Morning Coffee – Sat, Jan 7

Raptors lose 3rd in a row | VanVleet needs to start hitting his shots not shooting less | Masai needs to lean into his ruthlessness

Things go from bad to worse for Raptors after another loss at home – Sportsnet

“I think we’re in a situation where there’s some urgency every night right now,” said coach Nick Nurse before the game. “The guys are trying really hard, maybe too hard, so just need to go out there and continue to play defence with some urgency and effort and connectivity and play with a little bit more pace on offence, get the ball up the floor, relax and knock ‘em down.”

Didn’t quite happen, turns out. The Raptors shot just 10-of-29 from three, which is about par for the 30th-ranked shooting team, by three-point percentage. The Knicks shot 16-of-37, which was as big a statistical difference maker in the game as any other.

The Raptors were led by Fred VanVleet, who had 28 points on 9-of-21 shooting and Trent Jr., who had 27 points on 16 shots in 42 minutes. Pascal Siakam was held to 18 points on a 4-of-14 night, not able to replicate the magic of his 52-point game against New York last time the teams met, while Barnes struggled for much of the game and finished with seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.

Julius Randle led the Knicks with 32 while Brunson, the Knicks point guard. had 26 points and eight assists in an entertaining battle with VanVleet.

The Raptors didn’t have to worry about a replay of their first quarter against the Bucks where they shot just 2-of-23 and missed their first 15 to start the game.

O.G. Anunoby hit a jumper and VanVleet hit a step-back three to get them on the board quickly Friday. But having seen Siakam go off at Madison Square Garden, Randle seemed determined to return the favour. The big-bodied wing hit five threes before the games was six minutes old and was 6-of-8 from the floor in the first quarter.

The Knicks were up eight at one point before a pair of steals in the final 40 seconds – one by Trent Jr. that he converted to a fastbreak dunk and another by Barnes on Randle that stifled New York’s final possession and allowed Toronto to go into the second quarter trailing 30-26.

Toronto’s problems began in the second quarter and the issue was the same as ever: the bench is where Raptors games go to die. The Knicks started the second quarter on an 11-2 run to push their lead to 13, forcing the Raptors to call a quick timeout. Toronto was able to hold serve from there and trailed 10 at half. The same thing happened to start the fourth quarter, with mix of starters and bench players surrendering an 8-0 run in the space of a few minutes, expanding what had been a three-point Knicks lead to start the fourth quarter to 11.

“The start of the second and the fourth were very tough, early timeouts, two minutes both times and I don’t know exactly what the runs were – one was 8-0 and I don’t know what the second one was, probably worse than that – like 11-2 or something,” said Nurse. “Those parts of the game weren’t good, those six minutes, seven minutes right there.”

For the second straight season, Nurse is leaning heavily on his starters with Siakam, VanVleet and Anunoby ranking first, second and third in the NBA in minutes, respectively. That Trent Jr. and Barnes aren’t higher close behind is only because Trent Jr.’s playing time dipped when he went to the bench briefly and Barnes’ performance hasn’t always warranted him going over the 40-minute mark all that often.

Knicks 112, Raptors 108: “It was a good overall win for us” – Posting and Toasting

Despite being up 57-47 going in to halftime, it was still an uneasy feeling for Knicks fans because it’s been well documented just how poor this team can be at closing games and everybody knows that letting a veteran team stay within striking distance at home is a very dangerous game to play. And because of that, it was imperative for the Knicks to come out of the break with the focus and energy they started the game with. Unfortunately, they failed to do so in the early crucial minutes of the second half as the offense was mostly reliant on tough contested jumpers and Trent Jr. scored five quick points in the first three minutes to help Toronto cut the lead to five. Much of the next few minutes were a back and forth affair with neither team able to go on a sustained run. But Toronto was able to cut the lead to just one at the 3:06 mark as Christian Koloko had a put-back dunk off of a Trent Jr. missed shot. Randle quickly answered with a three on the other end to put the Knicks back up by four before a Raptors timeout but it was apparent now that this was a brand new game.

