Three — Messy: Kyle Lowry returned to the lineup after missing the past two games with a toe infection and was completely out of sync. Lowry made the decision to play later in the day after going through his workout, and his last-minute reinsertion was hardly helpful. Lowry is typically a steadying force, but he was borderline reckless with his decisions tonight. Everything was forced, he barrelled to the basket without much of a plan, pulled out a behind-the-back dribble that got stripped, and was just generally off. The most concerning part of Lowry’s night isn’t the 2-of-11 shooting, which does plague Lowry once per month, but he only recorded one assist. Lowry is typically so good at adapting his game when one part is off, but nothing worked out, and it disrupted the Raptors’ rhythm.
The Raptors are well-served to play with pace, but the pace cannot be a purpose unto itself. Is discipline the same thing as effort? Well, no. But it takes effort to be disciplined. Nurse cited a lack of intensity.
“I don’t know if it’s an effort thing in the sense that if you shoot a bad shot, you’re not trying,” VanVleet said. “I think it’s just more so like that’s the short-cut route, that’s the easy route. Like, swinging it and playing (for the) next action three, four, five times is harder to do, it takes a lot of energy, it takes a lot of focus and fortitude to do that. So, yeah, coming up and shooting a pull-up 3 might be easy. And if you make it, like I said, it’s a big shot and a big 3, but when you miss a few of those in a row, it just puts you on your heels and kind of takes the flow of the game.
“I don’t think we can survive three or four or five of those in a row. One, maybe, and then after that, it’s like, ‘All right, we’ve gotta get another good shot, especially with the way the game is going.’ It’s tough.”
The frustration of it all is that the Raptors played well enough, at least until the last six minutes of the game was ruined by foul calls, some justifiable and some less so, to get the win. Certainly, they played hard enough to win. As has so often happened in his two-plus years on the job, Nurse called for heavy use of zone defence, and it got the Raptors moving with more purpose on defence.
The quarter, easily the Raptors’ best of the night, ended when Yuta Watanabe fought for an offensive rebound after a missed Lowry shot, drawing a loose-ball foul, and a pair of free throws, with a tenth of a second remaining. That got the Raptors two free throws, which might have been the difference if they had closed out the game stronger.
To concentrate on the way the game ended, and the questionable officiating that resulted in 45 Pacers free throws and an ejection for Lowry, is to miss the point. Effort and focus might not be the same things, but without one, the other is pretty much useless.
The inflated free throw attempts late helped Brogdon complete a career high night of 36 points and nine assists, bouncing back in a huge way after his awful game yesterday. With Sabonis out early (despite his own bounce back, going 2-2 from three), Brogdon’s night was that much more important. He shot 10-17 from the floor and 3-5 from three point range, eight points coming in the paint.
In rare form, both Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott had off nights, finishing with seven points and 1-7 from three point range, which again, made the night the bench had that much more important. Bjorkgren said before the game he planned to extend the rotation. He did so by playing 11 guys, including 10 in extended minutes.
Lamb led the way with 22 points on 7-12 shooting, taking full advantage of the team’s ability to get to the line in the third, making all five of his free throw attempts. Aaron Holiday and Bitadze each had 10 points. Holiday had a steal and Bitadze had a pair of blocks. T.J. McConnell had two of each, scoring nine, including a three pointer for good measure. Cassius Stanley wrapped up Indiana’s block party with one of his own.
The Pacers won tonight despite allowing the Raptors to dominate the 50/50 possessions early in the game, bouncing back in their ability to score off turnovers, outscoring the Raptors 27-14 despite losing the turnover battle 15-12. They also won the rebounding battle 45-39 even though they allowed 13 offensive rebounds to the Raptors.
With the win, the Pacers keep alive a tiebreaker opportunity against Toronto, tying their series at 1-1 with one more game to be played in the second half of the season. They’ll do this two-game series over on Wednesday and Friday, when they face the Charlotte Hornets on the road.
