Say what you will about the Toronto Raptors’ 125-132 loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, but you can’t say they didn’t put forth a respectable effort. You can’t say they didn’t fight. But you can say they lacked focus and trust.
The Raptors jumped ahead to a 34-31 lead after the first quarter but locking in on both ends. They were forcing turnover defensively and getting to rebounds while they moved the ball well on offence, passing up okay shots for great ones. Unfortunately, even though the Raptors’ sustained their offensive effort throughout, their defensive focus waned as the game went along.
Missed assignments led to the Celtics out-rebounding the Raptors 39-28, and while some of the blame falls on Baynes and Boucher, it’s more about communication and positioning than size when it comes to rebounding as a team. In fact, the Raptors’ small-ball lineup of Lowry, VanVleet, Powell, Anunoby, and Siakam gives up just 16.3 percent of offensive rebounds, 93rd percentile in the league.
Instead, it’s a lack of communication and focus that leads to opponent rebounds, such as when Payton Pritchard cuts in from the perimeter to scoop up a rebound under the basket from Baynes, that’s also on Pritchard’s man for not getting in front of him or at least calling it out.
No matter how many beautiful assists Lowry dished out (19!!!) — or how many threes Chris Boucher swished — the Raptors gave it all up on the defensive end, and fouls were a big part of the reason why. The Celtics got to the free-throw line 40 times on the night. The Raptors? 17.
What stood out was a lack of trust between the Raptors’ players. Instead of trusting the backline defence or the help if their man got by them, the Raptors were getting called for reach-ins and blocks — and they were going for homerun steals — because they didn’t trust the defensive system behind them. There is a mental toll inflicted when Jason Tatum hits contested shot after contested shot, but instead of staying true to the system, the Raptors started fouling at the point of attack to try to get steals and run in transition. But you can’t run away from playing defence, no matter how hard you try. Those fouls and offensive rebounds were what didn’t allow them to get any momentum in the second half.
Going forward, the Raptors better hope they get a more consistent effort out of their end-of-rotation pieces such as Terence Davis II, Stanley Johnson, and Aron Baynes. Because as injuries potentially pile up and COVID-protocol forces guys out — as well as four sets of back-to-backs slated in the second half of the season — the Raptors are going to need their bench to step up. Right now, their ability to do so on a consistent basis (outside of Boucher) is a big question.
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