Morning Coffee – Tue, Jan 3

The Raptors bench put up a stinker | Siakam and Trent carrying the load | Where is VanVleet?

Raptors facing a massive January for their future, and it started poorly – The Athletic

I hate bench points as a statistic. Reserves have different roles, and not every bench unit is designed to score a bunch of points. I prefer bench minutes because it allows you to understand the contributions better. Indiana got 97. The Raptors got 44. (Bench points? The Pacers won that 54-7.)

When he’s feeling it, Trent makes watching the Raptors so much easier. It’s not that his shooting creates way more space for the Raptors’ creators, but he gives the team much-needed shot-making at the end of a going-nowhere possession.

Another bad shooting night from VanVleet, who returned after missing two games with back spasms. He made one defensive decision, trying to poke the ball away from Aaron Nesmith instead of moving to stay in front of him, which was disastrous.

Nurse gave Achiuwa short runs in the forward’s first game since he sprained and damaged ligaments in his ankle Nov. 9. Scottie Barnes was throwing some bizarre passes to him to try to get him going, but aside from that, Achiuwa looked nice and bouncy. He had a big block in traffic and finished one of those Barnes passes. Achiuwa was on the floor for a few possessions when the Raptors defended ferociously around the rim. He had great individual defence on Tyrese Haliburton to end his evening. Achiuwa had three points and three blocks in 12 minutes.

With Barnes playing the de facto centre spot, he was setting a lot of screens against drop coverage. Indiana’s Myles Turner was hanging out as close to the rim as possible. Throughout his career, Barnes hasn’t shied away from taking long 2s, but he wasn’t looking to shoot at all against the coverage. It worked, as the Raptors rained in some 3s, but there is likely a happy medium that involves Turner at least dribbling into the paint to get Turner to move a little. Barnes doesn’t necessarily need to shoot in those sets, but he can’t merely look to hand off the ball, either. At times, Barnes seemed like he was doing a Raptors-era Marc Gasol tribute.

On the other hand, that’s a very impressive catch and a very nice effort to try to finish a dunk over Turner. He doesn’t get the foul call if he tries to lay in the ball. He also had a nice tip off a missed 3 from Trent to O.G. Anunoby for a put-back. That should be an assist. Barnes was great leading the Raptors in transition, too. Barnes had 23 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a fascinating game for him.

I have no idea how the officials reviewed the minor skirmish between Anunoby and Bennedict Mathurin and decided only Anunoby should get a technical. Anunoby held up the Montreal-raised rookie, and Mathurin shoved Anunoby, who shoved him back. That’s either nothing or it’s technical fouls to both players.

That was a rough stretch from Malachi Flynn to end the first quarter. He got beat by T.J. McConnell one-on-one twice, then threw away what should have been the last possession of the frame. Knowing Nurse, the former will stick out more than the latter. He was at fault for the first two buckets of the second quarter, too, which earned him a spot on the bench. His poor play was part of those staggering bench numbers.

Past momentum can’t lift Raptors to a win as Pacers dominate fourth quarter – Sportsnet

One of the arguments for having Trent Jr. come off the bench is that he would give the Raptors some bench scoring. With Trent Jr. as a starter, the Raptors have almost none. Malachi Flynn showed why he’s struggled to gain or keep a rotation spot against the Pacers.

With VanVleet struggling, there were gobs of minutes up for grabs, but Flynn got cooked by Pacers back up TJ McConnell so routinely that Nurse was generous to give him the eight minutes he did get. Flynn was -11 in the first half and -5 in 1:22 of the third quarter as McConnell scored 15 points in his 21 minutes.

It should have been a perfect match-up for Flynn Jr., but he flubbed it. No one else on the bench was any better – Chris Boucher was scoreless in four minutes – with the exception of Christian Koloko who had some nice hustle moments. But in the final tally the Pacers bench outscored Toronto 54-7, and this with the Raptors near full health.

We know how this goes: Nurse will play his starters even more and chances are the injuries will follow and when they do, the Raptors won’t be able to back fill because they’re not deep enough. What more does anyone need to see?

Pacers final score: Pacers close out Raptors 122-114 – Indy Cornrows

While Indiana took control of the game late, they were also aided by some late-game fatigue by the Raptors. Toronto’s bench was only able to muster up seven total points on the game, which didn’t grant them much time to spell the starting unit, resulting in all five Toronto starters logging at or near 40 minutes of game action.

It was the opposite story for the Pacers, who enjoyed a huge output from their second unit, finishing with 54, resulting in a starting lineup that barely clocked 30 minutes of game action, four of the five still reaching double figures. The balanced attack featured seven double figure scorers on the night, led by the rookie Mathurin with 21 points.

