After Kyrie Irving hit a buzzer beater to beat the Toronto Raptors, and the Brooklyn Nets were done celebrating, and the Raptors were done their discussion in the locker room, Nick Nurse walked into the media room to face questions. The first was a softball, about doing good things and not getting a good result, and Nurse stared at the table for almost a minute as he spoke. He listed good things and bad and spoke for a long time, and didn't look up until he got to the final play of the game.
"Yeah, I wouldn’t say we made all the right plays, but we made a lot of good plays and played really hard and I thought we played really tough at both ends," he said, downcast. Eventually: "We could have executed a little bit better on that last defensive play, get it out of Irving's hands. But, tough. They made all of them down the stretch, until that last one we had the guys doing a lot of good things to make some other people make plays, and they made them."
In other words, it's not really our fault. And the Raptors did play well. They've found solutions for just about every problem they've faced. Fred VanVleet lost his jumpshot, so he's become a killer in the midrange and at the rim. (And against the Nets, his jumper returned -- if we are going to care about process and moral victories, that's kind of the most important positive that could have happened.) O.G. Anunoby is out with injury, then Gary Trent jr., so Malachi Flynn steps in and scores 13 points off the bench.
The Raptors can't find solutions for a team simply making all of its shots to close the game.
The Nets hit six of their final seven shots. Oh, and they opened the fourth quarter making seven in a row, too. Not all easy shots, and not all hard shots, but mostly a pretty livable spectrum if you're the Raptors. Makes, nonetheless. Ultimately, the "livable spectrum" component is meaningless for the Raptors.
For Toronto, there are no moral victories at the moment. This is a young team that won 48 wins last season and was supposed to build on it. None of its core four -- VanVleet (28 years old), Anunoby (25), Scottie Barnes (21), or Pascal Siakam (28) -- has reached an age that indicates growing and improving is done. The Raptors were supposed to be better this season than they were last year, but to this point they are decidedly worse.
The 2022-23 Raptors have not yet won three games in a row. They won three in a row before October was done last season. This year's Raptors have now lost four in a row -- a feat they never matched in all of 2021-22. It's a truism, but it's a truism for a reason: Good teams find ways to win, and bad teams find ways to lose. For Toronto, no matter how much good they find, it has decidedly not been good enough. They were a good team last season. For all the good they're finding this year, they are not.
Process can only take you so far.
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