Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 29

Pascal makes glorious return | Barnes moved to bench | O.G. still flourishing

With Pascal Siakam back, it’s time for the Raptors to make their move – The Athletic

What was more promising in the 18-point return of Siakam and a few of his teammates in a 100-88 win over Cleveland was how complete everything looked. Since Siakam went down, even if the Raptors scrapped out some wins, everything looked difficult.

In the best of times, the Raptors are a try-hard team, so that makes perfect sense. Against a good team with a pair of All-Star guards, the Raptors made things look easy. That’s encouraging; it gives the Raptors hope that the positive underlying statistics that supported their 5-4 start were not just the product of a small sample. (Cleveland, for the record, was on a back-to-back.)

“We’ve looked like we can be pretty good,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game. “We need to get these health issues behind us, though, so we can grow a little bit from where we were. We were building some rhythm and momentum and confidence.”

It felt as if they picked up from where they started upon Siakam’s return. Barnes also came back from a knee injury, and the previously injured Dalano Banton and Justin Champagnie were also in uniform. The Cavaliers tried to put more pressure on Siakam after his exploits in the first half, but the Raptors forward basically dribbled around, taking handoffs and passes off screens, to put his team in the bonus less than four minutes into the third quarter. Offence doesn’t come easily for the Raptors, so you cannot discount how important moments like that are for them, even if they don’t pepper highlight reels.

Some things that happened just couldn’t have with a short-handed roster. When the Raptors had their first real negative stretch of the game in the third quarter, Nurse called a timeout and drew up a play designed to get Fred VanVleet an open 3 in the corner. You need a good passer with the size to see over the defence to execute the play, which means either Siakam or Barnes. The latter put the pass on the money. Meanwhile, O.G. Anunoby, who was excellent during Siakam’s absence but struggled to get going from deep, hit four 3s — three in transition. Two of the passes came from Barnes and another from Siakam. Again, those are the players who can survey the bigger picture and see what’s going on from a height.

On the other end, the Raptors’ rapidly rotating defence had the Cavaliers off balance for the entire game. The open 3s were largely left to players the Raptors were glad to see shooting from beyond the arc: Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert and Evan Mobley. It helps when a player as long and imposing and quick as Siakam is closing out on those shots. Anunoby was a mere step or two away from a help-side steal on many Cavaliers possessions. Anunoby and Barnes took turns bothering any and all Cavaliers ballhandlers by reaching in but recovering to solid defensive positioning.

That’s what was most jarring, though: Even without turning over the Cavaliers often, they still managed to recover to the right spots far more often than not. Even without the collection of steals, Anunoby got the bulk of the Donovan Mitchell assignment, and the guard shot just 3-for-11 from the field. The Cavaliers shot just 37.8 percent.

With some semblance of health, Raptors look ready to build momentum – Sportsnet

If Siakam looking like his old self wasn’t enough, there were good news stories throughout the lineup, not the least of which was Toronto holding Cleveland to 37.8 per cent shooting and 7-of-38 from three for the night. Given the Raptors’ ability to defend shooters has been as much a story of the past month as their scoring woes, absent Siakam and others, it was an encouraging sign as was the Raptors holding the Cavs’ Donovan Mitchell to eight points, or 22 below his season average.

“Defence was really good, really solid. and exactly right there was a lot of execution and a lot of help for each other,” said Nurse. “Great communication out there defensively most of the night.”

The changes Nurse made to the lineup all paid off. Young was strong again starting as an undersized centre chipping in 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 26 minutes, while Hernangomez didn’t look out of place with five points and six rebounds in 20 minutes.

The reinforced bench was essential also, with Trent Jr. and Barnes combining for 25 points and 11 rebounds. Toronto shot 44 per cent from the floor and broke out of its three-point shooting slump with a 12-of-28 night. They have been last in the NBA in three-point shooting since Siakam went down, connecting on just 28.2 per cent from deep over their last 10 games.

Toronto won their second straight and improved to 11-9 before heading out to New Orleans and Brooklyn for a pair this week. The third-place Cavaliers fell to 13-8.

