
The hope was for someone to take advantage and make a statement. Instead, the Raptors had to rely on a vintage fourth quarter from Kawhi Leonard, some trademark high-energy hoops from Pascal Siakam – back after missing a game with a sore back – and some timely triples from Fred VanVleet (also back in the lineup after missing two games). Ultimately they were able to scratch out a much-needed 99-96 win that looked terribly unlikely as the undermanned club trailed by 13 with just over 10 minutes to play.
A huge three by VanVleet finally gave the Raptors the lead with 26 seconds left. The hard-nosed point guard, filling in admirably for Lowry, combined with Danny Green on the other end to stall Pacers star Victor Oladipo’s drive and force a jump ball. Green made a steal and ended up being fouled, sealing the game at the free-throw line with 2.5 seconds left. The Pacers were angry about a non-call on a buzzer-beating three-point attempt by Bojan Bogdanovic, but the referees didn’t agree and the score stood.
Exhale. The Raptors trailed by as many as 17 and won the game largely thanks to VanVleet shaking off a 1-of-12 shooting night through three quarters to hit three triples in the final eight minutes of the game. It was ugly and a bit crazy, but it counted.
“It takes a lot of energy to play that bad then that good at the end,” said VanVleet, who scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter. “It was a rollercoaster of emotions and energy and effort. Those ones feel good, just walking back to the locker room knowing that you probably snuck out of there with one, you stole one.
“I thought the way we played the last 12 minutes of the game, we probably deserved to win,” he said. “We really dug ourselves a weird hole there. It got to 17 at one point, but it was only 10, 11, 12 for most of the game, but it felt like so much more the way they were scoring at will it seemed sometimes. So it felt good to get out of there with a win.”
From the end of the third when the Pacers had a 10-point lead, the Raptors put together their finest defensive period of the season, holding Indy to just 11 points in the final period and scored just enough (24) of their own to eke out a victory.
After a rough opening three quarters — he was 1-for-12 from the field at one point — Fred VanVleet was the hero of the night, hitting a three to put the Raptors up by a point heading into the final 25 seconds, but it was the collective team defence that won the night.
Nurse was mixing and matching throughout the quarter, throwing out never-before-seen lineups with the likes of Lorenzo Brown and Malachi Richardson, searching for something that would work.
“In the end we found (something), searching, searching, searching,” Nurse said. “I tried everybody for a little bit and then found a little groove and we finally started guarding and just told ’em to stay with it.
“They (the Pacers) were on a back-to-back. We (the coaches) kept telling (the Raptors players) that, we’ve got to keep eating into them, hang in there and maybe we’ll pull it out.”
And they did.
Defence first: Solid defensive play from several Raptors down the stretch — VanVleet, Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Lorenzo Brown, OG Anunoby and C.J. Miles — got the job done. They came up with a pair of big stops on Pacers all-star Victor Oladipo in the final two minutes and 40 seconds. First, they forced an eight-second violation. Then, after VanVleet’s three put Toronto ahead for the first time since the opening quarter, Indiana did everything it could to get the ball to Oladipo, but the Raptors kept things so tight that the Pacers couldn’t get a shot off.
Lowry on, Leonard off
Logically, even though Leonard is a superior player, Lowry’s absence this early on could be expected to hurt more. Lowry is the team’s stalwart, the one true constant over the last several years, and the most familiar player with the offence and the team’s personnel. He is the point guard, the on-court leader and is right behind Russell Westbrook for the league lead in assists per game. The Raptors have depth at the point guard position, but for years now nobody has been as important to driving Raptors success than Lowry, even when he’s struggled with his own shot.
This is backed up in the numbers early on despite Lowry slumping with his shot for half the year — he is second to only Plus-Minus God Danny Green in offensive rating, behind only Green and Pascal Siakam in net rating and the Raptors are 17.6 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the floor.
Lowry has played 340 minutes without Leonard on the floor this year, and the Raptors have been dominant in those minutes, outscoring opponents by 18.4 points per 100 possessions. The biggest thing that stands out at the team level here is how many more baskets are assists with Lowry on the court — the team’s assist rate jumps to 64.3 per cent with Lowry on and Leonard off from 58.7 per cent with both on the court. Looking at the team’s assist network, Lowry’s importance as a playmaker becomes obvious.
