Morning Coffee – Fri, Nov 19

30 mins read
1
Cover Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Without OG Anunoby, the Raptors are facing a basic math problem from deep – The Athletic

Nurse knows he has to change the equation, especially in a league in which free throws are harder to come by. Either he employs a more conventional defensive style, which isn’t happening in the short term, or he finds a way to coax more 3s out of a roster that doesn’t have a lot of them.

“Well, we’ve gotta stick to what we do, and what we do is we try to protect the paint first and then get out and challenge hard,” Nurse said after the loss. “And I think … you’ve seen us when we’re in and we’re out quickly and we’re flying around a little bit is when we’re at our best. And we’re just not having enough of that. We’re not quite getting out to make them miss enough.

“We need (to be) another step closer. We need a little harder challenge. We just need to anticipate when it’s going out and be on the move a little sooner.”

So then, the shooters, or would-be shooters. Malachi Flynn played a season high with 22 minutes and clanked five of six. Mykhailiuk hit one of his four attempts, and Pascal Siakam missed all four of his. Outside of Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent, the Raptors hit just one 3-pointer before the game was all but over. The Raptors’ offence at least looked potent when those two shared the floor with Flynn, which is about as small as the Raptors are going to get.

Obviously, Anunoby is a big part of the Raptors’ spacing, but having so many reticent shooters on the roster — Barnes, Birch, Dalano Banton, Justin Champagnie and Precious Achiuwa when he’s healthy — puts a ton of pressure on the guys who can shoot it, even a little bit. That’s a roster-construction decision. The Raptors believe they can turn non-shooting prospects into passable ones, and passable ones into good marksmen.

Perhaps that is true. They’ve shown it to be true in the past. In the interim, there are gonna be a lot of nights like Thursday.

Short-handed Raptors can’t keep up with talented Jazz – Sportsnet

The Raptors got some inspired performances. Gary Trent Jr. was never contained as he put up a season-high 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting and Fred VanVleet grinded his way to 24 points. Khem Birch had a season-high 14 points — all in the first half — while Malachi Flynn was decent in his season-high 22 minutes.

Absent was Pascal Siakam, who never seemed right as he struggled to find his way in the paint with Gobert looming and couldn’t got on track on the perimeter either. He finished 2-of-14 from the floor, didn’t grab a rebound until his 29th minute and had his five assists off-set by four turnovers.

It was his worst outing in five games since he returned from off-season shoulder surgery. The Raptors will need more from him if they are going to make up for Anunoby’s team-leading 21 points a game.

Anunoby’s three-point ranged was sorely missed. As a team, the Raptors shot just 10-of-28 from three. VanVleet shot 3-of-8 and Trent Jr. shot 5-of-11, but the rest of the Raptors went just 1-of-10.

The did manage to a 14-10 edge in offensive rebounding and a 24-14 advantage in turnovers, but couldn’t do enough with all the extra possessions they generated.

“They got a lot of buckets at the rim tonight,” said Nurse. “Obviously that was tough to handle. And they also just shot it really well from three. That’s a good shooting team, a really tough team to defend. But we just didn’t cover up enough at the rim or at least wrap them up and make them shoot free throws or things like that … we [didn’t execute some] coverages and they made us pay for them.”

It’s no exaggeration to suggest the Raptors were in a tough situation before the ball even went up. The Jazz are on the short list of NBA title contenders as they came into the game with the NBA’s top-ranked offence, 10th-ranked defence and second-best net rating.

In Gobert, they have one of the league’s best rim threats — at both ends — and they surround him with multiple three-point threats and wings that can attack the paint. They might not have the best individual talent, but they could well be the most balanced roster in in the league.

Rudy Gay dazzles in debut for the Utah Jazz against the Toronto Raptors – SLC Dunk

The defensive presence is already apparent. There was a real difference on the floor when Gay was on the defensive end. He rebounds and uses his length and size to close lanes and defend on the perimeter. Now, he’s not likely going to shoot 5/6 from 3 every night, but this type of impact on both ends of the floor is going to power the Jazz to a lot of wins. And they needed it. The Jazz had looked lifeless for a week or two and this might be the thing that wakes them up.

