Searching for their win of the season, the Raptors are entering desperation mode.
When the Raptors were eliminated in a gut-wrenching game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics last year, we all knew an era of Toronto Raptors basketball was coming to a close. Offseason moves meant new faces replaced former fan favourites. And with the pandemic raging on, the Raptors were relocated to Tampa, 2000+ km away from home.
However, the most visible sign of the end of an era has been the Raptors uninspiring play to start the season. For years, the Raptors have taken care of business, won on the road and protected their double digit leads. Its been a staple of Kyle Lowry led teams to just find ways to win grind-it-out games. While Lowry has done everything in his power to win, I’m afraid its no longer 2016. The Raptors need more from everyone not named Kyle Lowry, and that includes better game management and rotations from Nick Nurse.
1: Raps -14, Lowry -1, -13 in 9min without
2: Raps -5, Lowry +3, -8 in 13min without
3: Raps -7, Lowry +12, -19 in 11min without
Total: Raps -26, Lowry +14, -40 in 33min without
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 30, 2020
My last one of these tonight.
The Raptors' top 5 2-man lineups by minutes played that include Kyle Lowry vs. the Raptors' top 5 2-man lineups by minutes played that don't include Kyle Lowry. pic.twitter.com/qbGwrFNZII
— Anthony Doyle (@Anthonysmdoyle) December 30, 2020
The New York Knicks are no longer the pushover of years past. The Knicks have recorded impressive back-to-back wins against the Bucks and Cavs and the momentum seems to finally be in their favour. Tom Thibodeau have the Knicks competing every night, especially on the defensive end. Though it is a small size, the Knicks currently have a defensive rating of 106.2, good for 10th in the league.
On the offensive end, Julius Randle has been their catalyst. Julius Randle, fresh off of an efficient 28-12-11 triple double is playing the best basketball of his career. His physicality and aggression has made it hard to keep him out of the paint and his shooting has been blistering (especially off the dribble). Here’s a great thread of Randle’s offensive explosion thus far.
Julius Randle has arguably been the best offensive big in basketball through 4 games (Video Thread!)
(Yes, I'm serious lol)
– 2.3 3PMs per game
– Blowout win over Milwaukee
Here's him scoring on Simmons, Embiid and Giannis, 3 of the best defenders in the game. pic.twitter.com/pbZXWjJEOd
— Matt Esposito (@MattEsposito_) December 30, 2020
Randle has also surprisingly been a great facilitator. His drives and post-ups demand so much attention from opposing defenses and he’s finally hitting the open shooters. Randle’s playmaking is one of the reasons why the Knicks are shooting an NBA best 45.8% from three this season. In all honesty, Randle has been playing at a level Raptors fans have been hoping to see from Pascal Siakam as an offensive engine.
With all that being said, this is still a very winnable game for the Toronto Raptors. The defensive rating has crept up to 8th in the league and their rotations looked much better against the Sixers. Nurse still needs to find an answer to keep the Raptors offense afloat when Lowry rests (Malachi Flynn is right there). With the 30th ranked offense in the league, the Raptors desperately need another playmaker on the floor. Flynn may not be a superstar-level game changer, but he can’t be much worse than watching VanVleet dribble the air out of the ball or Powell force his way into a turnover. Toronto drafted a point guard who was in the 96th percentile in pick-and-roll scoring and 92nd percentile in halfcourt scoring in the NCAA last year. The front office identified a weakness of the Raptors and went out and spent a first round pick to shore it up. Now its up to the coaching staff to play him.
Tipoff: 7:30pm EST | TV: Sportsnet | Radio: TheFan590
PG: Kyle Lowry, Malachi Flynn
SG: Fred VanVleet, Matt Thomas, DeAndre’ Bembry, Terence Davis, Jalen Harris
SF: OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, Paul Watson, Yuta Watanabe
C: Aron Baynes, Alex Len
- Patrick McCaw (knee) – out.
PG: Elfrid Payton, Frank Ntilikina
SG: Reggie Bullock
SF: RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Ignas Brazdeikis
PF: Julius Randle
C: Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel
- Austin Rivers (groin) – out
- Immanuel Quickley (hip) – out
- Obi Toppin (calf)- out
- Alec Burks (ankle) – day-to-day
- Dennis Smith Jr. (quad) – day-to-day