First things first – Louis Zatzman has you covered with the quick reaction from Saturday’s slugfest and Samson Folk hits you with the facts on the reaction podcast.
Oren Weisfeld and I discussed everything from Saturday’s game on the Rap Up.
That hot first half was a sight for sore eyes. The Toronto Raptors shot 50 per cent from the field, 40 per cent from three and turned the ball over just twice compared with 15 assists. But this is a tale we’re all too familiar with. Three quarters of solid, cohesive basketball, and then in the fourth quarter things started to unravel. The defense was there, including an imperative block by OG Anunoby on Bojan Bogdanovic with less than two minutes left. But the Raptors fourth quarter woes continued to derail their hopes of play-in eligibility. The Utah Jazz without Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell overcame the Raptors.
I know that nobody’s happy about the possibility of a middle-of-the-pack lottery pick but the reality is that there are still eight games left and a lot can happen. You may point to how this is ruining the Raptors chances at selecting a quality, young player in the draft. But, you’d be underestimating the integrity of this team. The odds are stacked against the Raptors and they have been ever since the season started.
Anyway, this was actually a really good game. It didn’t end the way Toronto wanted it to, but nonetheless, it was never a blowout and things only got messy near the end. Speaking of messy, the Raptors forced Utah into committing 20 turnovers and only committed 10 of their own. Khem Birch had a career-high in his 11th game as a Raptor with six assists, to accompany 17 points and 11 rebounds. Fred VanVleet also provided some much needed offense with 30 points, six rebounds, and seven assists. Malachi Flynn contributed 10 points, five boards, and six helpers, while also playing tough defense. OG Anunoby, while not as efficient as we’re accustomed to seeing, put together 17 points, five rebounds, and four dimes. By the way, all starters played over 35 minutes.
I had a boss who would talk to me about my strengths and my opportunities. So, let’s discuss the Raptors opportunities, at least as they pertain to this game. Pascal Siakam is going through another rough stretch… but it is ‘just’ another rough stretch? Watching him play, it’s becoming evident that teams are starting to figure him out and his go-to spin move, which isn’t as lethal as it’s been in past years.
Combine this with the fact that he’s shot 14 for 55 over the past 3 games and it’s clear that his shooting needs to improve. I feel as though Nick Nurse and co. aren’t completely ready to throw in the towel because how else could you justify gassing your starters for the last eight games unless the goal was to make the Playoffs.
Searching for the Offense
Ultimately, the inability to set the offense in the fourth quarter is what cost Toronto this game. Everything was set up for the Raps to take advantage of Utah. Conley and Mitchell were out, but Utah still managed to knock down 41 per cent of their treys, which is a testament to the poor perimeter D Toronto played, but also a nod to Utah’s bench being able to step up and fill in when needed. Speaking of the bench, the Jazz outscored the Raptors 32-13. Jordan Clarkson himself had 15, so Toronto lacked that sparkplug to keep the scoring going when the starters sat. Throw it all together, and Toronto missed the opportunity to get some momentum going.
Now with all this taken into consideration, I’m already focused on next season. I’m not contradicting myself by saying there’s still time left to right the ship. I’m okay with whatever happens from here on out though. This has been a miserable season for sports, and when you consider that the Raptors haven’t played a single home game, were disrupted by injuries, affected by COVID, and unable to piece together a meaningful run this year as a result, all you can think about is the silver linings the team has provided.
If they make the play-in, they can build on that. If they don’t, this summer will unquestionably be dedicated to skill development and ensuring the 2021-22 campaign isn’t just a farce.