This game had a bit of a school yard feel early, with the ball hitting the floor a few more times than usual. That said, the Raptors were the beneficiaries of some strange bounces on more than one occasion. In particular, VanVleet had back-to-back garbage man buckets, finding the ball in his hands with no one in front of him a couple times in a row. Nonetheless, the Raptors still entered halftime down 70-60, as a rare Paul Watson Jr. appearance to close the half turned out to be a failed chemistry experiment.
Fortunately Toronto’s defense tightened up in the second half, and the Raptors went on a 10-0 run to significantly close the gap. A flourish at the end of the frame, which included a Matt Thomas 4-point play and a couple Yuta Watanabe free throws, brought the Raptors within one point. They carried that momentum into the fourth, as Kyle Lowry put Toronto up 102-100 early in the quarter.
From there, however, it was a compounding of the same issues that have plagued the Raptors all season rearing their ugly head again. The squad was simply unable to muster any consistent offense as the game tightened up. From about 10 minutes left in the game, when Lowry put them up two, to one minute left, when the game was already put to bed, the Raptors scored nine (!) total points.
Toronto’s inability to penetrate and find a source of reliable offense was alarming. Aside from missed dunks by both Norman Powell and DeAndre Bembry, the Raptors offense consisted of desperate jacked up shots from deep. Almost half of their 21 shots in the fourth came from beyond the line, where they went 2-for-10. Overall, Toronto shot 29 percent in the quarter. Bleh.
They certainly missed OG Anunoby, who missed most of the fourth going through concussion protocol and getting his lip stitched up. But his absence alone is not enough to justify reducing the Raptors’ offense to chucking jumpers and hoping for the best.
Pascal Siakam, who sat out for a second straight game with a groin injury, hypothetically can alleviate some of these issues, as he is the most adept penetrator on the Raptors. That said, these issues have persisted with Siakam in the lineup too. Toronto needs a full overhaul of their offensive mentality in the fourth quarter. Until they change, this team will struggle against quality opponents, particularly those with strong defenses.
It wasn’t that the Raptors were making mistakes continually; it’s just that they got sped up at the wrong times, and for too long.
“I think we had too many in a row — pull-up three, pull-up three, pull-up three, pull-up three — and the game changed,” VanVleet said. “For stretches there, we just didn’t execute well enough to give our defence a chance, and we already weren’t playing that well defensively, so that certainly didn’t help our chances.”
The problems are correctable and don’t pop up every night, so there is no cause for long-term concern. But on evenings when Kyle Lowry is struggling (2-for-11 from the floor) and Pascal Siakam is watching (out with swelling in his left knee) and the bench is being outplayed, those errors are crippling.
“Our shot selection choices in the first half put us in a bind on defence,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I think we were surprising ourselves with some of those shots and early drives into nothing … and that hurt us in transition defensively.”
As expected with teams playing for the second consecutive day, there were adjustments both ways that created an entirely different set of circumstances from the day before.
Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon, who had only 12 points on 5-for-22 shooting Sunday, had 36 points for Indiana on Monday, while Jeremy Lamb finished with 22 points.
And Toronto’s OG Anunoby, who exploded for 30 points in Sunday’s win, got a couple of quick fouls that took him out of most of the first half, and missed a large portion of the fourth quarter getting stitches in a split lip. He finished with 10 points.
“We kicked their butts yesterday and they played like it tonight. I think they had the extra will and the extra burst, and Brogdon was great off the dribble tonight, and I think Myles Turner had a great night at the line,” VanVleet said.
As Nurse saw it, however, it was more of an issue of the Raptors’ offensive process — or lack thereof — that was the true culprit of the team’s issues.
“Our shot selection choices in the first half put us in a bind on defence,” said Nurse. “I think we were surprising ourselves with some of those shots and early drives into nothing and that hurt us in transition defensively.”