It is worth noting that without Rudy Gay this one might have gone sideways. It was a close game through three quarters and Donovan Mitchell, who has been having a career year, really struggled. Mitchell had 1 assist to 6 turnovers which is probably his worst night of the year. Toronto deserves some credit here. They’re a stingy defense and get a ton of deflections and time after time Mitchell tried to split their switches. But the length of the Raptors created a bunch of turnovers. With this being the first time they’ve played, it’s likely Mitchell will adjust for the next matchup like he always does. But it’s something to watch.

Joe Ingles finally had a big night for the Jazz. After an uncomfortable confrontation with Mitchell on a turnover, he turned it on and rolled off probably his best sequence of the season. Maybe he just needed Donovan Mitchell to get angry at him to make it happen?

Getting Joe Ingles back to impacting games would be huge for the Jazz. When Ingles is good, the Jazz win a lot of games. That’s the type of analytics that checks out in any math class, even that time I had to retake Geometry. For the night Ingles shot 4/8 from the field and 2/6 from three but it was his 8 assists that carved up the Raptors.

Finally, credit needs to be given to the Jazz’s third leading scorer, Royce O’Neale, who went 6/8 from the field and 4/6 from three. O’Neale has been fantastic this year playing at an all-defense level. Combine that with his confidence on the offensive end as well as in transition and the Jazz have a guy who’s made a serious jump. If the Jazz can get another perimeter defender at the trade deadline to play alongside O’Neale, they’re going to be really good defensively, maybe even title contenders. With Rudy Gay in this lineup, it definitely makes that seem more possible.

Raptors Game Recap: Raptors lose the plot in second half, fall to Jazz 119-103 – Raptors HQ

The second half brought with it a defensive shift that, in theory, was quite smart. Instead of trapping Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley 30 feet away from the hoop and daring the Jazz to pick them apart, the Raptors moved to a more relaxed scheme, working in switching and light hedging. Process wise, it was the move to make. Results wise, it didn’t quite hold up. Siakam’s still struggling with his lateral quicks since coming back, while Scottie Barnes has been an easy blow-by target for speedy guards all season. Without Anunoby, Toronto was forced to switch without its best switcher.

Utah’s push didn’t come in some Warriors-like wave, more so a steady stream of well-earned buckets from their half court machine, offset by a Raptors offense that came crashing back to earth. Once Toronto lost touch, it became clear pretty quickly they were not reeling it back in. On a better Siakam night, maybe they’d have had a shot.

It was certainly discouraging to see Siakam’s strong run of play come to a halt on Thursday, especially since the Jazz have been his lunch in recent seasons. Quin Snyder’s squad very clearly keyed in on Siakam from the jump, throwing loads of extra attention his way to prevent against another 30-piece from Toronto’s top option against the wing tandem of Royce O’Neale and Bojan Bogdanovic, which he has cooked with ease the last five or six times Toronto and the Jazz have squared off. Siakam was able to leverage that attention into good looks for others — he had four first half assists including a beauty to Scottie Barnes underneath to close out the first half. But any foray to the rim was met with two or three waiting sets of limbs. He finished with just four points, three boards and five assists on 2-of-14 shooting on a night where they could not afford such a stat line from their best player.

If you’re looking for saving graces from this game, it mostly begins and ends with Gary Trent Jr. With 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting, Trent at least kept things watchable until he subbed out for garbage time, and his overall polish on offense is a real bright spot in the early going. He may never have the explosiveness to become a true three-level scorer, but the counters he’s worked in to punish defenders that run him off the line or are prepped for his mid-range game are varied and effective as hell. Without Anunoby, he’s the most obvious choice to absorb a good chunk of those vacated field goal attempts. I say: bombs away, Gary.

This was a game to forget, and though Siakam’s clunker makes it feel like an ominous L, the reality is that the Jazz are a very good team, with an offense good enough to be ranked tops in the league coming in despite being ice cold from downtown for weeks. Anunoby or not, you probably weren’t banking on this win anyway.

That said, with OG out, the team’s defensive slide could be at risk of getting even more out of control, and the offense is down one very important creator. At some point, Toronto will need to find a way to look passable enough on both ends to pick up wins without their budding star. If not, this six loss/seven game stretch could get even uglier, and quick.