Yes, Lowry is shooting poorly by his standards, knocking down just 33 per cent of his threes. His impact is still obvious. We also see that Lowry’s individual numbers are a little better without Leonard, which speaks to both a greater aggression when he’s the primary scorer and what may be some noise due to him having a couple of very good games when Leonard was out, a slump-breaker he may have experienced even with Leonard.
Those are pretty stark differences. Lowry’s understandably using more possessions, shooting a little more efficiently and really making a difference as a distributor.
“He did a little bit of everything,” Nurse said Tuesday. “He took it to the rim, he pulled up on the mid-range, he did a little spin-and-turn move, he shot some threes, he continued to pass the ball really effectively. He’s got a lot of the game in there, man, he needs to use all bits of it each and every night.”
How much of this is Lowry being passive with Leonard on the floor and how much is him trying to make sure everyone, including Leonard, is involved in the appropriate role when they’re together is open to interpretation. You would expect Lowry to score more without Leonard, but the degree of change here, I think, matches what people are observing.
“As far as the medical staff and his health, I think that’s been one of the huge advantages that we’ve had so far,” Webster said on Sportsnet 590 the FAN Wednesday morning. “We know to the nth degree with our staff and they’re in constant communication with him even dating back to July when we first met with him after the trade. And that’s just a testament to any sort of healthcare – whether it’s for a professional athlete or for yourself. They’ve been attentive basically on everything and listened to him.
“Obviously, coming into the season he wanted to be healthy, we all need him to be healthy, we all wanted him to play at his best. So managing that, as you can imagine, is going to be a huge organizational task and we’ve taken it head on. So I’m really proud of what the organization has done so far and I continue to want to behave in that way going forward.”
Raptors GM on Kawhi’s workload, big wins out west
December 19 2018
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For the Raptors this season, no matter how well they perform during the regular season, they will only be judged by how they perform in the post-season. As such, playing the long game and prioritizing Leonard for May seems like the smarter move than just worrying about what’s happening now.
This attention to detail the Raptors are paying to Leonard’s health may also reward them with Leonard opting to re-sign with the club come July. The 27-year-old is expected to opt out of his current contract at season’s end to become an unrestricted free agent and, given what the Raptors did to bring him to Toronto in the first place, they’ll be looking for any edge they can take to ensure he remains with them.
Since Leonard’s first meeting with the club last July, the organization has been in communication with him, trying to understand his top needs.
“I think the biggest things are keeping him healthy,” Webster said. “I think he said it from day one that health is of utmost important to him, so being attentive, listening, pushing him, all the things that you’d want to do with your own health for your long-term future.
“We think that our medical staff is the best that there is in the NBA and that’s a huge advantage for us,” Webster added. “… And then what happens on the court. Winning and him growing and getting better and the team getting better, and this team having a chance to make some serious noise, those are huge.”
Toronto Raptors GM Bobby Webster joins First Up with Michael and guest host Sophia Jurksztowicz to discuss the Raptors season, Nick Nurse’s fine for comments on the officiating, how the team plans to keep Kawhi Leonard and more.
Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said the organization has a plan to re-sign Leonard if he does decline his 2019-20 player option with the team.
“Yes [we are keen to keep Leonard],” Webster told TSN 1050. “These are the internal talks and things that we have.”
The team has been cautious with Leonard since acquiring him, but thus far he’s been outstanding on the court, putting up 26.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from beyond the arc and 85.9 percent from the free-throw line.
Webster told TSN 1050 that keeping Leonard healthy is a huge priority for the team, as they look to widen their gap for the top spot in the East and make some noise come April in the postseason.
“Obviously, coming into the season he wanted to be healthy, we all need him to be healthy, we all wanted him to play at his best,” Webster said.
“So managing that, as you can imagine, is going to be a huge organizational task and we’ve taken it head on. So I’m really proud of what the organization has done so far and I continue to want to behave in that way going forward.”
Leonard played in just nine games with the San Antonio Spurs last season due to a lingering quadriceps injury, but thus far has seemed happy with his new team North of the border.
We will see if Webster can pull off a deal to keep Leonard in Toronto should he decline his option, or if he likes the situation enough to know a good thing and stay put.
Wednesday’s 99-96 victory over the Indiana Pacers was Toronto’s 33rd game of the season. It was Green’s 33rd, too. And his 33rd start. No other Raptor can claim either of those achievements. Pascal Siakam’s played in 32 games, Serge Ibaka’s played in 31, and Jonas Valanciunas has played in 30. If any Raptor is going to play every night pole-to-pole, it’ll be Green.
