Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

Mid-Morning Coffee – Fri, Dec 30

Raptors stink heading into the new year | Champaignie gone | Boucher stinks ... Siakam is sick though

Nurse criticizes Raptors’ ‘unacceptable’ effort levels after being outmatched by Grizzlies – Sportsnet

“Well, it was about as bad as it could get,” said Nurse. “I mean, there was times when we would make a free throw and they would throw it ahead and dunk on at the other end, like plays that can happen, they can happen maybe once every seven years. Like seriously, like no. So we’ve got to get focused and connected and get serious about playing harder.”

Or what, is the question? Nurse was lamenting his team’s lack of effort defensively after the Clippers coasted to any easy win on Tuesday. The response wasn’t what he was looking for, clearly.

He doesn’t have a lot of levers to work with, which is what management has to answer for as they brought 11 rotation players back from a team that last season lacked size, point guard depth and perimeter shooting, giving Nurse a team that is still lacking in all three areas.

Short of a prolonged soft spot in the schedule – and none are on the horizon – it’s hard to see things correcting in any meaningful way, and even if they somehow managed a 24-17 finish in the second half, why would anyone trust it?

For now the Raptors lack anything that resembles quality depth, or at least will as long Fred VanVleet (back), Precious Achiuwa (ankle) and Otto Porter Jr. (toe) remain out. At full strength Nurse might have some options to juggle some minutes and rotations, but that might be a pipe dream. Porter Jr. was already rickety before he pulled his hamstring in training camp and since injured his toe. He’s played eight games, been out a month and can’t be counted on if he ever gets healthy. Achiuwa should provide some pop but ramping up after a 23-game absence – there’s hope he plays Friday when the Raptors host Phoenix – will take time, and he’s still a project anyway in his third season. VanVleet has had a collection of vaguely defined injuries dating back to the all-star break last season, and his performance has reflected it. Expecting him to right the ship seems overly optimistic.

Despite their coach’s tough words, the Toronto Raptors didn’t roll over after losing the battle on the offensive glass 14-3 to Memphis in the first quarter, and they forced the Grizzlies into eight of their 15 turnovers. In the process they cut a 23-point deficit midway through the third quarter down to nine in the space of 12 minutes before the Grizzlies took charge again. Morant calmly found Dillon Brooks for an open three and then Brooks rifled a pass to Adams, who had his man sealed under the basket and the lead was quickly back to 14. It was all part of a brilliant 25-point homecoming for Brooks, a Mississauga native, and career-best 17 assists for Morant, who also had 19 points – 13 in the third quarter when Memphis split the game open. The Raptors were led by Pascal Siakam’s 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Scottie Barnes had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Gary Trent Jr. added 20 points off the bench.

Toronto fell to 15-20 with the loss and are outside the Eastern Conference play-off picture. Memphis improved to 21-13 and are very much in the championship conversation.

“We’re contenders,” said Brooks. “When we’re cooking like this, not a lot of teams can beat us.”

Least of all the Raptors, who are struggling to beat anyone right now, and who need to have an honest conversation amongst themselves as to why and what needs to be done about it.

Koreen: The Raptors do not fit – The Athletic

Here’s what’s consistent: In their past three home games, admittedly against three teams with championship aspirations, the Raptors have been outclassed. In each of those games, the Raptors lost their competitive spirit at times. They’ve rarely wilted for whole games, and they didn’t against Memphis, either. Nothing they do well seems sustainable, though.

As we trot toward the new year, it’s clear: The Raptors don’t fit, and they can’t make up for it with pure energy expenditure. Offensively and defensively, this team is uninspiring and predictable. The same problems continue to reveal themselves. Nothing is changing.

Nurse called out the effort after Thursday’s game — they were bad in transition, so he’s not wrong — but that seems like a convenient answer specifically because it is so simple: Play harder. Play better. Play smarter. Those are, at once, necessities and not very helpful. In substance and style, there is plenty to pick apart.

Going back to last season, the Raptors have relied on isolation far too much for a team that doesn’t have any especially skilled one-on-one players, Siakam excluded. Coming into the game, the Raptors were among the leaders in isolation percentages yet ranked in the 7th percentile in efficiency on those plays. Yet, with as many gifted passers as they have — Siakam, the injured VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, Thaddeus Young — this is a team that attacks with little cohesion.

Assist percentage is not necessarily a positive or negative statistic, but the Raptors have been sinking in that category as the season has progressed. Against the Grizzlies, the Raptors relied a lot on Gary Trent Jr. cooking up looks for himself. It worked more times than it usually does, but it’s not a consistent path to success.

Who couldn’t have seen problems in the half court coming, though? Everyone — Nurse, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and his front office and the players — has to wear the continued defensive struggles. Add the Grizzlies to the long list of teams to shoot better than 50 percent against the Raptors. Just the Spurs, a team that is comically uninterested in winning basketball games presently, allow a higher shooting percentage to their opponents than the Raptors.