The fourth quarter began with the Knicks up 81-78 and without Randle, Brunson, or Randle on the court. So a lot of the offensive pressure was on Immanuel Quickley, who finished the third quarter wish a pair of made free throws. And the third year guard answered. He started the final period with a nice floater and then drew another foul to score two more points from the line to give the Knicks some breathing room with an 85-78 lead. The lead kept growing as the Raptors second unit continued to struggle to put the ball in the hoop, leading to an 8-0 run to start the quarter. At the 10:05 mark, New York led 89-78. Toronto came back with their starters shortly after but New York, who saw the unlikely duo of Evan Fournier and Deuce McBride (the former of which assisted on the latter’s make) connect on back to back threes within a 33 second span, managed to go up 95-82 with 8:29 left. The nexts few minutes were then dominated by the trio of Brunson, Randle, and Quickley as the trio combined for the team’s next 10 points to go up 105-89.

But just when we thought we could sit back, relax, and watch the Knicks cruise the rest of the way, they decided to give us one last scare, because it’s not a Knicks game if things go smoothly. Toronto utilized a full court press and New York swiftly turned the ball over and gave up a VanVleet three. A couple of VanVleet free throws later, it was suddenly back down to a seven point game with 1:29 left. Add in another stagnant offensive possession and a Siakam corner three and the Raptors had clawed all the back to make it a four point game with 49 seconds left. And when Randle missed one of two free throws and Trent Jr. came down with a three on the other end, it seemed like deja vu all over again. Thankfully for the Knicks and Knicks fans, Brunson came through with an extremely tough and one as he drove past VanVleet and made a lefty layup after drawing contact with a pump fake. And that was pretty much all she wrote. The Knicks came away with a 112-108 victory giving them their first win in Toronto since 2015 and giving coach Thibodeau his 100th win as the coach of the Knicks.

It wasn’t the prettiest win but Thibodeau alluded to it being, “a good overall win”. Randle led the way with 32 points and 11 rebounds, Brunson chipped in with 26 points and 8 assists, Grimes and Quickley poured in 16 and 13 respectively and Robinson rebounded form his horrendous performance against the Spurs with a dominant 10 point 18 rebound performance. And it was huge for the starting lineup to play as well as they did. It was just the third time all season that every starter scored double digit points, and they needed every last bit of it against a Raptors team that heavily leans on their starters. Obviously this team will eventually need to learn how to close out games and put teams away. But in a season where the team has collapsed and lost so many close games, it’s nice to see them pull out back to back close ones. Coming to town on Monday will be Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Can they make it five straight?

Miles McBride drills two key 3-pointers to secure Knicks’ win – NY Post

The player they call Deuce nailed his biggest treys of the season Friday night. 

Miles McBride entered shooting just 25.4 percent from 3-point range this season, but the second-year guard buried two key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Knicks extended their lead to 13 before closing out a 112-108 win over the Raptors, their fourth victory in a row. 

“I thought the start of the fourth, I thought our bench was terrific. … And I thought Deuce hit timely buckets for us,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s more of a scorer and we know he’s not gonna hesitate. And so I think the more he plays, the more comfortable, the more rhythm he’s gonna get. And I think the big thing is the team sharing, they do a great job.” 

The Knicks led 89-82 early in the fourth, but McBride connected from deep on consecutive possessions with 9:04 and 8:23 remaining. He finished with nine points in 20 minutes, including 3-for-6 shooting from long distance. 

In the absence of RJ Barrett with a finger injury, and with Jalen Brunson (hip) out for the Knicks’ recent three games in Texas, Immanuel Quickley has been in the starting lineup. He started Friday for the sixth straight game, three each at point guard and shooting guard. Quickley, who finished with 13 points in 37 minutes, has averaged 19.8 points and 6.8 assists in 41.8 minutes per game over that stretch.

“It’s great. He’s fantastic at it,” said Brunson, who played both point guard and shooting guard in Dallas alongside Luka Doncic. “Quick has the ability to kind of switch on and off, where he’s playing on the ball or off.

“I think my first four years, I had the same ability. But he’s way better than me when I was doing it. He’s really special.”

