Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

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Siakam and Trent Jr. lead the Raptors to a perfectly imperfect win

A win is a win, and the Raptors found their way to it.

You won’t find an NBA team that averages less than 30 attempted three pointers per game. In fact, most sit above 35 attempted a night, and you can count me among the people who love shots from deep. What the Raptors did against the often-zoned Wolves, was push relentlessly for the paint on one end, and deny it with all their might on the other.

The result was really strange as far as shot charts or shot diets go. The Raptors took over 30-percent of their shots from what is considered the short mid-rangeOpting to avoid the trappings of the too-well-contested 3-point attempts that might spur on a drought that ends them, and instead found the pocket of space above the restricted area and shot 50-percent from there. They didn’t have the personnel to completely move the Wolves away from zone defense (not having Fred VanVleet really hurts there), but they still managed to stick to their own game while being subjected to a tough matchup.

Of course, Gary Trent Jr. should launch as often as possible from downtown, and he did (finishing 5-12). But, on a team that employs Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, Thaddeus Young, Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, and Khem Birch – and played them all over 20 minutes – you get to the short mid-range and you barrage from there. The Wolves actually got to the rim more often than the Raptors, but the Raptors still outscored them 54-34 in the paint.

Dig downs, swipes across the arm, blitzes, so much attention and he kept pushing downhill to probe and find his teammates for buckets.

“I thought Pascal kinda figured it out a little bit.” Nick Nurse said about the Wolves zone. “He just (kinda) decided to keep moving from the side to the middle, and finding a way to get in there and find cutters and kick-outs. I mean, he had 9 assists, so he really ran the show there in the stretch where we started playing well against it. And then obviously, you know I just kept saying: ‘the shots are there, you guys gotta step into them, somebody’s gonna make a couple’. And they did.”

It’s somewhat impressive to see the Raptors throw together lineups that are completely unorthodox, and find success. It speaks to how adaptable and willing to try things out the players are, and particularly, Siakam’s ability to carry the offensive load and burden of creation in all types of contexts.

“We’re still trying to get used to who’s playing where, what position and stuff (like that). You know, we’re coming out with Thad, Chris, and Precious and I’m not even sure what position they’re playing out there. So, we just gotta get some time together to figure out who’s gonna go where, and maybe they’re interchangeable depending on matchups. So, it’s a bit of a work in progress Eric (Koreen), and I think it’s gonna need some time and need some work, and some evaluation for sure.”

And, of course, what is Siakam’s endless work to turn the defense and punch gaps for if he doesn’t have a running mate to puncture the opposing team with a little bit of shot making? Trent Jr. took on a bunch of looks that are typically reserved for VanVleet, and he did a hell of a job filling in. It isn’t easy to ask tertiary players to suddenly absorb the usage of stars, but Trent Jr. is uniquely equipped to ratchet up his shot diet to rival anyone in the league. It’s what he’s been doing during this torrid stretch, and it’s what he did to help the Raptors beat the Wolves.

Teams still won’t double Trent Jr. very often. He gets the single coverage that Siakam and VanVleet never do, and he gets buckets in the space provided. A job well done. 

On the defensive end? The Raptors went back to a successful formula, in part. They leaned on a bunch of size through the middle of the lineup to squeeze driving lanes and ball hawk passing lanes, but they also made room for a guard, Malachi Flynn. The Siakam-Boucher-Young-Flynn-Achiuwa lineup that busted off a 19-7 run to start the 4th quarter, played it’s first minutes as a unit during that very run. So much of basketball is finding lineups that work, and Nurse went to something unique, and there’s no doubt it paid off.

Missing their All-Star guard, and facing a good Wolves team with all their stars in tow; the Raptors found a way to win this game with odd defensive pairings, and an insatiable hunger for anywhere but the 3-point line. It’s a blueprint that isn’t often used in the NBA, but they made it work. And that’s what the regular season is all about when you’re missing guys (or even when they’re there, really) – making it work.

Have a blessed day.