Raptors find another way to lose against subpar Warriors

It’s a bad sign for a team that when their star wing player finally shows up to play after a tumultuous start of the season, virtually no one else does.

9 mins read
Photo via Golden State Warriors Twitter

The 2020-21 Toronto Raptors are not as bad as their 2-7 record would indicate. In fact, they are inching toward an identity by playing small, defensive-minded groups that cause a lot of turnovers, run in transition, and shoot a lot of threes. They are finally close to settling on a rotation with Chris Boucher, Malachi Flynn, Yuta Watanabe, Stanley Johnson, and Terence Davis II coming off the bench. But if they don’t string together a full 48-minute effort soon, none of that is going to matter much and the Raptors are going to fall further and further down the standings.

Nick Nurse and the Raptors are rarely going to let a superstar take over the game. Instead, they’ll funnel a ton of attention towards that superstar, like they did on Sunday against Steph Curry, constantly trapping him and double-teaming him, forcing him to give up the ball and make role-players hit shots and make decisions. Unfortunately, the Warriors were doing exactly that in the first half, with players like Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins (and even Draymond Green) hitting semi-contested threes, helping the Warriors pull ahead by 17 points at one point in the second quarter. 

The Raptors found offense early by going at rookie center James Wiseman, who’s lack of vertical speed made it hard for him to stay in front of Pascal Siakam, who had his way getting past his man, seeing the defense collapse, and finding open teammates:

Give credit to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, though, who pulled Wiseman after just 17 minutes against the small-ball Raptors, who are capable of running slow big men off the floor. In fact, this game was a good representation of what makes Siakam so special: he is a walking mismatch. With the speed of a guard and the size and strength of a big man, teams that put traditional centers like Wiseman on him will need to reconsider quickly, especially if he has it going like he did against the Warriors (more on that later). 

Down 10 at the half, the Raptors never gave up. They could have thrown in the towel like they have done several times this season. Instead, they looked more like last season’s Raptors, keeping it close in the third quarter for Kyle Lowry to come out at the start of the fourth and do what Kyle Lowry does: everything. He immediately got to the free-throw line, got to the basket, and hit threes, helping the Raptors pull ahead by one late in the fourth. But in an uncharacteristic brainfart, Lowry fouled Damien Lee with seconds left in the game, sending him to the line for two free-throws that would ultimately be enough to give the Warriors the win. 

It’s not a good sign for a team that when their star wing player finally shows up to play after a tumultuous start of the season, virtually no one else does. That was the case on Sunday night, as Pascal Siakam put together a third great performance in a row, scoring 25 points of 9-19 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds (5 offensive) and 3 assists. He largely kept the Raptors in it by being aggressive on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he was active on the boards and in the driving lanes instead of settling for pull-up jumpers, and did a great job of finding his teammates with all the attention is focused on him. Defensively, Siakam is turning into a terrorizing help defender, especially when the Raptors play small and leave him closer to the basket where he can deter shots. 

Fred VanVleet and Chris Boucher also took care of business against the Warriors, but no one should be surprised about that, as they have been two of the two most consistent players to start the season. VanVleet did a great job staying in front of Curry without fouling, holding him to a historically bad shooting night where he went just 2-16 from the floor. On the offensive side of things, it appears that VanVleet is taking a legitimate step forward as a passer and at-rim finisher. He brilliantly maneuvered around screens to find open teammates spotting up and is finally being crafty at the rim where, although he got blocked four times against the Warriors, he was able to finish despite contact throughout the game:

Boucher got in foul trouble early, holding him back from playing much in the second quarter and only 24 minutes on the night, but he was efficient finding his opportunities, scoring 15 points on just 10 field goal attempts. Boucher also had a game-high 6 blocks, and it seemed like whenever the action was funnelled to the middle, Boucher was there to snuff it away. 

Aside from those three, though, no one had a particularly good game. The bench was outscored 36-23, and outside of Boucher, Toronto’s bench only scored 8 points. OG Anunoby has been disappointing to start the season.

Despite holding the Warriors centers mostly off the scoresheet, his help-defense was virtually nonexistent and he has not shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot at all this season. Powell continues making mistakes on both sides of the floor, and when he isn’t shooting the three at a high rate, he isn’t helping the team very much. The bench is a mismatch of rookies and defensive-minded wings who struggle to score every night.

And so as promising as the comeback performance was on Sunday night, the Raptors are still playing sloppy basketball. Nine games into the season, though, the time for excuses is over. Look around the league and the Raptors look less ready to play than most teams n any night. They are defensive-minded, but they can’t get any defensive momentum because of all the fouls they commit. They run in transition, but they often fail to run their lanes and mess up the spacing, leading to a reset and a forced half-court opportunity. Their transition defense against the Warriors was worrisome, as guys were just not matching up when they ran back. 

The Raptors have another opportunity to right the ship tonight against Damien Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. The strategy they employ will likely be similar to what we saw against the Warriors, but if they want their third win of the season, the execution will need to be a lot better.

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