In the past two games, the Raptors defence has been at its best when it has played zone defence. The Raptors should be good in that scenario, given they have the length to cover a lot of space simply by moving from side to side with their arms outstretched. However, that length should also allow them to contain dribble penetration in more standard alignments.

They cannot, and it’s at the root of their problems defensively. With their excellent defensive rebounding faltering against the burlier big men and their trademark relentlessness being matched by similarly minded teams with more overall talent, such as Memphis, the shortcomings are being exposed.

“It was about as bad as it could get,” Nurse said of the team’s transition defence Thursday. “There (were) times when we would make a free throw and they would throw it ahead and dunk on at the other end. Plays like that can happen … maybe once every seven years — like, seriously. We’ve got to get focused and connected and get serious about playing harder.”

“We haven’t been getting back (in transition),” said O.G. Anunoby, who added that the starters haven’t been coming out with the requisite effort.

When a team isn’t meeting expectations, a binary argument often forms among a fan base, and sometimes within the organization in question: Is the coach not making the most of his roster, or is the roster simply not sturdy enough to flourish in any setting? With the Raptors, the latter is more the case, but it doesn’t have to be one or the other. The half-court offence was a glaring problem heading into the season, and the fact the coaching staff has failed to cook up anything reliable beyond hoping for Siakam’s excellence is damning.

Report Card: Memphis Grizzlies right the ship against Toronto Raptors – Grizzly Bear Blues

Ja Morant- 19 points, 17 assists, 4 rebounds, 9-19 FG, +21
Typically, when Ja isn’t the leading scorer for the Grizzlies, that means something’s very wrong.

That wasn’t the issue last night, as the entire starting lineup of the Grizzlies stepped up last night and produced well as an unit for the first team in a while.

This meant Ja could sort of take the night off from a scoring perspective, and while he didn’t net 20 points, he did distribute 17 assists, which represents a new career high for him. I think he will break that in the near future, but for him to trust his teammates the way he did last night impressed me.

During the last two games, Ja’s put up insane scoring numbers, but the final result wasn’t in the team’s favor. Last night, he let his teammates eat, and everyone ended up enjoying the fruits of their labor.

I think that’s a recipe that the Grizzlies can utilize, granted that the supporting cast around Ja continues to perform like last night.

Toronto Raptors remain defenseless in 119-106 loss to Memphis Grizzlies – Raptors HQ

I remember heading into this season being slightly skeptical about the Raptors half court offence, and wondering how they’d protect the rim, but one thing I didn’t think I would have to worry about was their perimeter defence. The Toronto Raptors are filled with big wings who have reputations as strong defenders, but they have yet to show it this season.

Despite only scoring over 43 points in the first half, the offence really isn’t what concerned me tonight. The lack of 3-point shooting has been an issue all season, but for Raptors standards, 10/28 isn’t too shabby.

It took a lineup with Scottie Barnes plus the bench to give the Raptors their first actual spark of the game, cutting the lead to 10 at 104-94 — but that would be the closest the Raptors would come before Memphis subbed back in their own starters. The Raptors did manage to get it to 9 after this, but the excitement would end there.

The lack of interior defense is one thing. Not that this should be something that the Raptors should simply concede on a night to night basis, but it is reasonable to see why they lack rim protection, or an individual body to match Steven Adams.

Adams finished the game with 14 points and 17 rebounds, and the Grizzlies with 53 rebounds as a whole. Which to be fair, didn’t exceed the Raptors by much — finishing with 47 themselves.

One area that confused me was how the Raptors decided to guard Ja Morant. Morant is one of the best players in the league, and no matter what defence you throw at him, it is only going to work to a certain extent.

For starters, the constant blow-by’s need to stop. It would be one thing if this was just Morant, but it has been just about every opposing perimeter player, nearly every night.

Nick Nurse said in his post game press conference that the Grizzlies opportunities on offence were “about as bad as it could get” for the Raptors. The alley-oops, dunks, and blow-by’s were things that happen “every once in a while, all in one game” according to Nurse.

Raptors have no answers for tougher, rougher Grizzlies | The Star

Being unable to match the sheer physical size and strength of the Grizzlies is a roster issue that must be addressed by vice-chairman Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster in due time.

But competing, trying to at least match toughness with more force, lies with the players and Nurse and they certainly didn’t get it done Thursday night.

The Grizzlies, a tough a group as there is in the league this season, roughed up the Raptors in a 119-106 victory that continues Toronto’s slide into mid-season oblivion.

The Raptors have now lost eight of their last 10 games and they’ve careened out of even a spot in the play-in portion of the playoffs.

They have myriad issues at both ends, many of which were fully exposed by the Grizzlies, even if Toronto carved a 23-point deficit to under nine with about five minutes left.

Memphis’s size defensively looked at times to intimidate the Raptors and their physical nature on offence laid waste to Toronto’s defence.

The thing is, the Raptors knew what was coming. And didn’t handle it.

“My concern would be can you play through the bumps,” Nurse wondered before the game. “When they’re bumping you constantly, they’re not going to call all the bumps, they can’t.