New York Knicks prevail over Toronto Raptors, 112-108 – Raptors HQ

One of the many weaknesses of this Raptors roster has been the bench — a weakness that reared its ugly head again. Nick Nurse started the second quarter by subbing in Malachi Flynn and Precious Achiuwa. Nurse spoke about Achiuwa pre-game about trying to get him more reps and into game shape. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case tonight. The Knicks outscored the Raptors 11-2 to grow the lead to 13 and force a timeout from Nurse.

New York would lead as much as 17 in the second quarter — a lead that Toronto would never be able to regain.

Entering the game, Toronto knew two things about New York: they’d be without RJ Barrett (lacerated right index finger), and they have the worst transition defense (30th in defensive transition frequency).

While New York was able to make up for Barrett’s absence with multiple players stepping up, the Raptors did their best to get out in transition. Toronto’s fastbreak fueled multiple opportunities to eat into the deficit. The Raptors outscored the Knicks 19-3 on fastbreak points.

In the fourth quarter, the Raptors (and probably the fans too) had a sense of deja vu: Losing by double-digits with a handful of minutes remaining and a raucous home crowd yearning for a comeback. Toronto found themselves trailing by 16 points with 3:10 remaining when GTJ was fouled on a three-point attempt. After making all three from the stripe, Toronto’s vaunted full-court press produced a turnover and a VanVleet triple. In five seconds, the lead dropped from 16 to 10.

Before the game, Nick Nurse shouted out the fans from the Bucks game, specifically in energizing the team during their furious fourth-quarter comeback. They may or may not have caused Randle to miss one of his free throws in the final minute. After splitting the pair, Toronto was still down 5 with 48 seconds remaining.

Trent Jr. continued his clutch shooting from the other night by hitting a ridiculous, off-balance three to cut the lead to two and send the crowd into a manic state. However, as was the case all night long, whenever the Raptors cut it to one possession, a Knick would score a huge bucket. This time, it would be Brunson. He drove past VanVleet, who was on his 40th minute of the night, icing the game with an and-one with 22.8 seconds. The subsequent free throw pushed the lead to 111-106.

The Knicks entered this game having lost their last 11 road games against the Raptors. They were also 0-7 when unable to force at least 10 turnovers from their opponent (Toronto had 7). Both of those stats didn’t matter as the Raptors lost again.

No miracle comeback this time for Raptors against Knicks | The Star

Siakam was limited to just 2-for-8 shooting in the first half for seven points, and finished 4-for-14 from the field with 18 points. He did have five assists and 13 rebounds, but also five turnovers and didn’t try to force shots where none were readily available.

“Gotta make the right play,” Nurse had said early in the evening. “That only works if you make ’em pay for it.”

Few did.

Fred VanVleet was good, with 28 points including a trio of three-pointers, and Gary Trent Jr. did what he does best — score, to the tune of 27 points.

But Scottie Barnes didn’t make a basket until there were nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the bench production, while better than the two previous games, wasn’t up to snuff.

And when VanVleet had to sit — he can’t play 48 minutes a game — the Raptors malfunctioned. After Toronto had clawed back to within three points going into the fourth quarter after trailing by 17, VanVleet had to rest and the game got away from them.

In less than two minutes, New York scored eight straight points to create a lead Toronto couldn’t overcome.

Julius Randle had 32 points, including five three-pointers in the first quarter alone. Jalen Brunson added 25.

The Raptors are now 0-2 on a six-game homestand, their longest of the season, that continues Sunday against Portland.

Raptors Feeling Urgency Following Loss to Knicks – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

The bench collapsed, again. Toronto missed five straight missed shots as the Knicks jumped up double-digits thanks to an 8-0 run in two minutes without VanVleet. Unlike Wednesday, though, Toronto’s comeback wasn’t enough to force overtime. Gary Trent Jr.’s off-balance three-pointer with less than a minute to go pulled the Raptors to within two but that’s as close as they’d get. An and-1 from Jalen Brunson through three Raptors defenders ended the night for Toronto.

“We’re competing, just not well enough, not long enough stretches to win in this league,” said VanVleet. “It’s hard to win in his league, you can’t take that for granted.”