Raptors Show Major Defensive Issues in Blowout Loss to Jazz – Sports Illustrated

The Raptors’ hyper-aggressive defense burned them early. They trapped every pick-and-roll in the first quarter, letting Utah pick them apart either finding easy buckets and the rim or making kick-out passes to open shooters. The Jazz recorded assists on 12 of their 13 first-quarter buckets for 32 points.

Yikes.

“We just didn’t cover up enough at the rim or at least wrap them up and make them shoot free throws or things like that,”  Nurse said. “But I think guys we’re trying to execute the stuff and we’re just missed coverages and they made us pay for them.”

Yet somehow Toronto hung around in the first half. Khem Birch filled Anunoby’s void in the starting lineup and did the one thing he said he hates doing: scoring. The 29-year-old center showed the kind of chemistry with Fred VanVleet that should make him a permanent starter the rest of the season. He worked smoothly worked a two-man game with VanVleet, letting the guard slither around the defense before finding Birch for easy floaters. When Birch slowed down in the second half, VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. took over, leading the way with 24 and 31 points, respectively. It was Trent’s second-best offensive night as a Raptor.

The problem for the Raptors was the offense couldn’t keep up all night and when it slowed after a 61-point first half, the defense couldn’t pick up the slack. Despite forcing 22 turnovers — kudos to the Raptors’ defense for that — the Jazz just kept moving the ball, finding open shooters, and taking advantage of the chaos Toronto was trying to cause.

“Well we’ve gotta stick to what we do and what we do is we try to protect the paint first and then get out and challenge hard,” Nurse said. “When we’re in [protecting the paint] and we’re out quickly [contesting three-point shots] and we’re flying around a little bit is when we’re at our best and we’re just not having enough of that, we’re not quite getting out to make them miss enough.”

A 31-17 third quarter in favor of Utah just about wrapped up the night.

Anunoby the latest banged up Raptor as team’s injury woes continue | Toronto Sun

No team stays healthy all season, but the Raptors have not had an easy time of it by any means and it helps to explain some recent stumbles.

Nurse is looking for more sound defensive work from whichever Raptors he can put on the floor.

“We’ve got to do a better job of containing in general,” Nurse said after the Raptors opened this six-game trip with a loss in Portland.

The Raptors might do a good job initially on defence, but breakdowns are occurring when help is needed. Pick-and-roll defence has been an issue. Getting burned by back cuts another. Birch mentioned the slippage in terms of team defence. Misreads have been a problem.

Nurse mentioned that even the best defenders (which Siakam, Anunoby and Barnes have the potential to be) need help against elite attackers like recent opponents Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and James Harden.

“Even the best ones have a hard time guarding those guys one on one.

Usually there is a team aspect to it of how much help you’re providing in your ability to pinch down a little and then if they do fire it back out, your ability to get back out and make the next play difficult as well,” Nurse said.

“Energy, effort, mindset, desire, willingness; all that stuff comes before really schemes or anything for this team. We just need to get a little bit more consistent on doing it nightly,” Nurse said.

It’s worth noting that the success recent Raptors teams have had defending the three-point shot isn’t replicating itself so far this season. Opponents are shooting 36.2% from three-point range. Only five teams are allowing a higher percentage. Two years ago, opponents shot just 33.7% from three against the Raptors, the lowest mark in the NBA. Three years ago the number was 34.5%, which was eighth-best.

Birch remains confident that things will turn around.

“I still feel like we’ve got a lot of room to grow and we’ve got a lot of young guys who are still developing,” he said.

“I just feel like we’ve gotta be patient and I think it’s gonna come soon.”

Losses and injuries are piling up for the Raptors. They could have used Yuta Watanabe in Utah | The Star

“Pascal (Siakam) has got to kind of fill in there for OG, a little bit more like he’s probably used to,” Nurse said Thursday morning. “ And Khem (Birch) and Chris (Boucher have) got to bring it. They’re going to have to bring a good 25 minutes each, 30 maybe … And other guys got to bring it, too.”

Birch certainly gave the Raptors a bit extra, scoring a season-high 14 points after replacing Anunoby in the starting lineup. But Siakam and Boucher were non-factors as Toronto fell to 7-9 on the season heading into a game Friday night in Sacramento.