Added Norman Powell, who was responsible for some of those head-scratching early shots that Nurse was talking about: “We were taking quick shots early in the shot clock. Even turnovers, before we could even set up a play. Fueled their offence, they didn’t get back not expecting a shot. I took one or two of those in the first half. We’ve just got to do a better job of staying composed and running through our sets and getting good looks so we can set up our defence.”
The poor offence leading to even worse defence was only one-half of the story, however — literally.
In the second half Toronto played much better defensively, using an effective zone for many stretches. Or at least it would’ve been effective had it not been for what appeared to be the true source of Nurse and the Raptors’ frustration Monday evening: The whistle.
In total in the game, the Pacers took 45 free-throw attempts to just 27 the Raptors took, with the Pacers taking 17 alone in the fourth quarter.
It was a noticeably tight whistle for the Raptors Monday and it allowed Indiana to weather the loss of all-star forward Domantas Sabonis — who exited the game with a knee injury just before the end of the first quarter — thanks to a big night from Malcolm Brogdon — who scored a career-best 36 points — and Myles Turner.
Both Brogdon and Turner took 12 free-throw attempts each in the second half of Monday’s game and, essentially, all of the work the Raptors were doing was being erased by these two guys constantly stopping the game and earning points at the charity stripe.
By the end of the game, frustration with the officials spilled over and Lowry, who was largely ineffective in his return, scoring 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting, got ejected and Nurse was seen verbally lambasting the officials.
Clearly not helping their defence was some rather poor shot selection by the Raptors. For whatever reason at one juncture of the game in the second quarter the Raptors decided a series of early in the shot clock, pull-up three pointers would be a good idea. When the attempts didn’t fall the Pacers turned it back the other way and took full advantage of a Toronto defence which wasn’t close to being set.
Still there was the argument to be made that this result was at least in part a product of Sunday’s win by Toronto and Fred VanVleet made that point.
“We kicked their butts yesterday and they played like it tonight and I think they had the extra will, and the extra burst and Brogdon was great off the dribble tonight and I think Myles Turner had a great night at the line,” VanVleet summed up.
The Pacers only got about a quarter out of Domantas Sabonis, their other go-to scorer after Brogdon because he re-injured a troublesome left knee and had to leave the game.
The Pacers barely seemed to notice the absence after they got lifts from their bench in the former of point guard T.J. McConnell and shooting guard Jeremy Lamb.
Lamb provided the points with 22 in just 28 minutes while McConnell was the tempo turner doing a little bit of everything with nine points, nine assists, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks to push the Pacers over the top.
The Raptors came into this one in better shape than they were for the opener with Kyle Lowry back in the lineup after a two-game absence courtesy of an infected toe.
All of this has left Gonzalez Rogers perplexed.
“I urge you to try to get this thing resolved. It’s already at this point probably gone too far,” she said at the hearing. “But you’re all officers of the court and you’re counselors of law. And, you know, I don’t know what’s driving the lack of a settlement. But it is incumbent upon you to bring a measure of reality to your clients and to get this thing resolved.”
She later quizzed the young-looking Beyler, Strickland’s attorney, about his jury trial experience. “Mr. Beyler, how many jury trials have you tried, by the way?” He replied he had tried two. She asked the same question of Beyler’s co-counsel, Matthew Grigg, but not of the other counsel.
She also peppered Beyler with questions about his planned experts to testify at trial, which is currently scheduled for December.
“We’re going to have use of force experts. We would have event security experts. And the rest would be medical experts. So about three medical experts,” Beyler said. “Why do you need three?” Gonzalez Rogers asked.
“Different types of injuries incurred by Deputy Strickland,” Beyler replied. “What are the three,” the jurist queried.
“Neurologist, neuropsychologist, and a TMJ expert,” he said. “A what?” the judge asked. “TMJ,” he said. “Which means what?” the judge replied. “A neurosurgeon, a jaw surgeon,” he said. “What?” she responded. “A jaw surgeon.”
