Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 6

Free Gabe Brown | Downtin looking nice | Eff the Celtics

Recap: Toronto Raptors beat Boston Celtics 125-119 in OT – Raptors HQ

Despite being stuck with a 19-point deficit late in the third, the back end of the Raptors roster — led by a bunch of guys with non-guaranteed contracts, including Jeff Dowtin, Josh Jackson, DJ Wilson and Gabe Brown — took the Celtics to OT, where they outscored the home team 15-9 en route to a 125-119 win.

The win moves the Raptors to 2-0 in the preseason, while the defending Eastern Conference Champions fall to 1-1. Both teams played their starters more than I thought they would, with most of the “core rotation” players on both sides getting between 23 and 30 minutes. Jaylen Brown continued the strong play he showed in the 2022 NBA Finals, leading all scorers with 23 points on 14 shots. Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa and Josh Jackson and paced the Raptors with 13 apiece.

The Celtics took control late in the first quarter, and were fairly dominant through three quarters — as long as both teams were playing their main guys, basically.

As the teams went to the benches in the closing minutes of the third quarter, though, things began to shift. Dalano Banton and Christian Koloko got the door cracked open with solid play late in the third, and when Nick Nurse went really deep in the fourth, the Raptors’ energy and effort simply overtook the Celtics, who looked like they thought the game was already over.

Jackson, Dowtin, Wilson and Brown combined to shoot 11-15 in the fourth as the Raptors outscored the Celtics 38-20 in the frame. But a crucial call late nearly handed things back to the Celtics. Leading 108-106, the Raptors let Sam Hauser — who scored 22 points on 12 shots — get an open lane to the hoop. DJ Wilson slid in to take the charge, and it first it looked like he made it in time; the officials initially called a charge before they overturned it on a coach’s challenge. And because Hauser’s bucket dropped on the play, the offensive foul was now a defensive foul, and an and-1. Hauser sank the free throw, giving Boston the 109-108 lead. After a Downtin miss and a Brodric Thomas free throw, the Raptors trailed 110-108 with 24.5 seconds to go. Dowtin tied the game on a pull-up with 10 seconds to go, and Peyton Pritchard missed a runner at the buzzer.

Pritchard finished with 17 for the Celtics.

As fun as the second half was, the first seemed to expose several flaws with this Raptors team (and yes, we’ll add the caveat that it’s still very early in the preseason!). With both teams playing their core rotations in the first half, the differences between the two teams was apparent; the Celtics get into their offense, and generate quality looks, at much higher rate than the Raptors do. Having creators like Brown and Tatum — who can put the defense on their heels, and get their way to the rim, thus creating extra space for everyone else — makes such a huge difference. The Raptors just don’t have that level of creator on the floor. Siakam has it to an extent; Trent can generate decent looks for himself, but doesn’t put pressure on the rim; VanVleet is crafty but too small to be a real threat on the drive.

But beyond rim pressure, the Celtics just move the ball with so much more intention than the Raptors do. Passes come quickly, often to players on the move; with the Raptors, it’s the opposite — players move with the ball, and pass it to players standing still. And the Raptors still don’t have consistent long-range shooters.

And beyond all of that… the Raptors still seem allergic to the most basic play in basketball, the pick and roll. With multiple players capable of handling the ball, plus some solid roll men in Birch, Achiuwa and Koloko you’d think a high-screen oriented offense would make sense, and yet — the Raptors rarely run simple pick and roll sets.

Celtics watch lead evaporate in preseason overtime loss to Raptors: 10 takeaways – The Athletic

It’s shocking how good the Celtics are looking so far, especially after Wednesday’s win-turned-garbage-time-loss. The Hornets looked like a glorified G League team last weekend, so the Raptors were supposed to be the real test. The thing is, the Raptors looked pretty solid in the first half, running their usual defensive scheme with aggressiveness and finding some flow on offense.

The Celtics are just clicking offensively as if it’s March, which is why Jayson Tatum said he is “super encouraged” even after a game that technically finished the way it did.

“I think it kind of feels like we’re leaving off from the second half of last season,” Tatum said. “Just the way that we’re moving the ball, playing with each other. It just feels natural and it’s fun playing that way.”