Mathurin bowled over the Toronto defenders throughout the night, helping the Pacers to a free throw advantage victory with 10 attempts, making seven. McConnell also got to the line with relative ease, making all seven of his shots to finish with 15 points. It was a highlight game for both Arizona Wildcats, twice pulling Indiana from a decently sized deficit in their time on the floor.

Rebounding was surprisingly a strong point for Indiana, topping Toronto 50-36 on the glass. That included 15 offensive rebounds. Though they still allowed 12 offensive boards, they were able to play the Raptors to a draw in second chance points, resulting in a 62-42 win in the paint.

Smith led the way on both counts, scoring 11 points with 11 rebounds, seven coming on the offensive end. Four other players totaled two each, including Brissett and Andrew Nembhard, each finishing with five points total. Turner completed his own double double of 18 points and 11 boards, blocking Indiana’s only two shots of the night, another surprising twist compared to 11 total from Toronto.

Hield’s back-to-back threes made him the high scorer among the starters, wrapping up a nine-point fourth with 19 points, including two of his four assists coming at the time as well. The assists helped Aaron Nesmith into double figures with 10, leading the starters in free throw attempts despite shooting just 3-12 and 0-4 from three.

Nesmith’s shooting wasn’t the only uncharacteristic note of the game as Haliburton finished with a season high seven turnovers, failing to thread the needle against Toronto’s length. He did put it together down the stretch, however, dishing three assists with zero turnovers in the fourth. He also pulled in four rebounds to go with his go-ahead three, finishing with 16 points and eight assists.

Toronto Raptors fail to play a full 4 quarters, lose to Indiana Pacers, 122-114 – Raptors HQ

You know, maybe I spoke too soon on the Raptors’ 3-point shooting. After a stellar first quarter, they followed it up with a 4/11 second quarter from deep.

Following three straight games with at least 20 points for Gary Trent Jr., the man has come out on fire for a fourth game in a row. Finishing the half with 18, it is looking like he will be continuing the streak.

The Indiana Pacers love to RUN! They are 6th in the league in Pace, and you can see why. Off makes, misses, or turnovers, this team is looking to rim run and throw it up the floor before the opposing team can get back, and the Raptors certainly are struggling with it.

I miss the days when this team was an absolute problem defensively, whether that was half court or transition. However, the team continues to struggle in all facets on the defensive end.

Precious Achiuwa started the quarter and was on the bench before the 8 minute mark, leaving absolutely gassed, but making an impact with 2 points, 1 assist and 1 block. The shortness of breath was expected. It has been nearly two months since he’s played in an NBA game, and there is a big difference between basketball conditioning and being in shape.

Scottie Barnes is now 1/3 on jump shots, which is good because it at least keeps the defense honest.

Toronto needs to start getting back on defense, or they could lose the third quarter by 13 as well. The Raptors already have third quarter woes as is, so let’s see if they can get this game back, get some stops, and not continue to get out-rebounded 28-15

Raptors bench hits rock bottom in road loss to Pacers | The Star

On Monday, coupled with the pressure on the starters to simply outscore the Pacers was the fact that the Raptors defence wasn’t nearly as effective as it needed to be. They couldn’t contain the ball on the perimeter, weren’t able to force enough turnovers, and their transition from offence to defence was abysmal most of then night.

A 32-point game from Trent was impressive, Siakam adding 26 was nice and Barnes throwing in 23 was effective, but they didn’t guard nearly well enough for long enough.

The Pacers shot almost 50 per cent from the field, had 62 points in the paint and outrebounded Toronto 50-36 for their fourth win in a row.

The worry with Achiuwa was how much of a load he could handle after missing more than seven weeks — more than a quarter (24 games) of the regular season — with ankle ligament issues. It was by far the longest inactive stretch of his three-year career, and it would be unfair to expect him to be back at his usual game speed or have his regular impact immediately.

Most of the work the 23-year-old has been doing has been focused on conditioning and fighting through any hesitancy to push too hard, too fast.

“You’ve got to get conditioning and you’ve got to get some kind of rhythm, so we’re just trying to get him sprinting and playing hard and running hard and playing fearless and those kind of things,” coach Nick Nurse said Sunday. “That’s it. It’s conditioning, really. Conditioning and confidence.”

Achiuwa certainly looked a bit out of sorts, hardly a shock given how long he’d been sidelined, and his usage was limited. He played four minutes at the start of the second quarter, a few seconds near the end of the first half as a defensive replacement, and eight in the second half. He finished with three points and no rebounds.

