A Lot of Good in a Loss in Brooklyn

Raps forget to rebound and let the decimated Brooklyn Nets slip away with a win in overtime.

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Photo via NBA.com; Photo by David L. Nemec/NBAE via Getty Images

I’m not here to dwell on the negatives.

God knows we don’t need any more of that in our lives.

So, for sanity’s sake, I’m going to ignore that within 8 hours half an NBA roster was sidelined by the plague.

And I’ll choose not to elaborate on the fact that 3 dudes, who’ve played a grand total of 79 minutes collectively this season, outscored the Raptors bench 34-16.

I’ll, for your sakes, gloss over Toronto’s 18/52(!) from 3 – were it not for Freddie and Gary, that number would have shrunk to 6/26.

Nor will I bother to tell you that that aforementioned bench ended the game at a grand total of -52.

I shan’t even consider reporting on the Raptors being outrebounded 60-41 and outscored 25-15 on second-chance points giving up some of the juicier offensive boards at some of the worst moments one could fathom. Particularly, one that led to a Patty Mills 3 late in the 4th and another that David Duke Jr. grabbed with 11 seconds left in overtime to effectively seal the game.

I won’t do it. I simply won’t drag you all through the horror of those thoughts.

Nay.

Instead, I’ll cast upon you that same golden light of optimism you see shining through the window every early afternoon down the hallway from your 3-walled cubicle at work.

The Starters as a Collective

These guys are goddamn heroes, let me tell you. They’re 3rd in scoring amongst starters in the league and score 77% of this team’s points.

The problem at times has been how they score. A lot of it feels linear: you go, then I go, now you go, and he’ll go kind of a thing. But it’s changing.

Remember, these guys have played together very little. Scottie Barnes’ growth has been astronomical, as has Gary’s to a lesser degree. Everyone’s jostling and adjusting while also constantly reconfiguring around a litany of injuries on the roster.

They’re finding harmony though. This season, Toronto’s 28th in assists with 21/game, but in the last 5 games they’ve shot up to 13th. Tonight, the starters, alone, had 21.

You can see the trust. More ball movement, more exchanges, more drives and kicks. Less iso-ball.

Mostly.

The sad thing about tonight’s loss was when it mattered most, this team resorted back to forcing it. Nets went on a 13-3 run with 5 minutes left in the game and we had Gary taking 2 contested jumpers, Pascal a contested jumper, and Freddy a contested jumper all in isolation. Conversely, Yuta missed a wide open 3 thanks to a perfect drive and kick by Scottie – dems da breaks.

Then, to close the 4th, Freddy puts up 2 more contested iso jumpers. The 1st was an early jack from well beyond the 3. I’ll forgive him. He’s hit those before and saved the Raps’ asses many a time with those Hail Marys. The 2nd, the buzzer beater, was just not the right decision.

Better to have found Pascal on a post-up or run a pick-and-roll with Barnes. Maybe Nurse should have called the timeout. I dunno. Felt like we could have done better.

I know that when they hit these types of shots we praise them. But the Raps scorers have to know the moment. Defences are more attentive and more responsive towards the end of the 4th than they are at the begining of the game. Guys have to know that those same shots may not be there and need to find the extra, better play.

That said, in OT Fred hits basically the exact same 3 late.

So, I mean, live and die with Freddy, am I right?

The Starters as Individuals

Each had their quarter.

Pascal Siakam was 1st.

From the balcony of the théâtre, we observed Pascal perform a wondrous ballet of pivots and crossovers and hesitations and floaters and pull-ups. One of which, over Kevin Durant, mirrored the same kind of dagger KD threw many times throughout the evening. Pascal scored 8 in the quarter and did so efficiently and patiently.

He has found a cadence to his game in recent weeks that glistens in confidence. Pascal’s no longer forcing the issue, for the most part. In one instance, he was stifled by an initial attack, he quickly released the ball to Yuta, regathered, got the ball back, and dribbled into an easy jumper. He’s also finding open guys on the weakside, a hugely important element to his playmaking development.