Nurse made no commitment about his lineup going forward, explained that his decision to bring Trent Jr. and Barnes off the bench was in part because with Siakam coming back he wanted to make sure the starters didn’t have more players either struggling (Trent Jr. ) or coming off injury (Barnes and Siakam) than not. Keeping Hernangomez and Young with the starters was an effort to maintain some continuity, even if they were only starting in the first place because things had been so upside down.

For their part, both players said they were fine with the changes.

“It was a little different. For sure,” said Barnes. “… I’m used to being out there to start the game. I guess it was a little bit of an adjustment.”

Said Trent Jr.: “I’m coming out here to get wins. I’ll do everything I can to help this team win … regardless of whatever time I’m given.”

Toronto has done well to hold its own in an Eastern Conference that is deeper and tougher because of improvements of teams like Cleveland, which has thrived with the addition of three-time all-star Mitchell in the off-season, and as they get healthy after going 5-5 without their star and with a number of other absences, the Raptors like where they are at.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff. We’ve got a little bit of everything, which is good,” said Fred VanVleet. “… I like our team. I like where we’re at. I like where we’re headed. It’s probably time to start putting together some nice stretches of basketball here going forward.”

Woeful shooting doomed Cavaliers in Toronto: By the Numbers –

Cleveland made just 7 of 38 shots from 3-point range, including 1 of 17 in the second half. Dean Wade and Darius Garland were the only Cavaliers shooters to make more than one triple in the game. One night after sinking a pair of 3-pointers against the Pistons, Evan Mobley was 0-for-4 from long range, including 0-for-2 in the first quarter.

Toronto held Cleveland to a season-low 88 points on 34-for-90 (.378) shooting from the floor. The Raptors are 3-0 this year when holding opponents under 40% field goal percentage.

Mobley scored 18 points and added 15 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. Mobley ranks second on the club behind Jarrett Allen (9) in double-doubles. Six of Mobley’s double-doubles have come in his last 10 games since Nov. 11. He is averaging 14.6 points and 11.8 rebounds during that span.

Garland also recorded a double-double with 18 points, 10 assists and four rebounds in 33 minutes. It’s his fifth double-double of the season, and third in the last four games since Nov. 23. Garland is averaging 20.3 points and 8.8 assists per contest in that stretch. He entered Monday’s game ranked fifth in the NBA in assists (7.9).

Beginning at the 3:17 mark in the third quarter, Toronto went on a 10-0 run to extend its lead to 18 points at 80-62 with 1:03 left in the period. It marked Toronto’s largest lead of the game to that point. The Raptors led by double-digits for the entire fourth quarter.

Takeaways from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 100-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors – Fear The Sword

Much like their match-up during the first game of the season, Toronto came into tonight’s game relying on physicality and strength (wink-wink). As the Cavs struggled early finding rhythm, Donovan Mitchell was largely absent on offense north of the border this evening. Tonight, we saw a pass-first Mitchell working to get teammates like Dean Wade involved, who unfortunately forgot to pack his three-ball for the trip, and finished just 2-6 from deep and 3-10 overall. It was one of the first times we’ve seen such passive, un-SPIDA-like-conduct from the highly-praised two-guard who scored only 8 points with 2 assists tonight. All that said, the Cavs simply won’t win shooting just *GASP!* 18% from deep.

Cleveland Cavaliers’ offense flounders in 100-88 loss to Toronto Raptors –

It’s the second time Cleveland has lost to this potential Eastern Conference playoff roadblock this season. The Cavs are now just 5-7 away from Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, heading back to the states following another unsuccessful road trip.

“The Raptors are a very good basketball team,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “They’ve obviously had a ton of injuries and been missing key guys. I think that is why their record is what it is. But they’re a very good basketball team. I think we’re a very good basketball team. Would be great to match when we’re all healthy and see what happens.”

While it’s only November, this second loss to Toronto could loom large late in the season if the two teams are expectedly battling for playoff positioning.

The first loss came in the season opener. That night, Garland left just 13 minutes into the matchup following an accidental collision with Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr. that left Garland bleeding on the Scotiabank Arena floor and sidelined the young point guard for two weeks because of significant swelling around his eye.