VanVleet was back after missing two games with back issues that he said have come up a couple of times this season.

“I’ve had two now in the first part of the year,” he said. “Both have been contact injuries, and most of my career it’s usually contact stuff. Nothing major, nothing I’m really worried about, but just a couple different movements that I’ve got to tighten up.”

VanVleet was just 3-for-12 from three-point range — he took 12 three-pointers and only three other shots — as part of a nine-point, three assist, 37-minute night.

Injuries No Excuse for Raptors in Loss to Pacers – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

It’s an excuse they try not to use too often, but it’s there. Pascal Siakam mentioned it back on December 18 after losing to the Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins-less Golden State Warriors. More recently, Fred VanVleet mentioned it Sunday, saying the team should get better as it gets healthier.

On one hand, it’s true, Toronto has battled a slew of injuries all season and came into Monday night having played just two games with it’s top seven players fully healthy. On the other, counting on health is never a good idea.

“You can’t sit and say yep, that’s the answer, wait till our roster is healthy,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said last month.

He’s right.

But Monday was supposed to provide an opportunity to finally see this team at nearly full strength. Precious Achiuwa was back after almost two months and VanVleet returned from back spasms. How’d it go? Not much better. Toronto’s inability to defend the paint and get out to shooters coupled with pivotal misses from VanVleet proved decisive in a 122-114 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

VanVleet was off all night. Whether it was a lingering injury or not, the 28-year-old guard couldn’t seem to buy a bucket from deep. He missed a pair of wide-open three-pointers in the fourth quarter and by the end of the game, Indiana wasn’t even sprinting to close out on the slumping point guard who finished the night just 3-for-15 from the field.

Even with Achiuwa back, Toronto couldn’t seem to protect the paint. The 23-year-old looked OK in his 12 minutes of action. He fumbled a point-blank pass under the bucket from Thad Young and then miscommunicated with O.G. Anunoby on a drive, creating a Raptors turnover. He did help Toronto’s defense a little bit, blocking an inside shot attempt from Canadian Bennedict Mathurin, but it wasn’t much.

The biggest problem for the Raptors continued to be its disappointing transition defense. Toronto had almost no answer for Indiana’s lightning-quick pace. Even after Raptors makes, the Pacers created fastbreak chances where there never should have been any. Considering the emphasis Toronto has put on its transition defense of late, a 23-10 differential in fastbreak scoring isn’t going to cut it.

Raptors get nothing from bench in wasted effort against Indiana Pacers | Toronto Sun

It was the sixth win in seven games for the Pacers and for the Raptors it was their ninth loss in their past 12.

The difference in this one was off the bench, where the Pacers got a lift from their reserves and the Raptors got next to nothing.

Montreal native Bennedict Mathurin had the complete game against the Raptors.

The Pacers rookie was filling up the stat sheet and even got Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire engaged in a verbal back-and-forth as the two Canadians exchanged words after Mathurin and OG Anunoby had their own conversation on the court.

Mathurin wound up leading all Indiana scorers with 21 points in a reserve role.

Between them, Mathurin and T.J. McConnell — normally a guy who kills you with the pass — combined for 36 points off the bench or 29 more than the entire Raptors bench production which was a grand total of seven.

All told, seven different Pacers finished scoring in double digits in this one.

Toronto’s starters certainly held their own, holding a large edge over the Pacers starters.

Indiana’s bench though, which Nurse mentioned Sunday as a group that gets plenty of opportunities and extended run, evened things out nicely dominating Toronto’s reserves.

The game marked the return of both Fred VanVleet and Precious Achiuwa, the former after a brief absence, the latter returning from a seven-week stint on the sidelines.

VanVleet struggled with his shot with just three makes on 15 attempts, all of them from deep. He finished with nine points and three assists.

In expected limited minutes, Achiuwa made his presence felt with three blocks, three of the 11 the Raptors had in the game, not to mention some solid defensive contributions late in the game that kept the Pacers from pulling away earlier than they did

Pascal Siakam, Mr. Consistency for the Raptors this season, had another all-around complete night with 26 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.

Gary Trent Jr. picked up right where he left off in that 35-point effort against Phoenix on Friday. He had 32 points including 5-of-10 from behind the arc where the Raptors have struggled of late.

Not so much on Monday night, however, as the visitors made 14 from deep or about three more than their season average

But with the bench being so soundly thrashed, none of it mattered.

Toronto’s lack of depth has hurt them on a number of occasions already this year. None were as apparent as this time.

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