Come the 2nd, the Raps had scored a total of 8 points in the first 6 minutes of the quarter. Cue: Gary Trent Jr.

Gary scored 11 in the quarter resurrecting an otherwise lifeless Raptors offence. It’s at a point now where I can no longer doubt his shot selection; he continues to thwap all sorts of shots I grimace at.

It’s not all Gary’s fault. He’s, often, creating something out of very little and God Bless’em for it.

In the 3rd, Freddie time. He banged a couple of pull-up threes, had a nifty blow-by on Blake GriffINquicksand, and a sweet (I WANT MORE OF THESE PLEASE) dribble-hand-off with Scottie.

He scored a smooove 16. All sorts of Freddie-be-nimble-Freddie-be-quick kinda stuff we’ve become accustomed to.

Vote for Fred VanVleet at your local All-Star selection voting booth or call 1-800-JamesHarden’sOverrated to get your vote in now. 

Scottie Barnes

What can I say? His capabilities and confidence grow exponentially by the millisecond. I can barely comprehend what’s happening in the moment. I simply turn to my dog – a snoring pile of skin, fur, and bones – and query: “What the Hell did we just witness?”

If you missed it, feel free to watch each of these 1, 2…15 times.

https://twitter.com/raptorsrepublic/status/1470947172917166084?s=20

 

It’s nuts. Truly. Guaranteed, no one anywhere on any piece of paper or digital word processing program foresaw that this version of Scottie Barnes would happen, like ever, let alone 20 games into his rookie season. At this rate, he’s Tracy McMuttombo by year 2.

The only complaints I have is:

(A) Where’s he at for the 1st part of these games? It all always happening in the 3rd quarter – he averages 2 more points in the 3rd than he does in any other quarter this season. Tonight, he scored 18 of his 23 in the 2nd half.

(B) Why do we go away from Scottie? He needs to be initiated early and often. His game, unlike the rest of the Raptors, catalyzes this offence. The more he succeeds the more others will too. Scottie wants to playmake and, arguably, is already better than anyone else on the team at doing it. Now that he’s scoring like some sort of reincarnate of a Tim Duncan/Dwayne Wade clone, he’s creating his own planetary pull. Teams must pay attention and that’s where Scottie’s mind-palace-passing is perilous.

On the Rap Up, Oren argued that this is on Scottie. I said it’s on Nurse. Probably, somewhere in the middle. Scottie’s gotta be more aggressive; Nick’s gotta get him the ball. Split the difference.

Other Thoughts:

  • Before you go apeshit over the bench. Recall, that of the 15 players on this team, the Raptors are missing their 4th(OG), 6th (Khem), and 8th (Precious) best players. Meaning, we’re expecting a lot from the actual end of our bench. Also meaning, no more Flynn, Svi, or The Champ when all’s healthy.
  • Speaking of The Champ, that dude’s a true rebounding talent. Some rebounders are good cause they outwork you and/or outsize you and/or out-athlete you. Justin Champagnie’s more than that. He has high positional awareness IQ AKA knowing when and where to be at the right place at the right time. In 6 games, he leads the team with 6 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. He did it again tonight with 3 boards in just 11 minutes.
  • Oy, Justin, we gotta work on that 3-pointer, my man.
  • Pascal’s such a sweetheart. Even when he nearly murders a top-10 player in NBA history, he just gently lumbers back on D.

 

  • I freaking LOVE Gary Trent Jr. talking trash. He’s got that perfect balance of asshole, confidence, grit, and game to back it up. Check’em at the end of this clip.

  • Chris yelling in a smiling dude’s face and getting a tech to squash his team’s run…less love that.
  • All in on Amy Audibert. She’s knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and contemporary (that’s a big ask with what we’re so often dealing with).

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