You know when you pick up a baby and you are so excited to pick up this baby and maybe play with this baby a bit and make faces with this baby but then when you finally raise this baby high enough to get a good look at it you are overwhelmed by the fact that it smells like shit? Well, that’s what watching this game reminded me of.
The Toronto Raptors entered Tuesday night’s matchup against the Los Angelos Lakers with the opportunity to finally win on the second night of a back-to-back following Gary Trent Jr. buzzer-beater against the Washington Wizards on Monday. The excitement was tangible heading into the game, with the Raptors just one game behind the Chicago Bulls for the final spot in the play-in tournament. But the same problems that have plagued the Raptors on the second night of back-to-backs all season were present early and often, and the Raptors lost, ultimately dropping the Raptors to 1-10 on the second night of back-to-backs this season. Their last and only win in those matchups game on February 19th against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
By “the same problems,” I really mean two things: fatigue and defence.
The Raptors core players have not performed well on the second half of a back-to-back all season, especially when it comes to shooting. Tonight, after OG Anunoby was ejected for a beautifully executed flip, the pressure was on Pascal Siakam to carry the rest of the team. He shot 0-6 from three but got to the line 15 times and was a +5, an encouraging sign given that he is learning how to affect the game even when his shot is not falling. Still, when we talk about fatigue what we really mean is the core guys needing rest and the end-of-bench guys needing to step up, which they have not done all season. A combination of too many non-shooters and constant mistakes on the defensive end are too hard to overcome.
In fact, it was the defensive end of the floor where the Raptors really struggled. The Laker guards — Dennis Schroder and Alex Caruso, in particular — consistently got past their man into the teeth of the defence and kicked out to open shooters for good three-point looks, and the Lakers shot 18-40 (45.0 percent) from deep compared to just 5-33 (15.3 percent) for the Raptors.
Considering that the Raptors were switching most screens, it shouldn’t have been so easy for the Lakers to force the defence to collapse, yet the Raptors were over-helping and losing their man so often that it looked easy for the Lakers to create offence. Some of that comes back to the Raptors not having a rim protector (with the exception of Chris Boucher, who has been all over the place as of late), so when the Lakers got into the paint, the Raptors overcommitted to the ball handler instead of trusting their interior defence, leading to kick-outs for open threes, and the Lakers made them pay.
To be fair to the Raptors, they did show some fight late in the game, which is more than they could say about themselves on most back-to-backs this season. The combination of a condensed schedule and recovering from COVID has really, really hurt the Raptors this season.
Nurse is really positive and encouraging about his guys right now, which is good to see. Raptors didn't have the bodies, to my mind. Nick's "proud of the effort and the fight."
— Louis Zatzman (@LouisZatzman) April 7, 2021
While it might ultimately end up being too much to overcome — a case of too little, too late — the end of this game was at least encouraging, and the Raptors will look to build off of it in a crucial matchup against the 10th place Bulls on Thursday.