There’s still a hint of droopiness — lingering evidence from the first battle.

The only reason Garland exited this one before the final buzzer: The game got out of hand. Bickerstaff raised the white flag and pulled many of his regulars midway through the fourth quarter.

The Raptors, who got some positive news on the injury front ahead of tipoff, gained control early. They won every quarter of significance (the fourth became meaningless pretty quickly). They were up by a game-high 20 points in the second half. Were ahead by double digits for the entire fourth quarter. Led for 41 of the 48 total minutes.

Versatile forward Pascal Siakam, playing his first game since Nov. 4 because of an adductor strain, seemed to spark Toronto, which had lost two of its previous three games. Siakam scored six of the team’s first eight points. He finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in 30 minutes.

O.G. Anunoby, the sticky defender who hounded Cavaliers All-Star Donovan Mitchell all night, tallied a game-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Scottie Barnes, back after a two-game absence, chipped in with 11 points, five assists and four rebounds off the bench — his first career regular-season game as a reserve.

Siakam’s return, Anunoby’s defense lead Toronto Raptors to 100-88 win over Cleveland Cavaliers – Raptors HQ

Siakam wasn’t the only Raptor returning from injury. Scottie Barnes returned to renew his rivalry with Evan Mobley. Surprisingly, Nick Nurse had Barnes AND Gary Trent Jr. (insert big eyes emoji) start on the bench. Juancho Hernangomez and Thaddeus Young, who also started in Toronto’s last game against Dallas, remained in the starting lineup. Dalano Banton and Justin Champagnie were also removed from the injury report, although only Banton got to play during garbage time.

With Mitchell essentially shut out and Jarrett Allen not in the lineup due to injury, Cleveland was led by their other two stars, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley. Garland finished with 18 points, 10 assists, and 3 steals, while Mobley tallied 18 points and collected 15 rebounds. Garland missed most of the previous meeting in Toronto when Trent Jr. accidentally poked him in the eye.

In a case of role reversal, Cleveland ended the first quarter with a 6-0 advantage in offensive rebounds and scored 9 second-chance points to Toronto’s zero. That’s normally not a good sign for Toronto, but they were obviously energized by the return of Siakam. Six different Raptors scored in the opening frame. There were barely six healthy bodies a week ago in Atlanta!

If the first quarter was about showcasing Siakam and the lack of rust he accumulated, the second quarter was about his teammates showing how they’ve grown in his absence.

Fred VanVleet had driving layups against Garland AND Mobley. Hernangomez stepped into a pull-up 3. Nurse had mentioned pre-game that he’d like to see Hernangomez be more decisive when he gets the ball and not to be afraid to shoot. Suffice it to say, the message got through (if only for one play).

The second half was about building on the progress made in the second quarter. Siakam continuously torched Dean Wade. The Raptors found themselves in the bonus less than four minutes into the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Mitchell hit a technical free throw. Before that, he’d gone almost three full quarters without scoring!

Another benefit to Siakam’s return was a balanced floor on offense and better shot opportunities for the Raptors. Before Siakam’s injury, Toronto was 6th in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 38.6%. In his absence, the Raptors were dead-last and shot 28.2%. Just as garbage time hit and let’s-play-this-thing-out threes started launching, the Raptors were a tidy 50% (10-for-20) from three — well past their season-high of 43.8%.

Yes, it’s only one game, and, yes, the Cavaliers were hobbled, but Nick Nurse spoke pre-game about how he knows his team is capable of playing with the best in the league. With challenging road games in New Orleans and Brooklyn up next, it’s reassuring to see his team back up his words!

Josh Lewenberg: Raptors get Siakam back as they reach quarter mark with win over Cavs | TSN

This is how the Raptors want to play, regardless of who’s in or out of the lineup, but they’re hoping that getting Siakam back will make them less reliant on winning the possession battle every night. Prior to Siakam’s injury, Toronto was shooting 38 per cent from long distance. Without him, the team hit just 28 per cent of its three-point attempts. Some regression was to be expected, and their slumping shooters haven’t helped, but the absence of Siakam and his ability to get in the paint, suck in the defence and generate good looks for his teammates was surely a factor.