It’s the inconsistency the Raptors can’t seem to shake these days. They looked in sync early. The offense was moving side to side with as much coherence as there’s been at any point this season. Trent came off a high ball screen and when the defense collapsed around him he found O.G. Anunoby for a mid-range jumper as Toronto worked more pick-and-roll into its attack. The problem for the Raptors was Julius Randle who nailed five threes in the first quarter including a trio of tough step-back jumpers despite smothering defense from Toronto.

When Pascal Siakam and VanVleet checked out late in the quarter, things quickly fell apart. A seven-point Knicks lead nearly doubled in the five minutes they sat heading into the second quarter. Save for Chris Boucher who nailed a three-pointer and converted a pair of transition buckets to end the first half, Toronto’s bench continued to flounder in limited action.

“I just keep trying to encourage them and boost them with confidence,” VanVleet said of the bench. “It’s a tough spot. They’ve got a tough job to do with a little leash and coach is tough. He’s tough as he shouldn’t be. The odds are against ‘em in that regard and if you don’t play well, as soon as you check in then you know it’s gonna be cut short. So they’re definitely up against a tough challenge.”

Trent, however, wouldn’t let the Knicks getaway. He nailed a three in transition courtesy of Barnes then hooked up with VanVleet for another three, side-stepping his defender to pull the Raptors to within two early in the third. VanVleet added 11 of his 28 points in the frame, including a deep bank shot three late in the quarter as Toronto continued to hang with New York.

Toronto’s bench was a minus-29 in 41 minutes, mustering just 15 points. Their inability to hold their own for any length of time is forcing Nurse to rely far too heavily on his starters. VanVleet, Trent, and Anunoby all eclipsed 40 minutes and Siakam fell two seconds shy.

“We’ve had our fights about it, but I trust coach and I trust what he’s doing,” VanVleet said of his extended minutes. “But think my minutes are down a bit. Maybe one. So, I will take it, one at a time, but coach is trying and I’m just, again, whatever the team needs, I try to provide that.”

Furious late-game comeback bid falls short as Raptors fall to Knicks | Toronto Sun

It was a two-point game until Jalen Brunson completed a three-point play with 22.8 ticks left on the clock.

One of the evening’s biggest disappointments, by far, was the play of Scottie Barnes, who didn’t have much energy. He couldn’t buy a basket and scored but one point on a made free throw with 10 minutes left in the game. With 4:24 left in regulation, Barnes produced his first basket from the field on a put back.

Toronto’s margin for error is so slim, its bench even slimmer, and there’s too much strain being put on he starting unit.

Toronto’s starting backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. did most of the heavy lifting on offence, combining to score 55 points.

Pascal Siakam had a tough time finding his offence, missing 10 shots from the field, but he did get to the line and, to his credit, he led the Raptors by hauling down 13 rebounds.

Barnes was the lone starter with a negative rating in the aftermath of a yet another crushing loss.

“I just told them,’’ began head coach Nick Nurse when addressing the media after he held court with this players. “I know it’s tough out there. Our rhythm isn’t great and it’s not a lot of fun, but I’m proud of them for continuing to fight and finding a way to battle back and somehow be around at the end.

“Again, just not quite good enough during the course of the game.”

OG Anunoby, Trent Jr. and VanVleet each played in excess of 40 minutes and Siakam was close to that mark.

Nurse was forced to take early timeouts to begin the second and fourth quarters.

However one cares to dissect this defeat, the Raptors weren’t good enough.

And when they were, it was a case of too little too late.

Raptors’ Fred VanVleet has to make the shots he’s taking, not change them – The Athletic

The notion that VanVleet is in any way selfish or a “chucker” that has been popping up in some circles of the Raptors fan base is flat-out wrong. Yes, Nurse gives VanVleet a long leash, and the guard, as VanVleet pointed out, inevitably takes a good chunk of the biggest shots of a close game. Guess what? He exists in an offensive ecosystem that is a mess. Barnes is having trouble asserting himself this season, almost on an every-game basis. Gary Trent Jr. is on a great run right now, but he is a streaky shooter and offers a sliver of the playmaking potential that VanVleet brings. O.G. Anunoby is having a fairly decent year, especially by Raptors standards, but he is also a huge turnover risk on drives and his efficiency has historically dropped significantly with additional usage. The bench has zero productive offence-first players.

