Morning Coffee – Thu, Nov 25

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Cover Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Scottie Barnes’ and the young Raptors’ progress can be measured in the subtle moments – The Athletic

Raptors coach Nick Nurse called on Barnes again. Inside of five minutes, Morant drove on Barnes, once more to his left. This time, Barnes was slightly more physical, not allowing Morant to square up and get the bigger defender back on his heels. Morant got off a similar shot, but his balance was not there. The shot went long.

The Raptors went the other way and scored, and suddenly they were leading by six.

“It was certainly more of a move for Freddy with that long to go with five (minutes),” Nurse said. “With Ja, you’re gonna have to play him just about every time down in some type of action. (I) just asked Scottie to use his size, to really try to keep him in front and give him a little cushion, but if he turned on the jets try to beat him and make him round out his drives a little. And if he did stop and pull up, try to use his size to make a late contest.”

For all the excellent things that happened in this Raptors win — Precious Achiuwa nearly matching his season total in 3s in his 17-point third quarter, Gary Trent Jr. going nuclear in the fourth, Barnes throwing a slick pass to Achiuwa on the move — it is these little things that matter most because it is the little things that end up being crucial late in games that are much bigger than this one.

To make those small plays, you must be locked in mentally. So often on this road trip, the Raptors generally, and Barnes specifically, have looked exhausted. With that, the defence has fallen apart, because playing a hyper-aggressive defence well against excellent offensive teams requires making the correct decision several times in each 24-second window. It’s rapid-fire processing. Against Memphis, Barnes had 17 points and nine rebounds. His performance was so much more impactful, so much more complete, than that.

“Just to bring it every night,” VanVleet said of his advice to Barnes throughout the season so far. “‘I think you should chase greatness and you shouldn’t fall into the trap and the lulls of what it means to be a rookie.’ With his size and his skill set, if he just plays hard he’ll be OK. I think he had a couple nights where he just didn’t quite have it. That’s OK. We’ve all been there. As a rookie, we’re certainly asking him to do a lot. We need him to produce in order for us to be good. He turned it around tonight, so that was good to see. The effort and the intensity and the attention to detail, those things have got to be non-negotiable.”

It is the same thing with Achiuwa. Yeah, the made 3s were cool, but helping the Raptors right their problems collecting their own rebounds was the priority.

“I think he played a really simple game,” VanVleet said. “All the things we saw tonight are (what the Raptors are asking of him): He shot catch-and-shoot 3s, put the ball on the floor in transition, he set screens and he rolled. Just his presence, with that frame and that athleticism, he can be a problem. There are flashes. We’ve seen it. We all support him in that. I think a lot of the game, especially in the NBA, is mental. I know it’s nice to see a couple shots go through the rim because he’s definitely had his struggles at times. We know how good he can be.”

After looking lost, Raptors find their old defensive identity just in time – Sportsnet

From easy backdoor cuts to just outright incredible attacks of the rim from Grizzlies star Ja Morant (who finished the game with 23 points, nine assists and a nasty dunk on Toronto’s Chris Boucher) the Raptors offered very little in the way of resistance to Memphis’ concerted attack of the paint.

Thankfully for Toronto, however, the Grizzlies are probably the worst defensive team in the league and, in the third quarter, Memphis began to show its real stripes. Toronto was getting essentially anything it wanted at-will, opening the period on a 17-5 run and finishing the frame trailing just 92-91.

In the quarter, Precious Achiuwa scored all 17 of his points and played more freely than in his previous games so far with the Raptors.

“He just got on a tear like we haven’t really seen,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse.

Come the fourth quarter, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet picked up where Achiuwa left off. Trent scored 17 of his game-high 26 points in the period, including a triple with 5:44 left in the frame that sparked a 13-2 run. During that stretch, VanVleet scored a driving layup, dropped a dime to Pascal Siakam – who was alright himself with 17 points and seven assists – and drilled a dagger three to put the game out of reach.

“He really got in a rhythm there. He kinda, no big secret, we were running the same play over and over and he found about every way to get him,” said Nurse of VanVleet’s run. “He was really orchestrating there.”

But as strong as Achiuwa and Trent were in those third and fourth quarters, respectively, it wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for some rock-solid defence played by the Raptors, who looked like their old selves from earlier in the season, holding the Grizzlies to just 41 per cent shooting from the floor, highlighted by an incredible block by Yuta Watanabe (who made his season debut after missing all of the regular season beforehand with a left calf strain) on Canadian Dillon Brooks in the fourth quarter.

“We just played hard, played like we cared. We’re a young team. Sometimes it’s hard to stress the urgency and what it takes to win in this league every night,” said VanVleet, who had 23 points, six rebounds and seven assists Wednesday evening. “You can’t go out there and go through the motions or you’re gonna have a team put 71 on you in the first half and then you’ll be fighting uphill. Luckily, we were able to turn it around, but it’s not really the way we want to live going forward.”