Siakam had just four points with four turnovers and only one rebound in 31 minutes, Boucher provided no spark of energy and Toronto’s makeshift backup group of Malachi Flynn, Dalano Banton, Boucher and Svi Mykhailiuk were wildly outplayed by Utah’s subs.

Watanabe might be been able to provide a spark and pick up some of the slack. He’s an active energy boost off the bench, which the team sorely needs, and was looking more confident than ever at the Olympics and in summer workouts.

“It looked like he had made a significant jump up, just in his confidence level, just to take the shots — and obviously increased the making part of it, too,” Nurse said.

“I think those two things work hand in hand. When you come off believing you should take them and you feel free to take them, I think that certainly raises your confidence. And he does all the other stuff. He moves and runs and cuts and gets those layups here and there off the cutting. That’s a great part of the offence that we miss.”

Anunoby injury latest frustration for short-handed Raptors | Toronto Sun

It wasn’t to be. Siakam’s fifth game back from off-season shoulder surgery was easily his worst. His shot wouldn’t fall, but worse, he lacked his usual energy in the 119-103 win by the Utah Jazz.

Siakam shot 2-for-14 and had as many turnovers (four as points) in a game he’d be best to flush down the toilet.

With Scottie Barnes quiet as well and the bench mostly invisible there wasn’t enough offence to go around, though Fred VanVleet (24 points), Gary Trent (a season-best 31) and Khem Birch (14) had it going. Even more troubling for a team that wants to build an identity as a defensive juggernaut was the complete lack of defence played in both the first and third quarters.

The Jazz racked up 32 points on 65% shooting in the opening quarter and Utah shot 67% in the third, though mercifully only four of the 12 buckets scored in the third came from three-point range, allowing the Raptors to trail by only 12. Toronto missed 11-of-12 three-point attempts in the third after finishing the first half on fire with three straight VanVleet triples.

The Raptors had actually led 63-61 at the break before things fell apart.

“They got a lot of buckets at the rim tonight,” head coach Nick Nurse said afterward.

“Obviously that was tough to handle. And they also just shot it really well from three. That’s a good shooting team, a really tough team to defend. But we just didn’t cover up enough at the rim or at least wrap them up and make them shoot free throws or things like that.”

The Jazz entered the game boasting the NBA’s most efficient offence and true to form, managed 34 assists, nailed 19 threes (compared to 10 on 26% shooting by the Raptors), got an expected 20 points from star Donovan Mitchell and an unexpected 20 from Rudy Gay, the former Raptor who was making his Jazz debut. Gay nailed five three-pointers in 18 minutes, missing only a single shot. Jazz all-star centre Rudy Gobert hit all seven of his shot attempts for 14 points and added 11 rebounds.

Fred VanVleet steps out from Kyle Lowry’s shadow to be heartbeat of the Raptors | The Star

“I’m not always right, but my heart’s in the right place and I can usually live with myself knowing that I try to respect the guys as men first. We’re all equal in the locker room. We all say: We want to win, and any conversation after that we’ll figure it out.”

The cachet that VanVleet holds is significant and allows him to lead as he sees fit. He may not have the athleticism or explosiveness that many of his teammates have, but he’s a big shot taker and a big shot maker. He’s also the toughest defender and plays hard every night. As the point guard and one of the team’s best shooters, he deftly moves between facilitator and scorer as game circumstances dictate.

He’s earned the right to tell teammates what they need to do.

“I have emotions, and there’s times when I have to do it with my voice, there’s times I have to do it with my play, there’s times I need to do it with my body language,” he said.

For the first five years of his career, VanVleet watched as Kyle Lowry cast a long shadow over everything the Raptors did. Lowry’s presence was daunting and all encompassing. Lowry had no issues with making his feelings known on everything from travel arrangements to practice scheduling to the day-to-day operation of the franchise.

VanVleet doesn’t go that far but he does speak more often than Lowry and has for years.

“I think I barked more than him … but he led a lot around the organization in just other things outside of the game and his presence spoke for itself,” VanVleet said.

“I’m not interested in that. I definitely (act on a) special advisory council; I give counsel. Me and the coaches have a good rapport in terms of certain things. I can give my input when I need to.”

Like he was born to it.