It’s a small thing, but it’s one of many the Raptors have been missing in Lowry’s recent absence, as he’s missed seven of the last eight recovering from a back injury. The Raptors have slowed down considerably over that time. And Sunday, after his team lazily overcame the hapless Chicago Bulls, 95-89, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said he’d certainly noticed it.
“One of my bigger concerns is the pace we’re playing at,” Nurse said. “Listen, the defence is still pretty good. There’s still some pretty good work being done defensively. But when they do score, it’s several bounces of the ball. And that’s not really what we want. We just assume, once they score, forget about it, get it in, and get up the floor with a little bit of juice and energy.”
After using only 95 possessions against a purposefully slow-playing Bull outfit Sunday, the Raptors have now used fewer than 100 possessions in 10 of its last 13 games. This fall, when Toronto was playing its best and cruising to the NBA’s best record, the Raptors used over 100 possessions in 17 of its first 21 games.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse admitted he has been concerned that point guard Kyle Lowry has been sidelined for virtually all of the past two weeks with quad and back issues that have limited him to playing in just one of Toronto’s past eight games.
“Yeah, I think a little bit,” Nurse said before the Raptors faced the Chicago Bulls here at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday evening. “You’re always concerned. You want an All-Star player back as soon as possible.
“Any of our guys, we want them back as soon as possible … I think we’re positive and hopeful that it’s going in the right direction, and we’ll see him back soon.”
Nurse later added that Lowry should return soon.
“We’re coming to the end of it,” Nurse said.
I have expected coach Jim Boylen, who is truly energetic on the sidelines, to lasso his guys if they ever decided to even jog up the court with the ball. You coach to your strengths, whatever you perceive them to be, and the Bulls play what can be kindly called “stodgy” basketball.
And they trapped the Raptors into doing exactly the same thing, which is not to Toronto’s strength.
Fred VanVleet kind of nailed it with this post-game comment:
“They definitely mucked up the game and made it ugly and dirty and slow, and give them credit for that. But you’ve got to be able to win in different ways.”
That’s what the Raptors did and while it wasn’t pretty, it doesn’t matter.
A tough night: Making his 11th start of the season in place of Lowry (lower back pain), Fred VanVleet had a tough shooting night. He missed his first nine field-goal attempts, including five three-pointers before getting on the score sheet in the third quarter. He finished with 10 points.
Same old trouble: The Raptors had the worst two-point shooting night in franchise history on Friday (26.2 per cent for the loss in Orlando) and, to show that wasn’t a fluke, they tied their lowest quarter of scoring — 14 points — in the first quarter against Chicago. They did shoot a blistering 33.3 per cent in the opening 12 minutes against the Bulls.
No time: C.J. Miles, mired in a season-long shooting slump, was once again out of the rotation entirely. He’s now had two games in the past four when he’s been available and not been used, the only two of his year-and-a-half with the club.
For most of Sunday’s game against the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors, it worked. Ultimately, turnovers, rebounding and an off night from Zach LaVine doomed the Bulls, who lost 95-89 despite holding the Raptors to 37 percent shooting.
“I’m real proud of our guys,” Boylen said. “We came into maybe the best team in the league and we battled. For about 36, 38 minutes, we controlled the game and the tempo. We followed the game plan offensively and defensively. They made a few more shots and big plays. I’m really, really excited about how hard we played and how we played for each other. I thought it was a lot of fun.”
The Bulls allowed a season-low 14 points in the first quarter and a season-low-tying 40 points in the first half. But the Raptors scored 21 points off 18 Bulls turnovers and piled up a 24-10 advantage in second-chance points. The Bulls allowed 17 offensive rebounds.
LaVine, who fouled out in the waning seconds, scored 13 points on 3-for-17 shooting.
“I’m still coming off this ankle so I don’t have the same lift,” LaVine said, referencing his recent left ankle sprain. “But I got to make them regardless. Just one of them days. There are at least five of them I can make. It sucks. But I’ll be back at it next game.”
While the turnovers were key and helped the Raptors win the battle of fast-break points 13-2, the rebounding was also a big factor. Toronto snatched 17 offensive rebounds and racked up 24 second-chance points to just 10 for Chicago. Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka combined for nine offensive rebounds themselves. The Bulls are a horrid offensive rebounding team, but at least Carter was working hard down low and grabbed four offensive boards. Carter had an outstanding game with 16 points, 11 rebounds and a plus-9 plus/minus.
The Bulls’ other rookie, Chandler Hutchison, also had an impact with one of his best games. Hutch had two impressive lefty finishes in his first stint and ended the third quarter with a pretty 3-pointer to make it 68-65. That triple gave him 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting.
Strangely, Boylen yanked Hutchison to begin the fourth quarter and didn’t put him back in the game. Hutch only played 14 minutes to 40 for Justin Holiday, who had a perfectly fine game but really shouldn’t be playing 40 minutes under any circumstances, let alone on a rebuilding team that should be developing its young talent. Hutchison should be getting more minutes even when he’s not playing well, but to only get 14 when he’s feeling it is asinine stuff, especially with Jabari Parker out of the rotation.
But the less obvious impact are on the other point guards who are filling in for Lowry. VanVleet is accustomed to playing in two point guard lineups when everyone is healthy. He’s either with Lowry late in the game or with Delon Wright in that second unit. Take Lowry out of the equation and VanVleet runs the show for the starters while Wright comes off the bench. There is some overlap but not to the extent that there normally is.
“They’re sort of each out of their own position of a little bit (and) comfort I think,” Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse said. “Fred relied on Kyle, Delon relied on Fred, and just kinda let ’em share things a little bit. Now it’s a little bit different scenario.”
The good news is that the back issues that have hampered Lowry appear to be tapering off.
“I think we’re positive and hopeful that it’s going in the right direction and we’ll see him back soon,” Nurse said.
In 48 minutes (the last three quarters against the Magic and the first 12 minutes against Chicago) the Raptors managed just 72 points.
“One of my biggest concerns is the pace we’re playing at,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse after the game. “Defence is still pretty good, there is still some pretty good work being done defensively. But when they do score, it’s several bounces of the ball, and that’s not really what we want. We just assume once they score, forget about it, get it in, get up the floor with a little juice and energy and we didn’t do that at all in the first quarter… but it’s okay. Let’s not go crazy. We got a win in an NBA game and we’ll take it and move on, and try to play with a little more pizzazz the next game.”
They shot what percentage and still won?
The Raptors shot 37.0 percent from the field and still came away with the win. That’s the lowest shooting percentage in a Raptors’ win all season, topping the game against the Pacers a few weeks back where they shot 40.9 percent and won. Pascal Siakam, Danny Green and Chris Boucher were the only Raptors’ players to shoot at or above 50.0 percent for the game with the eight other players under that mark.
Kawhi Leonard may have finished with a game-high 27 points, but he was 1-for-6 from 3-point range. Fred VanVleet had a solid seven-assist game but was 3-for-12 from the field and 2-for-7 from three. I guess it just goes to show that there are other ways to make a contribution than shooting effeciently from the field, because the Raptors made it work tonight. And one of the main reasons it worked out was…