For only the second time all season, the Raptors attempted fewer shots than their opponent on Monday night. However, they hit 12 of their 28 threes, with Siakam assisting on a couple of them and his presence creating several others.

While the Cavs were on the second night of a back-to-back and missing some key pieces themselves, including all-star centre Jarrett Allen, Toronto held Donovan Mitchell to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting and a very good Cleveland team to 7-of-38 from three-point range.

“We didn’t have our normal team and we were losing games we felt like we should win,” Siakam said. That will happen. You just have to stay positive, continue to work and just find our rhythm. Having everyone back just feels good. The bench just feels full. Sometimes you would watch the bench and there was nobody on the bench. That felt depressing by itself. We are going to get on a run and as long as we stay together and play together, we’re going to be OK.”

Perhaps it was because we got used to seeing them play without a fraction of their roster, or maybe it was because of how they staggered minutes with a couple starters coming off the bench, but the Raptors had an embarrassment of riches when it came to talent on the floor. Now that they’re getting healthier, it’s easier to see some of those silver linings that can come with injuries.

O.G. Anunoby took his game to another level as the de facto No. 1 option these past few weeks, and it carried over even with Siakam back in the lineup, scoring a team-leading 20 points on 8-of-13. Then, Young and Hernangomez, who were barely playing early in the season, have emerged as viable depth pieces, whether they continue to start or return to the bench.

Trent and Barnes both found out they would be coming off the bench earlier in the day. With a couple guys coming back, including Barnes, and a few more still searching for their rhythm, including Trent, Nurse wanted to split them up between units, hence the lineup change.

Barnes had started the first 90 regular-season games of his career and didn’t seem thrilled about his demotion, though it’ll likely be temporary. The bigger question for Nurse, who was non-committal when asked about what his first unit will look like moving forward, is whether Trent might be best suited as a reserve.

Coming in shooting two for his last 22 from beyond the arc, Trent knocked down his first three-point attempts shortly after checking into the game. While he hadn’t come off the bench since opening night of last season, he responded, scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 26 minutes.

Raptors beat Cavaliers in Pascal Siakam’s return from injury | The Star

Trent ended up being the third Raptors sub — after Barnes and Christian Koloko — and played 21 minutes. He made a three-pointer the first time he touched the ball, finishing with 14 points on nine shots.

“It was more of a case of not throwing a whole bunch of guys out there at the same time that are out of rhythm, (who) haven’t played (or) played one game,” Nurse said. “Just trying to keep some balance.”

Hernangómez — who doesn’t do a lot of flashy things but plays a smart, “be in the right place” style that seems to fit the Raptors — had just five points but also six rebounds in 20 minutes and was a big part of why the Raptors held Cleveland to less than 40 per cent shooting.

“Defence was really good,” Nurse said after the game. “There was a lot of execution, a lot of help for each other, great communication out there defensively most of the night.”

The Siakam factor, though, is what’s going to allow the Raptors to try to regain their form from the first 10 games, when they had one of the most efficient offences and scrambling defences in the league.

His scoring is elite — he had a few shots Monday that didn’t seem to even touch the mesh when they went in — but it’s the way he’s able to pick apart defences that puts him at an all-star level.

“I think we’re all aware that he was creating a lot of faced-up, catch-and-shoot threes for guys. That’s kind of the best (three-point field goal) to get and maybe we weren’t getting as many good looks, or as rhythmic of looks, whatever,” Nurse said. “I haven’t studied it that closely to know that exactly, but probably would assume that to be the case.”

Now the job is to fully acclimate everyone at a consistent level, to continue to get production from guys such as Young and Hernangómez, both of whom might see a drop-off in their usage now that Siakam and Barnes are back.

“I think it always takes a little time,” Nurse said.

Siakam dominates in return to lead Raptors past Cavaliers | Toronto Sun

Siakam has made it clear that he wants to join that next level of elite scorers and defenders in the league and Monday was a statement that no groin injury was going to get in the way of that.

