Statement from GM Bobby Webster on Goran Dragic. pic.twitter.com/g9oJxtsAhp
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 28, 2021
The Raptors lost the eight minutes and 11 seconds VanVleet did not play against the Celtics by 10 points. On their recent road trip, the problems without VanVleet were more apparent on defence, but logically, and against Boston, they lose more without him when they have the ball. Against the Celtics, VanVleet sat for nine offensive possessions in the first half over four minutes, and the Raptors scored twice — both times in transition. They went 0-for-6 with a turnover when they used more than four seconds of the shot clock.
In the second half, they managed to score once deep into a possession with VanVleet on the bench. It just happened to be a desperation layup from Flynn after Siakam won a jump ball with four seconds left on the shot clock. Other than that, it was transition or nothing.
VanVleet had a game-high 27 points, and the Raptors scored at an acceptable-if-unspectacular rate of 104.9 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. Looking at the advanced box score, that ordinary number stands out by comparison. You could almost see VanVleet resign himself to what he was going to have to do in real time. With the court not spread out well in the fourth quarter, VanVleet gave the ball up to Precious Achiuwa, put his head down and ran back to the big man to accept the handoff to do what must be done: He put his head down again and tried to create something.
He got Marcus Smart to foul him, but that’s not really the point. The onus seems unmanageable, given the number of minutes he’s playing. It was only heightened Thursday because Gary Trent Jr. wasn’t out there to do his thing in isolation, soaking up some possessions, missing the game with a calf injury.
It is not as if the sheer volume of minutes is new to VanVleet. He finished second in minutes per game last year, playing more than 36 minutes per game. He’s topping 38 right now. He said despite the increasing offensive role, the minutes don’t feel very different to him.
“I think I’m working around the clock,” VanVleet said. “I learned my lesson last year, so I don’t have much leisure time this time around. When I’m not on the court, I’m working, trying to get ready for the next game.
“(I’m) sleeping, stretching, (getting) treatment, strengthening, watching film. Just really dedicating myself to be the best me I can, because it’s going to take my best version to get a win on a nightly basis.”
He’s not wrong.
Boston led at halftime on the back of an absurd amount of free throws in the first half – and perfect efficiency on them. The Celtics went 19-19 before Tatum missed a free throw, They shot 95%, 19-20 in the first half. On the strength of the free throw shooting, Boston was up three at halftime, 54-51.
The Raptors were able to hang around by winning the turnover battle. Boston turned the ball over 11 times to Toronto’s six in the first half.
Turnovers continued to be a problem for Boston in the third, with Grant and Marcus Smart going back-to-back. After VanVleet dropped in another three to bring his scoring to 22 points, Ime Udoka called a timeout, game square at 62.
Scottie Barnes continued his streak of success against Boston, scoring 11 third-quarter points en route to another high scoring performance. Barnes finished with 21 points, his third 20+ game against Boston this year.
The Celtics closed out the fourth quarter on a high note, taking a four-point lead into the final quarter. Fourth quarters had been rough up until this point for Boston this season. They ranked last in fourth quarter points (23.9) in the NBA. The Celtics, who’ve boasted a good defense this season, still ranks 23rd in points given up per fourth quarter (26.9).
Boston continued to stretch their lead over the Raptors in the fourth. The Celtics went on a 13-7 run over the first 4:30 in the fourth to put their lead at 10, 93-83.
The Celtics held Toronto in check in the beginning of the fourth. The Raptors shot just 5-15 in the first seven fourth-quarter minutes, 33%. Marcus Smart was big to start the fourth, hitting 3-3 of his shots for eight points, hitting two 3-pointers.
The Raptors continued to struggle in the fourth offensively, and Boston was able to hold onto their lead, reversing some recent fourth-quarter woes.
It’s undeniable that Marcus Smart had himself a slow start to the 2021-22 campaign, but these last few games have been a nice step in the right direction for the veteran and Sunday may have been his best game yet.
Showing off his Swiss Army Man style of play, the 27-year-old was an absolute menace for the Cs in virtually every way imaginable.
As is always expected, Smart was an absolute pest on the less glamorous side of the ball, playing tough and physical defense the entire night and, while his five personal fouls may not be ideal, at least two of them were undeniably bogus calls by the refs, one of which being the “push off” with 1.2 seconds left in the second, which was simply atrocious and a real Oscar-winning acting job by Precious Achiuwa.