Added Nurse: “I think it’s just overall energy that translates from one end to the other. There was plenty of screws to be turned after that first-half defence. … I always talk about this, when your defensive execution [is good] and you start doing the schemes, and you start playing help defence, it always turns into playing better execution and helps offence, if that makes any sense.”

There’s a good chance that the Raptors wouldn’t have given themselves a chance to tighten things up in that second half had it not been for some second-quarter heroics from rookie phenom Scottie Barnes, who shook off a couple ineffective games with a 17-point, nine-rebound outburst that saw him go off for 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the second quarter alone.

Like the return of the Raptors’ defence, seeing Barnes return to form was a welcome sight.

Quick Recap: Grizzlies drop lead, fall to Raptors – Grizzly Bear Blues

The Grizzlies got off to a better start than they have been recently, as the game was a little more back and forth to start. Jackson started out aggressive inside early, including a thunderous slam to kick off the game. The Grizzlies rattled off a strong run in the middle of the 1st quarter, punctunated with a Ja Morant slam (with a business decision from Chris Boucher) and big buckets from Desmond Bane. The Raptors ended the quarter with a half-court buzzer-beater from Scottie Barnes to cut the Grizzlies lead to 32-25.

The Grizzlies opened the quarter with great inside play from Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson. It’s so good to see those two balling out after the seasons they had last year. There was even a post-up from Jackson on Siakam that about sent me to heaven. The Raptors cut the lead to 4 mid-way through the 2nd quarter, thanks to their defensive pressure causing turnovers.

The Raptors started out the quarter with a quick 7-0 run, and Toronto further outperformed them to tie the game. There was a little fun sequence of two possessions where Ja Morant iso’d Scottie Barnes and scored both times — with Morant pointing over to Barnes after 1 of those buckets. The quarter remained very even, as the Grizzlies entered the 4th quarter with a 92-91 lead.

While Precious Achiuwa was the role player killing the Grizzlies in the 3rd quarter, it was Gary Trent that demolished the Grizzlies in the 4th quarter. The Raptors went hot, and the Grizzlies went cold. The Raptors built a lead up to 11 with 3:30 left in the 4th quarter.

Recap: Toronto Raptors storm back to beat Memphis Grizzlies, 126-113 – Raptors HQ

There were more flashly players for the Raptors tonight, and they’ll get their kudos in fair time, but I have to give it up first to Yuta Watanabe.

Returning from injury for his first regular season game this season, Watanabe came off the bench — mostly in Pascal Siakam’s minutes — and instantly provided the team what he needs to. When paired on the floor with Scottie Barnes in the second and third quarters, the Raptors had an entirely different energy on the defensive end. Those two kept the team afloat in the first half, spurring a 6-0 run in the middle of the second and grabbing five of the team’s 11 rebounds before the break.

Watanabe would finish with just three points, and that normally doesn’t deserve a paragraph so high up in a recap, but any onlooker could see what he injected into this Toronto team. When Anunoby eventually returns, that trio is going to be fearsome for opponents.

Of course, the Raptors actually had to do some scoring to win the game, and much was supplied by the backcourt pairing of Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr.

Starting with the former, it feels like every Raptors win this season has included a couple fourth quarter minutes when VanVleet puts his cape on and decides to take over. Tonight, he had an absolutely brilliant sequence in what was a two-point Raptors lead: making a tough layup, setting up Siakam for an easy dunk, drilling a three, and drawing a foul on four consecutive offensive possessions. What was a close game was out of reach after that, as Toronto took a 120-111 lead on the Grizz.

VanVleet, who scored seven points in that stretch alone, had 23 points in total to go with seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

Beside him, Trent Jr. led into that sequence with some tough shot-making of his own. The man just knows how to make a timely bucket, even if it does sometimes feel like this.

Raptors Get Clutch Showing From Gary Trent Jr vs. Grizzlies – Sports Illustrated

Barnes was the lone bright spot in the first half for Toronto who continued to have major defensive lapses early. Coming into the night the Raptors had boasted the league’s sixth stingiest defense in the paint, holding opposing teams to just 42.3 points inside per game. On Wednesday, however, Memphis equaled that in the first half alone as Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, and Jaren Jackson Jr. feasted inside, helping the Grizzlies tally 71 points before the break.

But that all changed in the second half, as the Raptors clamped down, revving up their defensive intensity, and tightening the screws, if you will.

“There was plenty of screws to be turned after that first-half defense,” Nurse said. “When your defensive execution and you start doing the schemes and you start playing help defense it always turns into playing and better execution help offense.”

Precious Achiuwa was the first to break out, coming alive in the third to nail three three-pointers and scoring 17 points in the quarter to erase Memphis 12 point lead. It was the first time all season — ever, really — that the 6-foot-9 big man had shown that kind of range.