His 18 points and 11 rebounds led the Raptors to an 100-88 win over a game but undermanned Cleveland squad.

“I feel like I need to get my legs under me which is expected Siakam said. “To play at that speed, the game is different. I mean I’ve been working and all that, but game speed is different and just to be able to sustain it for a long time. I felt like I did OK, but I got to continue to get better. Once I get my legs under me, I can provide a little bit more. But yeah, just good to be out there.” 

The Cavs, who came into the game third in the conference with a 13-7 record, were without starting centre Jarrett Allen and veteran reserve Kevin Love among a handful of others.

Allen’s absence was particularly noticeable as the Raptors were able to get inside and do damage, normally an area that the Cavs dominate.

Pivotal for the Raptors in this one was the blanket defence they played on Donovan Mitchell.

Mitchell has scored 30 or more 11 times already this season but with a heavy dose of OG Anunoby in his face, Mitchell was unable to get out of single digits, finishing the night with just eight points.

Anunoby, who took over Siakam’s No. 1 option role offensively in his absence, didn’t slack in that area either, finishing with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting and four-of-five makes from distance in the game.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse went a little unorthodox with his starting lineup, but it worked out nicely.

Scottie Barnes came off the bench and gave the Raptors another strong defensive presence in the second unit while scoring 11 points.

More than anything it allowed Nurse to ease players like Siakam and Barnes back into the lineup.

Siakam was held just under 33 minutes while Barnes played 30 off the bench.

Defensively, the Raptors were crisp all night.

Siakam’s return had a lot to do with that but so, too, did the presence of Barnes and especially Anunoby.

Siakam did most of his damage offensively in the first half where he had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting in just 16 minutes.

Anunoby picked up the slack in the second half. After attempting just four shots in the first half leading to six points, he was a much bigger offensive contributor in the second half finishing with a team-high 20 points.

Pascal Siakam Returns as Raptors Clinch Win vs. Cavaliers – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

As far as Siakam’s return, the 28-year-old didn’t miss a beat in his first game back since suffering a right adductor strain on Nov. 4. There was no easing him back as he shook the rust off. Instead, the 28-year-old recertified himself as one of the league’s best. He took on Cleveland’s best perimeter defender Isaac Okoro right away, using his trademarked spin move to score Toronto’s opening bucket. Moments later he pulled up deep in the paint against Evan Mobley, lofting a floater over the Cavaliers’ prized defensive star.

“I feel like I can do anytime really and it wasn’t nothing that felt like super hard or difficult or like things I had to force or anything, it just felt like the game and I think that went up play like that, it’s just how it is,” Siakam said.

For as much talk as there’s been about Gary Trent Jr. and Scottie Barnes taking ill-advised mid-range jumpers this season, Siakam remains one of the few Raptors players that can really make opponents pay on those tough shots. He’s got some DeMar DeRozan in his game, if you will, repeatedly pulling up and making those jumpers when defenses don’t send help his way.

“Watching Pascal play is like ‘wow, damn.’ Every move he makes, the step backs, the spin moves, double spin moves, you know it’s coming but still, ‘bang.’ It’s great to have him back out there on the floor,” Barnes said of Siakam who tallied 18 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes. “[It’s] amazing to see him out there on the floor the way he scores the ball. Stepbacks, spin moves, be able to reject, all these different things. It’s just like, wow. The way he scores is amazing to watch.”

When Siakam is at his best, though, he’s creating for others and using the attention opposing teams pay to find his teammates, often for open three-point looks or easy buckets at the rim. Consider this: In the last 10 games without Siakam, Toronto had shot 28.2% from behind the arc, the second-worst mark in the league over that stretch. In the games with Siakam, the Raptors were shooting 37.9% coming into Monday. While that’s not all because of Siakam, the All-NBA forward certainly makes a massive difference.

“He just looked sharp,” VanVleet said of Siakam. “He’s been in the lab working on his game the last couple days, probably the last week or so. … He really gave us a big boost and carried us, especially early in the first quarter and first half.”

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