The Celtics are baking a lot of popping actions into the offense. Interim coach Joe Mazzulla spent the early days of camp focusing on the team’s spacing, making sure guys are spreading the floor in the right spots and cutting in spots that will flow against the momentum of the defense. The irony is that players have been causing some congestion at times purposely, just so they can then flare out to open areas behind the movement of the ball.

“We missed a lot of good looks, but the floor was spaced,” Jaylen Brown said. “We took good shots, it was clean basketball. We do that, rebound, take care of the ball — it’s going to be the same emphasis every single night. And if we do that, we’ll be all right.”

There’s a lot to work out with players toward the back of the rotation, and Marcus Smart needs to throw the ball to his teammates instead of the opponent or the third row. But Mazzulla has been experimenting with a lot of backdoor cuts from the corners and flare-outs from screeners in the paint. The Celtics had success with a spread offense last year that left room for Tatum and Brown to operate, but working out these types of actions can give them another variation of their offense to break out against certain defenses.

Boston Celtics lose to Toronto Raptors in better-than-you-think preseason performance, 125-119 – CelticsBlog

They were just three plays in the first quarter of the second pre-season game but in the ever-evolving offensive package of Fred VanVleet, they were not insignificant.

On the first, he drove the rim, got knocked down and did not finish the play; the second time he got there, the layup went in; and the third, he put up a lob pass to Precious Achiuwa that was finished with a tip-in for a basket.

Being a better finisher at the rim is a goal of VanVleet’s this season, he said at training camp last week in Victoria, and finding and exploiting the lob threat that Achiuwa represents is something that would make coach Nick Nurse and his staff happy.

Those were the good points on an otherwise tough night for VanVleet, who was 3-for-12 from the floor in 19 first-half minutes of the win.

He does, however, know that it’s early and his game still needs some work, which is what the pre-season is for.

“There’s always areas for improvement,” he said last week. “I’m still not shooting great at the rim, I was pretty good in isolation situations last year, not great; shot really good catch-and-shoot, off the dribble, so there’s always areas for improvement.

“I look at my numbers, I look at the film, see where I can get better and try to attack it from a holistic standpoint every year.”

Raptors go deep into bench to beat Celtics in overtime | The Star

They were just three plays in the first quarter of the second pre-season game but in the ever-evolving offensive package of Fred VanVleet, they were not insignificant.

On the first, he drove the rim, got knocked down and did not finish the play; the second time he got there, the layup went in; and the third, he put up a lob pass to Precious Achiuwa that was finished with a tip-in for a basket.

Being a better finisher at the rim is a goal of VanVleet’s this season, he said at training camp last week in Victoria, and finding and exploiting the lob threat that Achiuwa represents is something that would make coach Nick Nurse and his staff happy.

Those were the good points on an otherwise tough night for VanVleet, who was 3-for-12 from the floor in 19 first-half minutes of the win.

He does, however, know that it’s early and his game still needs some work, which is what the pre-season is for.

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“There’s always areas for improvement,” he said last week. “I’m still not shooting great at the rim, I was pretty good in isolation situations last year, not great; shot really good catch-and-shoot, off the dribble, so there’s always areas for improvement.

“I look at my numbers, I look at the film, see where I can get better and try to attack it from a holistic standpoint every year.”

Raptors Scottie Barnes-led Lineup Struggles vs. Celtics – Sports Illustrated

Scottie Barnes might not be ready to take over the point guard spot for the Toronto Raptors quite yet.

It’s early, of course, but Wednesday night’s outing against the Boston Celtics showed just how far the sophomore wing has to go before he can truly lay claim to Toronto’s offensive initiator.

Even in a 125-119 victory over the Celtics, the Raptors came out of the gate sputtering offensively but things slowed to a crawl once Fred VanVleet checked out. With Barnes running the point, Toronto couldn’t muster anything offensively. A squandered two-for-one opportunity at the end of the first quarter resulted in an ill-advised long two-point jumper from Barnes and it wasn’t long before a 22-20 Raptors lead turned into a 37-24 deficit.

For now, those learning experiences are OK. Barnes likely won’t see much playing as the primary initiator without either a point guard or Pascal Siakam when the regular season rolls around. Eventually, though, that time will come and Barnes is going to have to prove he can keep the offense ticking even without VanVleet on the court.

