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Raptors Drop Second Straight Game 116-112 to Timberwolves

On Valentine’s Day, against the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves, the Raptors dropped their second straight game 116-112, falling to 12-15 on the season.

Valentine’s Day for some is a celebration of love between significant others. Flowers, chocolates, and other expressions of endearment epitomize the holiday. For those not struck with Cupid’s arrow, the yearly February celebration is a reminder that love isn’t perfect, that relationships are roller-coasters, and that finding the ‘one’ is a tale made for Hollywood but not real life. The remembrance of past relationships begets feelings of “what could’ve been?”, particularly when dwelling on those innocent, romantic moments. If one holds out hope for love, it could bring disappointment, making Valentine’s Day a messy endeavour.


The Toronto Raptors captured many hearts across Canada over the last five years. Whether it was memorable personalities like DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry, unforgettable plays such as Kawhi Leonard’s Shot in Game 7, or becoming the first franchise north of the border to win an NBA Championship, the Raptors made loving them easy. Over the last five years, the Raptors produced a euphoria amongst supporters like an extended honeymoon phase of a relationship. Even in moments of uncertainty, where the Raptors were down in games or taking on opponents with star players, they never gave up. They were faithful in their quest to win, regardless of adversity. 


On Valentine’s Day, against the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves, the Raptors dropped their second straight game 116-112, falling to 12-15 on the season. In the dying seconds of the fourth quarter, the Raptors had a chance to tie the game down by two. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse decided to run a play with Lowry inbounding to Pascal Siakam, giving him another opportunity to make a late-game basket. 


The play unfolded exactly how Nurse envisioned, with Siakam getting his matchup as he took the ball to the basket.


With a chance to finish the layup, the ball stayed on the rim and fell out.


It wasn’t meant to be, as Siakam and the Raptors endure another heartbreaking loss. 


“It really sucks,” Lowry said after the game. “We are three games under .500 and we could be six games over .500.” 



It’s easy to focus on Siakam when dissecting this game. Despite the disappointing team performance throughout, the Raptors had a chance to force overtime or win the game outright. Siakam, in his process to become the number one scoring option, is getting more opportunities to get the ball in these ‘game-on-the-line’ situations. 


Siakam’s had three already this season, with all of the shots going in and out of the hoop. It shouldn’t be a referendum on his performance or development as a player. In the 2019 NBA Finals, Siakam made the series-clinching shot against the Golden State Warriors in Game 6.


As Nurse said after the game, the final look for Siakam was “exactly” what he wanted. It just didn’t fall.


“It happens,” Lowry said. “You learn from it. You grow. We support P. One miss. It’s a loss. We’ve just got to keep scrapping and crawling to get back to where we want to get.”


Instead of dwelling on Siakam’s ability to be clutch, there’s a greater concern for the Raptors not winning a game against a team with the NBA’s worst record. The most obvious issue is the Raptors’ defense, allowing the Timberwolves to shoot 52.4 percent from the field. Coming into Sunday’s game, the Timberwolves ranked 25th in points per game (107.9), 27th in offensive rating (106.0), and 28th in field goal percentage (43.9). 



One of the recurring themes of this Raptors team is the spurts of solid defense cannot be sustained for a full 48 minutes. In the fourth quarter, Raptors center Aron Baynes locked in on Timberwolves forward Juancho Hernangomez. As a result, he read the Jordan McLaughlin pass perfectly, forcing the steal, which led to DeAndre’ Bembry drawing a foul in transition.



Not a few moments later, the Timberwolves guards moved into the paint with ease, kicking it out to the corner for a clean three-point shot. The Raptors defenders need to do a better job exerting pressure in the paint, not giving the Timberwolves guards a wide-open passing lane to get to the corner player. 



The Minnesota Timberwolves recorded 16 threes, shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. For the season, the Raptors gave up an average of 37.8 percent from three to their opponents. 



The Timberwolves players were able to set screens against the Raptors primary defenders, leaving the corner open for clean looks from three. Below, Karl Anthony-Towns starts off the possession on Baynes, before switching to set a screen on Lowry. Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley is wide open on the weakside. As a result of the Towns off-ball screen on Lowry, Baynes is too slow to close out Beasley, who converts on the corner three. 



It wasn’t just the execution on defense that hurt the Raptors on Sunday. Some of the defensive matchups put the Raptors in an inopportune position, giving the Timberwolves improved chances to score on offense.



One of these was Baynes on Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio late in the fourth quarter. If this matchup occurs, given the mismatch in size and speed, Baynes needs to switch so that one of the Raptor guards is on Rubio. Instead, Baynes stays on Rubio, leading to an unsuccessful closeout that has Baynes jumping too far, Rubio pump faking, before converting the three. 



Another instance occurred with a minute left in the game. Down four, Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet started the possession defending Towns. This is a clear size mismatch and because of this, Towns moves freely in the paint, accepts a pass from Jarred Vanderbilt, before drawing a foul. 




These are the defensive mistakes that hurt the Raptors in games they must win against inferior competition. But it speaks to a larger trend with this Raptors team, one that’s grown apparent this season.


It’s a lethargy that permeates the group, where the high energy, intense moments aren’t sustained for four quarters. Against the Timberwolves, it was Lowry who brought the Raptors back in the game, thanks to his ferocity to get to the basket. 


His hustle forced a steal with 45 seconds left, resulting in a Bembry “and one” that gave the Raptors a chance to win.


But the spark needs to be consistent, not intermittent. The Raptors have to regroup before tackling a tough part of their schedule, with back-to-back games against the Milwaukee Bucks upcoming. 


Even on Valentine’s Day, the Raptors couldn’t get the “happily ever after” ending. 


“Really frustrated, brother. I don’t have much more of an answer for you than that,” VanVleet said on the game. “I’m trying to answer your question the best I can, but just to answer it directly: pretty frustrated knowing that we can do it. So here we are. Here we are again.”