On top of this, however, the eighth-year pro played an excellent game on the offensive side of the floor, putting up a team-high 21-points (many of which came from Tatum’s dimes) to go along with eight rebounds (three offensive), and six assists (many of which were truly fantastic dishes) on 43.8 shooting from the floor and 40 percent shooting from deep.
These past three games the point guard finds himself boasting averages of 18 points, 7.3 assists, six rebounds, and a steal per game which, frankly, are numbers many envisioned he would be putting up heading into the year.
Nights like Sunday show just how fun this team can be when Marcus Smart is in synch.
The story of the game really was the whistle, though, as 43 fouls were called, and the teams combined for 47 free throw attempts, and 29 turnovers. Normally I dig the 6:00 p.m. starts, because it means getting home early, but this game took so long it may as well have started at 7:30! There was no pace or rhythm to the evening, and a sparse crowd — thanks either to the snow or the early weekend start time — never really got into it.
And, missing two or perhaps three nominal starters in Trent, OG Anunoby, and Khem Birch, the Raptors had only 11 players — or 10, perhaps, since Chris Boucher didn’t get a single minute off the bench — and they looked, at times, like a bunch of players who hadn’t played much together. And when the starters came back in to close things out, they were gassed. The Raptors shot only 8-for-22 in the fourth, scoring 21 points, while giving up 29, including a couple of those aforementioned timely three-pointers.
Rookie Scottie Barnes shook off a slow start and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists. He even caught fire briefly in the third, hitting three straight threes at one point, and scoring 12 in the frame.
It wasn’t the prettiest of starts, for either team. The tight whistle, with a side of turnovers, gave the early part of game a pre-season-y feel. The latter saw Barnes get a quick hook as Yuta Watanabe came in to spell him after just two minutes; as for the former, Siakam and Precious Achiuwa both picked up fouls in the first minute, and then Yuta was called for a bogus blocking foul that Nick Nurse had to challenge (it was successfully overturned).
As the teams settled down, Siakam starting finding his spots in the midrange; the Celtics packed the paint to keep him from getting to the rim. His jumper is looking silky smooth of late, and he had no problem taking advantage of Boston’s scheme, scoring eight of Toronto’s first 13 points.
In addition to the early Barnes hook (he came back in and picked up a nice bucket off a dish from Siakam, who had two dimes in the quarter), another Nick Nurse rotation wrinkle had Isaac Bonga coming in early. Bonga picked up two quick fouls and looked pretty lost on offense, but did he swat a Marcus Smart layup attempt away!
Despite the loss, though, there certainly wasn’t a lack of effort from the Raptors.
Nurse was coaching the game like it was a playoff contest, making offence-defence substitutions and giving quick hooks to players he believed weren’t performing up to the grade he wanted to see, such as when he pulled Scottie Barnes just two minutes into the game for Yuta Watanabe.
“They tried pretty hard, there’s just a couple of things you can’t overcome there,” Nurse said. “Thought it was a good effort, just didn’t bounce our way.”
The quick hook Nurse had on Barnes appeared to spark something in the rookie. Barnes was strong once again finishing with 21 points, including a 4-of-9 mark from three-point range — three of those alone coming in the third quarter.
“It’s good to see him take them and it’s good to see ’em go down,” Nurse said of Barnes’ three-point marksmanship. “In the long run, I think it helps the overall spacing of our offence and will give other guys a chance to have a little bit more freedom on their drives.”
Barnes added: “My man was helping off me a lot, really trying to be in the gaps so most of the time I was just wide open. They’ve been encouraging me to shoot so once I get a wide-open shot I’m just gonna shoot it.”
Nurse also made a point to always have at least one of Fred VanVleet or Pascal Siakam on the floor at all times and they delivered for him. VanVleet finished Sunday with a game-high 27 points and Siakam with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Siakam played close to 38 minutes and VanVleet about 40. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s also nothing new and, because of the injuries the Raptors have sustained, it felt necessary.
“I think that is maybe a little high (tonight) but not too far out of range,” said Nurse of the minutes for VanVleet, who happens to lead the NBA in minutes played per game. “He is having to do a lot. He is having to take a lot of shots from the team guarding a really good player, playing long stretches. But my answer would be maybe trim a couple of minutes here or there but that is probably 37 or 38, that’s where he is probably going to be most nights.”
Ultimately, Nurse’s decision to ride with his two horses proved to be the correct one as the Raptors played a competitive, scrappy game, despite only having 11 men available.
And that’s going to be a bigger problem for the Raptors, who are now 9-12 on the season and a miserable 2-7 at home.