3rd Unit Battles Back

As for the actual game, the Raptors overcame a sloppy start thanks to a huge comeback from the team’s third unit. Dalano Banton, Jeff Dowtin Jr., Josh Jackson, D.J. Wilson, Khem Birch, and eventually Gabe Brown, led Toronto to a 51-26 run in the fourth quarter and overtime courtest of some big-time buckets from Dowtin and a pair of three-pointers from Jackson and Brown.

Shooting Remains a Struggle

With Malachi Flynn and Otto Porter Jr. sidelined Wednesday night, Toronto’s regulars couldn’t seem to get anything going behind the arc. VanVleet finished just 1-for-6 in his 19 minutes of action while Precious Achiuwa and Gary Trent Jr. combined to shoot 2-for-10 from three-point range.

The regulars finished the first three quarters 3-for-23 from three-point range before the back-of-the-bench turned things around late.

Raptors’ bench pulls off pre-season win in Boston, but it wasn’t all pretty | Toronto Sun

Having easily handled a mostly young and unquestionably rebuilding Utah team in their first pre-season action, the Raptors took a huge step up in class against a veteran Celtics team that, similar to Toronto, returns most of its core intact.

Where the Raptors ran roughshod over Utah’s defence Sunday in Edmonton, it was a different story against the Celtics who were one of the best defensive teams a year ago and remain a stingy outfit.

Toronto’s starters, who struggled in the halfcourt a year ago and continue to struggle there, had their hands full from the outset.

Notably absent was any semblance of success from behind the arc, where the Raptors failed to hit, until five minutes into the second quarter.

Through the first half they were just 2-for-18 from behind the arc, an important part of the Raptors offence. Without it they got down early and until the reserves made that run in the fourth it was not a great night from Toronto’s perspective.

Through three quarters they hit just one more before Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse turned things over to his bench for the final quarter and ultimately the win.

Nurse limited point guard Fred VanVleet to just under 19 minutes which was actually 10 more than he played against Utah. It’s all in line with the Raptors’ desire to cut down on VanVleet’s usage.

Nurse should find that easier now than he will in the regular season when the games count and VanVleet’s absence will be much more noticeable.

Raptors’ Khem Birch recovering from knee surgery, ready to chip in | The Star

What he was last year was almost constantly bothered by something. A knee injury in the first week of the season lingered for months and eventually led him to have arthroscopic surgery in the off-season. A broken nose took a chunk out of the season, too. He ended up appearing in just 55 games, averaging fewer than five points, five rebounds and 20 minutes a night.

“I didn’t know what it was,” he said of the knee injury that was finally diagnosed as a torn meniscus. It didn’t show up on “five or six” MRIs during the season.

“I just thought it was a bone bruise and I thought it was going to go away. Then I broke my nose and all the swelling went down I realized there was something wrong on the lateral side of my knee and I was going to address it in the off-season.”

That led to some uncertainty in just how Birch would look when he finally returned to the court. But a good training camp and a promising exhibition season opener eased some concern.

“It’s been a long time since he played, he missed a lot of time last year, he didn’t play at all this summer … so you just don’t know,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I thought he came out (Sunday) with a ‘listen, I’m here to fight for some minutes, too’ and it’s good.

“I think if they can go out there and expend as much energy as they can in five or six minutes like that and they can be productive, that’s a big bonus for us.”

Birch isn’t at the top of a front-court pecking order that has Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher ahead of him, the likes of Pascal Siakam able to eat some centre minutes, and Christian Koloko coming on. But if the Raptors want to look deep in to the depth charts, having someone with Birch’s pedigree certainly can’t hurt.

Toronto Raptors centre Khem Birch underwent knee surgery and couldn’t train on the court over the summer.

Thad Young has been banged up a bit in camp and missed Sunday’s game. Koloko is a raw rookie and how he’ll handle regular-season speed and intensity is a great unknown. Having Birch waiting and pressing for time is a nice luxury, if he is fully recovered from the knee woes.

“It’s very important,” Birch said. “But the good thing is we have so many good guys on this team that I don’t really need to play that many minutes or anything. I can just slowly come back and earn my minutes. I’m not really worried.”

Little injury woes, while not usual with the return to full pace NBA games, are limiting some Raptors.

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