“It’s like I always say, if five guys are fouling you at the same time, they can’t call them all. You’re going have to play through some physicality. That would be my message to the team tonight. Let’s not look for the calls. There are probably going to be some that are called and some that aren’t. You’ve got to keep on balance and stay composed when they aren’t.”

It was more fight than composure that the Raptors lacked. Morant scorched them in transition to the tune of 19 points and 17 assists, Adams had 17 rebounds as the Grizzlies dominated the glass and Mississauga’s Dillon Brooks, who takes great delight in playing well in Toronto, had 25 points.

Morant’s assists were a career high as the Raptors, minus starter Fred VanVleet and opening the game with no true point guard, had no answer for him.

“Ja is one of these guys that is super special,” Nurse said. “For that, we usually use a number of guys and kind of see the feel of it goes and see if there’s anything we can find that we can do to slow him down.

“It isn’t who’s matched up. It’s coming up the floor in transition: Your team’s got to guard him. Your team has to be ready to guard him. There are multiple things that need to happen or he’s going be by you in the paint and at the rim.”

Nurse rolled the dice by trotting out not only the 18th different starting lineup the Raptors have used this season but a group of five that had not played a single second together.

Not surprisingly, the group of Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunonby, Pascal Siakam, Juancho Hernangomez and Koloko looked disjointed at both ends of the court and it took less than four minutes, with his team in a nine-point hole, for Nurse to go to the bench.

Raptors Beat By Their Own Tricks in Blowout by Grizzlies – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

Twice in the second quarter, Memphis grabbed back-to-back offensive rebounds, creating second and third-chance opportunities before finally cashing in. Even when the Raptors went on their fourth-quarter run, it was an Adams offensive rebound and kick-out three for Jackson that put Memphis back up 13. 

As if that wasn’t troubling enough, Toronto’s vaunted transition defense that’s supposed to be buoyed by all these long and athletic wings couldn’t seem to slow Morant and the Grizzlies’ transition offense. There were nearly a half dozen full-court passes to Grizzlies players who had already beat Toronto down the court despite the Raptors’ supposed edge in that area.

At one point, even the 265-pound Adams beat the Raptors down the court, lumbering into the paint for two of Memphis’ 21 fastbreak points.

“It was about as bad as it could get,” Nurse said. “Plays that can happen, they can happen maybe once every seven years. Like seriously. So we’ve got to get focused and connected and get serious about playing harder.”

Nurse is running out of ideas. He’s publicly criticized players, limited playing time, given opportunities to virtually every player on the roster and still, the same problems persist.

What’s the solution?

“It’s also just gonna have to be just good old fashioned hard work, I think,” Nurse said. “They should get tired of this pretty soon and start playing.” 

Raptors’ woes continue as Grizzlies take care of business | Toronto Sun

“So looking at anything else other than us just getting back to some instinctual effort plays is my first concern.”

That’s about as critical of his team as Nurse has been in his tenure. He has called out individuals and even groups but to collectively call out his team for effort is new ground.

And Nurse wasn’t talking about just this one particular loss either.

“Certainly, lately we’ve been lacking playing to our identity,” Nurse said. “I don’t know. We’re just a little bit disjointed right now and we’ve got us, we got to hang in there and get to work and keep showing ’em what we’re talking about and hopefully they’ll go out there and execute. They should get tired of this pretty soon and start playing.”

Thursday night’s Raptors were no match for the high-powered offence the visiting Grizzlies can throw at a team.

Add in Brooks — again proving how much he loves to play with friends and family so close at hand — and the recipe wasn’t a good one for the Raptors who dropped their second in a row and 11th in 15.

Ja Morant was also a problem all night long, whether it was passing out of double teams for one of his 17 assists or hitting that can’t-miss floater in the lane that he has perfected for some of his 19 points, not to mention any number of electrifying dunks that had even a partisan Raptors’ crowd oohing and ahhing in appreciation.

Morant, live and in living colour, was a novelty for the Raptors fan base. This was his first action at Scotiabank Arena, but Brooks is very familiar with the building and its fans.

A year ago here, Brooks was at his taunting and feisty best, calling out anyone who attempted to score on him or prevent him from scoring in a 17-point performance that helped the Grizzlies to a 98-91 win.

He was at it again on this night, first making life miserable for Pascal Siakam in the early going as the Grizzlies built a double-digit lead, and then with his scoring.

The Grizzlies just happen to have a lot of the kind of weapons that present the biggest challenge to a team built like the Raptors.

Without a true centre, Steven Adams was all but unstoppable on the boards and proved that with 17 rebounds, eight offensive boards earning his team valuable extra possessions.

Then there’s the speed with which, not just Morant, but all the Grizzlies play.
There’s also the emphasis on using their size, Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr., inside where they dominate the points in the paint battle.

On paper, it was a bad matchup for the home side coming in and that was if everyone was healthy. And with Fred VanVleet out with back spasms, it played out pretty much that way in real time.

Siakam led the Raps with 25 points and 10 boards while Gary Trent Jr. scored 20 off the bench. Scottie Barnes also had a double-double.