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Leonard challenged by Raptors’ recent injuries
It’s tough, today’s NBA. Tough to stay healthy, tough to avoid missed time due to nagging this or pesky that. Tough to absorb the physical toll, the travel, the back-to-backs, the three-in-four-nights-on-the-road, and keep coming back for more. Last season, only 26 players appeared in 82 games, and only eight started all 82. And that might have been high. The year prior, it was 17 and five. A year before that, 18 and six.
Green might not even get there — who knows? It’s only December. But he’s on track so far and that’s fairly impressive considering how much he plays — his 30 minutes per night are third on the team — and the abuse he’s taken.
The other night they even went for his eyes. It was the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Denver when Nuggets guard Monte Morris swiped at Green, who had just corralled an offensive rebound, and jammed one of his fingers right into the Raptor’s right eye socket.
The gouge left Green with an abrasion and forced him from the game for a spell. But he returned only a couple minutes later, running around screens and playing defence with one eye closed. It was the second time this season Green’s absorbed an eye poke, which has to be just a little disconcerting for a guy who underwent laser eye surgery three summers ago.
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Raptors win game they have no business winning against Pacers
And it has to be a little disconcerting for Nurse and Co., considering Green’s the most consistent three-point threat on a Raptors team in dire need of one. There’s an argument to be made that Toronto’s struggles of late, which saw the team drop five of eight coming into Wednesday night, can be blamed in large part on spotty three-point shooting. Since the beginning of the month, the Raptors had been shooting 33.6 per cent from range, which ranked within the bottom third of the league. And Toronto’s season-long rate of 34.8 per cent (18th in the NBA) wasn’t much better.
According to NBA.com, the only teams to have shot worse from the 3-point line in their losses are the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors. The Raptors would be below both of those teams had they not caught fire (18-for-31) from distance in their recent loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, too.
Take that game out of the equation and the Raptors are shooting 26.5 percent from 3-point range in losses this season.
Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard have struggled the most from the perimeter in Toronto’s losses, with the two All-Stars combining to shooting 20.2 percent on 11.3 attempts per game. (That number is dragged down by Lowry shooting a shockingly low percentage – as we’ll get to in a second – but Leonard is also shooting considerably worse in losses than he is in wins).
While that hasn’t prevented Leonard from putting up big numbers in the scoring column, Lowry hasn’t been able to figure out other ways to get himself going.
Since a few people are asking, Bobby Webster was asked on TSN 1050 today about the team's task of keeping Kawhi Leonard. Some snippets: pic.twitter.com/Dx8m2lDB9S
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 19, 2018
In the grand scheme of things, the $15,000 fine is not a big deal, but I’ve never understood why coaches talk smack about the referees – the same referees that will be officiating their games in the future. The non-calls that the Raptors (and Kawhi) are not getting will hopefully even out over the course of the season. But if not, so what? It shouldn’t be a thing Nurse needs to worry about. Also it’s not a new Raptors thing: the Toronto ball club has had to work against the refs for years.
With that in mind, it’s nice to have the coach step in and go to war for his players, but I don’t see any point in Nurse letting his feelings known as that could potentially aggravate the situation. Teams lose games because they generally didn’t play as well as their counterparts. The Raptors are 23-9. The focus should be on playing good ball.
The JV Injury
It’s not exactly Jonas Valanciunas’ fault that he’s got a dislocated left thumb. But the big man will be on the sidelines for at least a month and that poses a problem for Nurse. JV has been a key cog this year rotating off the bench and starting when asked. JV’s production in 18.8 minutes has churned out 12 points, seven rebounds and an assist per game. He was humming. What his absence means is it gives guys like OG Anunoby, Monroe and even Chris Boucher some time to get their hands dirty.
In 27 games this season, Wright has only been able to produce 6.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 17 minutes per game. He’s the type of guy that needs heavy minutes to be able to offer serious output. It doesn’t look like his role under Nurse will cater to 30 minutes per game, especially as he’s in a timeshare situation with Danny Green and VanVleet.
Wright’s minutes are slightly down from last year and I think we all thought he was in line for a bigger role. The arrival of Green and Kawhi changed the dynamic and the way the Raptors work in 2018-19. That’s partly to blame for Wright’s backpedal.