VanVleet’s usage is barely higher than the league average, just a few tenths of a percentage higher than Trent, and a percent and change beyond Anunoby and Barnes. Within the context of the Raptors’ offence, that is fine. The optics, with his bevy of pull-up 3s, can be bad when those shots are missing. Have you seen this offence function in the half court, though? It doesn’t. VanVleet’s best moment Friday night, a banked-in 3-pointer, came after the rest of the Raptors didn’t look at the rim, waiting for him to run around to get the ball after he missed on a drive. The Raptors get the ball from side to side back to the original side only slightly more often than Halley’s Comet makes an appearance. VanVleet has to facilitate that a little more, but that is mostly a product of the roster that has been assembled and coached.

There are reasonable concerns to have regarding VanVleet, especially as he likely hits free agency after this season: Will he be able to get healthy and stay that way? Has he peaked as a finisher at the rim and a point-of-attack defender? If this team is as far away from contention as it has looked for most of this season, does it make sense to invest near-All-Star money into a mid-career guard who has logged as many minutes as he has over the past few years? We cannot simply assume all Kyle Lowry-sized point guards in a Raptors uniform will age as gracefully as Lowry did.

Positing that VanVleet is selfish, though? Thinking he shoots way too much? Forget what he has done for the Raptors in the past — that doesn’t have to be part of the justification. If you think that based on this year alone, you’re missing what’s going on in front of you, every night. The Raptors’ half-court offence is abysmal. There are plenty of reasons for that, some of which involve VanVleet. The guard monopolizing the ball and the team’s shot attempts is absolutely not one of them. To suggest he’s an impediment to winning is way off the mark, something nobody would be saying if he were simply hitting 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s instead of 33.

Raptors Insider: What’s next move for ‘ruthless’ Masai Ujiri? | The Star

The Raptors are close enough to see sixth place and a guaranteed playoff spot, but they are also close enough to see tremendous draft lottery odds and an increased chance to land Victor Wembanyama. Ujiri and Webster face some hard decisions before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Move vets for picks and call it a season? Tinker on the edges to infuse an underachieving bench with at least a different look that may work? Tough calls, and they can’t be made based on how these guys like each other and pull for each other.

It’s not like Ujiri would do that, anyway. He can be a ruthless executive not prone to sentimentality, and that’s what is needed in the next month.

Look at his history:

Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were great friends, thick as thieves, and they wanted to make it work together in Toronto. Ujiri sent Gay packing and started the Raptors on their championship ascent.
DeRozan loved Toronto, Toronto loved DeRozan, and his skills certainly hadn’t diminished. Ujiri jettisoned him — to San Antonio in the Kawhi Leonard trade — just after suggesting to him that no trade was imminent.
Dwane Casey’s DNA was all over the franchise and he was the most successful coach employed by the Raptors. Ujiri dumped him the same week he was named coach of the year by his peers.
Ujiri lowballed Serge Ibaka and had no compunction in letting Marc Gasol walk. They were prudent moves, as the careers of the two players fell off a cliff, but they were hardball moves.
And that’s what he needs to think about now.

This can be, at times, a promising youngish team that seldom gives up on games. The group is one the franchise and the city can be proud of. And it’s nice that they haven’t fractured or haven’t given up on each other, but nice doesn’t cut it.

So even though these Raptors have their moments — and Wednesday’s performance was one they could be proud of in many ways — those moments don’t mean a hill of beans in the zero-sum, win or lose, world of the NBA.

Privately, the players and coaches know it. They know that Ujiri is more than capable of bold, emphatic strikes no matter whose feelings are hurt or how it might impact the overall group. They will all say the right things and truly believe them because they’ve shown to be true. They tend to fight.

“Just a testament to our team, who we are, the guys we have on our team,” Gary Trent Jr. said Wednesday. “We’ll go out there and play hard, try to defend. (We) can’t let our not making shots affect us on the defensive end or vice versa.”

That’s something for fans to rally behind, but it can’t matter a bit to Ujiri between now and the trade deadline.

1 thought on “Morning Coffee – Sat, Jan 7”

  1. Pingback: 2fixture

Leave a Comment