This Week: 16
Last Week: 19
2020-21 record: 7-9
Things didn’t look good for the Raptors when they started the season 1-6, but now they’ve won five of their past six games — including a great win at Indiana on Sunday without All-Stars Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam. Toronto is beginning to look like itself again. After cutting Alex Len, however, Toronto is still looking for another reliable center option beyond Chris Boucher. — Bontemps
This Week: 11
Last Week: 16
7-9, +1.8 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Mavs, Loss to Heat, Win over Heat, Win at Pacers
Any regrets with this squad? I didn’t think scoring would be this hard for them. The Toronto Raptors are currently 15th in the NBA in offensive rating. Considering they were 14th by the end of last season, that isn’t exactly a big drop. However, the Raptors have really had to work to get to league average recently. The Raptors are still middle of the road in the halfcourt, but they’ve seen a huge fall in their transition offense this season. They went from third to 23rd in transition efficiency. Nick Nurse’s team needs to find ways to turn misses and turnovers into easy points. Otherwise, they’re fighting simply too much on offense.
Why are they here? Another positive week for the Raptors, and it looks like they’re pretty fine. Won five of their last six.
This Week: 11
Last Week: 17
Here come the Raptors. After a dismal start to the season, Toronto has won five of its last six games, including a 3-1 week capped by an impressive victory in Indiana with Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam unavailable. Nick Nurse said he felt his team wasn’t playing that poorly during the rough beginning, and that’s starting to translate to the win column. OG Anunoby broke out for a season-high 30 points on Sunday to finish off a strong week in which he averaged 20.5 points on 64 percent 3-point shooting.
This Week: 16
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (19) OffRtg: 109.9 (15) DefRtg: 108.1 (7) NetRtg: +1.8 (11)
Things are going so well for the Raptors that Nick Nurse has trusted his starting center (Aron Baynes) to play more than 10 minutes in four straight games. The Raptors have won five of their last six, going 4-1 on a homestand and then getting just their second road win of the season by edging the Pacers without Kyle Lowry (who’s missed the last two games) and Pascal Siakam on Sunday. Expert poacher Fred VanVleet took the ball from Malcolm Brogdon and always-active Chris Boucher blocked what looked like a sure bucket for Domantas Sabonis to seal the victory.
OG Anunoby was already starting to bust out before he scored a season-high 30 points on Sunday. He’s seen a big jump in the percentage of his shots that have come from 3-point range (from 40.3% last season to 55.6%), and he’s 26-for-43 (60%) from beyond the arc over the last seven games. But he’s also had some really strong takes to the cup — against both big and small defenders — over this stretch, with the post-up against Sabonis shown below being a pretty good illustration of his strength. Anunoby is right there with VanVleet in regard to deflections and played a big role in keeping Luka Doncic in check in the Raptors’ win over Dallas on Monday.
Nonetheless! Countries and teams are preparing as if the games are a go. And that means USA Basketball is gearing up too, and VanVleet’s name is, deservedly, on their list. He’s currently leading the Raptors in minutes per game and in scoring at 19.2 ppg. Not bad for an undrafted, undersized guard from a small school!
VanVleet’s not the only Raptor on Team USA’s list, either: backcourt mate Kyle Lowry is reportedly also on the initial list.
Lowry’s been an Olympian before, winning a gold medal in 2016. Both players are exactly the type of no-nonsense, come-in-and-do-my-job guards that a typically star-studded team USA needs to help lead it to success.
The full list of 60 player names will reportedly be announced later this month. The Olympics are set to begin on July 23.
Mengke Bateer (7 games, 2003)
The 2003-04 season wasn’t pretty. Thirty-three wins. Kevin O’Neill’s lone season as head coach. Vince Carter’s final full season as a Raptor. It was also Mengke Bateer’s very brief one season run as a Raptor. Bateer was China’s starting centre in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, but only played 46 games total in his NBA career, and just seven games in Toronto. But he did leave one iconic memory here: his introductory press conference was at Pacific Mall and sounded like quite an event, even making the front page of the Toronto Star sports section.
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