Those home losses are most mystifying. Even a depleted roster should get some boosts from a home audience, that little bit of extra juice that can sometimes make the difference in a win or a loss.
That hasn’t happened at all for the Raptors, who have historically been one of the best home teams in the league.
“Learning to protect your home court is something that feels so normal and natural until it’s not,” Fred VanVleet said Saturday. “You have a lot of guys who don’t really understand what that means, have to learn the dynamic between the crowd and understanding this has been one of the best home court advantages in the last how many years – five years, for sure, maybe more than that – and we have to get back to that and we have to start to build that again.
“Not saying we should be undefeated or anything like that but (now 2-7) is unacceptable and we have to change that.”
Every time the Raptors had a chance to get back into Sunday’s game, when they might normally have received a boost from the crowd to make a run, they couldn’t do it.
They pulled into a 73-73 tie with about three minutes left in the third quarter but gave up six straight points to lose all momentum.
They got within one with about nine minutes left in the game before Boston went on a 14-2 run in about three minutes to put the game away.
A bunch of unfamiliar playing groups probably didn’t help but that’s what the Raptors have to deal with and there’s no excuses.
“It probably felt how it looked at times but I thought for the most part guys played hard,” said VanVleet, who led Toronto with 27 points. “The consistency was there, for the most part, but just not enough to get the win.”
For three and a half quarters, VanVleet and Nurse got what they were looking for but extensive foul trouble and some key absences didn’t allow them to sustain it as Boston pulled away down the stretch for a 109-97 win.
With the loss, the Raptors fell to 9-12.
The visiting Celtics and Raptors traded blows for the better part of three and a half quarters with the game very much up for grabs before a 9-0 run by the Celtics in the middle portion of the fourth gave the Celtics the extended breathing room they would need to close this one out.
The Celtics owned the final six minutes but this was a dogfight for the better part of the night.
Nurse saw the compete he needed, if not the finish.
“I thought the guys played really hard,” he said. “Thought it was a good effort, just didn’t bounce our way.”
The Raptors came into this one undermanned as they have been for the better part of the season.
Still out were both OG Anunoby and Khem Birch and they were joined by Gary Trent Jr., who bruised his left calf in the loss in Indianapolis on Friday.
The absences saw Nick Nurse and his staff turn to some of those lesser-used bodies on the Raptors bench like Isaac Bonga and Justin Champagnie.
The fresh legs along with the return of Yuta Watanabe brought some extra energy but in terms of finish, the Raptors didn’t have much success.
Left out in all the changes was Chris Boucher, who did not see the floor.
Barnes’ development is what this season is all about for the Raptors. If winning was the priority Goran Dragic would have been a part of the rotation this season. Instead, Toronto has decided to focus on development, on making Barnes, Dalano Banton, and Malachi Flynn into the best possible versions of themselves.
That’s why Nurse yanked Barnes less than two minutes into the game Sunday. Toronto’s first-round pick committed two turnovers in the first 65 seconds and Nurse needed him to know that’s unacceptable.
“I came out the game starting real slow, quick two turnovers, bad turnovers but it was just, Nick subbed me out the game,” Barnes said. “It was a good thing to do.”
Barnes didn’t let the rough start faze him. Instead, he showed off the kind of shooting Toronto has been looking for from him and, frankly, anyone who is willing to provide it these days.
“They believe in me, coaching staff, players, they believe in me, just keep encouraging me to be confident out there on the floor, being able to shoot the ball when I’ve got the open shots,” Barnes said. “It’s a lot of hard work that’s put into it, so not be afraid to.”
Without OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr., Barnes was the one providing floor spacing for the Raptors. He attempted nine threes in the game, converting on four of them, scoring 21 points total. It was the most threes he’d made in a game since Grade 11, he said.
“My man was helping off me a lot,” Barnes said. “Really trying to be in the gaps so most of the time I was just wide open.”
One of the bright spots has been the play of the rookies, Barnes and Banton, who have emerged as key rotational players.
Barnes cooled a bit on the recent road trip and talk of him being the early favourite for rookie of the year had dissipated, but he’s still averaging 14.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Banton, selected 46th overall in the July draft, has become the primary backup to VanVleet, a shocking development for such a late pick. He plays more than a quarter each game. Said Nurse: “I just like how it looks when he’s out there.”
What remains to be seen is how they hold up over the final 62 games.
“You’ve just got to keep going,” said Barnes, the No. 4 pick. “I don’t really feel it so much in my body, but I’m sure some people feel it.”