“I think he played a really simple game. All the things we saw tonight are nothing that anybody has asked him not to do,” said Fred VanVleet. “He shot catch-and-shoot 3s, put the ball in the floor in transition, he set screens and he rolled. Just his presence, with that frame and that athleticism, he can be a problem. There are flashes. We’ve seen it.”

But Gary Trent Jr. was the real difference-maker for Toronto, bouncing back from a 2-for-7 first half to explode for 17 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter alone. He did it while getting to the in the paint a little bit more, nailing a pair of close-range floaters and getting downhill to draw a foul midway through the fourth.

“Obviously people know I’m a pretty good shooter. They try to run me off the line so I don’t get a shot up,” Trent said. “Pump fake, get in there.”

Raptors overcome season-worst first half in gutsy comeback win over the Grizzlies – Video – TSN

The Raptors gave up a season-high 71 points in the first half and were down 12 at the break, but were able to make adjustments in the second half and storm back to steal the victory. Kia Nurse and Leo Rautins examine Toronto’s gutsy comeback win over the Grizzlies and discuss Gary Trent Jr.’s offensive outburst.

The Raptors were rocking in Memphis — after a brutal first half | The Star

If there ever comes a need to summarize the first 19 games of this season for the Raptors, Wednesday’s outing in Memphis would be a perfect example.

So much good, so much bad, always playing hard if not always playing smart, the Raptors recovered from a wretched start to register an impressive 126-113 win over the Grizzlies.

For all the team’s youth and inexperience, it was a couple of relative veterans, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., who keyed a dominant fourth as Toronto went to 2-3 on a six-game road trip, their longest of the season.

Trent had 26 points and VanVleet finished with 23. All five Raptors starters finished in double figures. But most important, Toronto turned up the defensive intensity in the second half for an impressive come-from-behind victory.

Missing OG Anunoby (hip) and Khem Birch (swollen knee), the Raptors were unable to protect the rim or the paint while the Grizzlies scored almost at will inside in the first half. None of Precious Achiuwa, Pascal Siakam or Chris Boucher provided any kind of physical presence near the rim and the Grizzlies punished Toronto.

The Raptors gave up a season-high 71 first-half points — 42 of them in the paint — as Memphis shot 61.5 per cent from the field in the first two quarters. But as bad as they were in the first half, the Raptors were that good in the third quarter when they outscored Memphis 32-21 to get right back in the game.

There was no major halftime adjustment.

“We were cutting corners on most of the defensive possessions (in the first half),” coach Nick Nurse said. “We were taking a breath at some point for one of four points and it was hurting us. Either we weren’t keeping them in front, or we missed the help, or we missed the contest or we’d not block out.

“That, more than anything, was the adjustment. They started playing a lot harder and a lot more connected finishing the possessions.”

Achiuwa scored 17 points in the third quarter alone, Yuta Watanabe had a solid season debut after missing 18 games with a calf strain, and Toronto looked entirely different in the final two quarters.

Raptors stun Grizzlies in Memphis shootout | Toronto Sun

In some basketball games a single player can all but lift a team to victory. The sublime Ja Morant nearly did just that for the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night. But in others, victory can be achieved through a true team effort.

That’s what the visiting Toronto Raptors got in a surprising 126-113 comeback win that gives them a shot at splitting the tough six-game trip they are about to finish.

Gary Trent Jr. propelled the fourth quarter comeback with 17 of his game-high 26 points in the quarter, Fred VanVleet had a great fourth as well, Precious Achiuwa scored all 17 of his points in the third, Scottie Barnes had 10 in the second Pascal Siakam was solid and Yuta Watanabe provided a spark in his season debut.

Morant had 23 points and nine assists for Memphis, while Desmond Bane and Mississauga’s Dillon Brooks added 20.

The Raptors had listed four players as questionable before the game and got half of them in. Watanabe was finally able to get on the court, while Achiuwa started at centre in Memphis, where he had starred as a freshman before declaring for the NBA draft. Both made major impacts.

Achiuwa turned the game with that shocking third, which included a career-best three three-pointers, while Watanabe helped with his energy and defensive acumen.

“He just got on a tear like we haven’t really seen, … ge just kept taking advantage of that and that was pretty impressive,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said of Achiuwa.

“I think he played a really simple game. All the things we saw tonight are nothing that anybody has asked him not to do. He shot catch-and-shoot 3s, put the ball in the floor in transition, he set screens and he rolled. Just his presence, with that frame and that athleticism, he can be a problem,” added VanVleet.

“There are flashes. We’ve seen it. We all support him in that. I think a lot of the game, especially in the NBA, is mental. I know it’s nice to see a couple shots go through the rim because he’s definitely had his struggles at times. We know how good he can be.”

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