Morning Coffee – Sun, Jan 15

Raptors close out home-stand with a dud against the Hawks in a game they never had a chance in

Raptors’ disappointing homestand: What we learned – The Athletic

Scottie Barnes has found his role with this year’s team. Forget point guard; Barnes is a screen-setting bully.

Using Barnes as a screener was always a sensible way to take advantage of his passing while his handle and shooting are still developing. As the Raptors saw drop-back centre after drop-back centre, they started using more pick-and-roll. That put Barnes in a position to use his size and passing in situations that required him to make decisions faster.

Barnes had a 30-to-6 assist-to-turnover ratio during the homestand.

Barnes said he is focused on getting the ball side to side, facilitating ball movement in that manner. He cannot become completely zeroed in on that, because it is not a goal unto itself. At times, especially in the Milwaukee and New York games, Barnes was too content to make the next pass instead of using his dribble to eat up space and make the defence move that way. In the fourth quarter against Milwaukee, he showed he can score over some of the best rim protectors in the league. The more balance he shows, the more unpredictable he will become. Over time, that should have positive repercussions for the offence.

With that said, Barnes has been more impactful than he has been all season long in this role. The longer he is in it, the better feel he should get for finding that balance. As is, he’s already handling it pretty well.

The Atlanta game was a different one for Barnes, as Atlanta typically did not put centre Onyeka Okongwu on him. After a rough first quarter, Barnes found multiple opportunities to overpower some smaller defenders, which he did frequently last year but hasn’t reliably done this year. He had only two assists but had 27 points and 12 rebounds. Maybe focusing on a different role has opened up more of his game that was missing for the early part of the season.

The defence is not OK

Without anything in the way of a reliable, 25-minute-a-night rim protector, the Raptors’ defensive potential is limited to just plain OK. It hasn’t even been that this year, which is the biggest reason they find themselves in their current position.

Nurse made a solid adjustment recently, having the second unit running back to zone positioning in defensive transition rather than finding a man. It has helped them clean up things a little bit.

Unfortunately, the Raptors just don’t make their opponents miss enough in the half court. They don’t have the one-on-one defenders they thought they did, which limits the utility of switching.

Another no-show makes an unlikely Raptors turnaround even more improbable – Sportsnet

Apart from the sheer unlikeliness of a team that plays half a season at a sub-.500 rate suddenly playing a level commensurate with a championship contender for the second half, there are some additional logistical barriers the Raptors would have to overcome.

The primary one now, with the Raptors having concluded their season-high six-game homestand Saturday, is that the road beckons, and the Raptors have been a horrible road team all season. Their five road wins (in 18 games) are the fewest of any team in the league other than the Houston Rockets.

With 10 of their next 12 away from home and 23 of their last 39 – including seven-game and five-game west coast road trips still to play out – the Raptors’ only realistic hope of mimicking their 27-14 second-half finish from last year (which got them to 48 wins and the fifth seed) is to completely turn around a glaring weakness.

Even going a very respectable 12-11 on the road – which the Raptors will get a taste of this week with games at New York (Monday), Milwaukee (Tuesday) and Minnesota (Thursday) would mean the Raptors need to finish their home schedule a scorching 15-1.

Does this seem like a team that can go 15-1 at home? Charlotte doesn’t play here 16 times, keep in mind.

Another factor: the Raptors will have to stay healthy, that’s a given.

In fairness, injuries were prominent in their first-half struggles, enough that they have been used as an explanation by Nurse at times.

“When we have half our team out, or seven guys out or six guys out … that messes up our organization,” Nurse said recently in context of why – at full strength – Toronto was able to string three wins together for the first time this season.

“And it takes time to get some of that stuff reorganized and now we’ve had some games and some practice time where these guys are here and we’re just more organized.”

But was the Raptors’ injury picture ever all that bad?

Nurse is entitled to exaggerate to make a point, but Toronto has never had six players out for a game this season. Even counting Otto Porter Jr., who played eight games total before being shut down for foot surgery, they’ve only had two games when they missed four players from their top seven in terms of minutes played.

Hawks hold off Raptors to sweep a back-to-back road set 114-103 – Peachtree Hoops

The Hawks used this strong play from their guard duo to lead the Raptors at the break 69-57. Young and Murray combined for 35 points and 10 assists in the first half, and carved up the Raptors with their dribble penetration.

The third quarter play was a little more disjointed, with multiple coaches challenges and unsteady offense from both teams. But the Hawks went on a late run in the third quarter that featured great ball movement and a flurry of threes.

The Hawks took a 96-79 lead into the fourth quarter, looking to hold on for a key road victory.

Toronto made a run to cut the lead to nine early in the quarter. But Atlanta hung tough and kept the lead at arms length. Dejounte Murray got to his mid-range pull up game early and often to pad the advantage for Atlanta.

Trae Young used his craft to draw the sixth foul on star Raptor Pascal Siakam with just under three minutes left to play. The Hawks forced a number of misses from Toronto down the stretch, hit their free throws, and salted the game away comfortably.

Trae Young led the way with 29 points and 9 assists, including a perfect 9-for-9 night from the free throw line. The other half of the star guard duo, Dejounte Murray, contributed in many areas with 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Onyeka Okongwu had yet another double-double with 10 points and 13 big rebounds in a strong stretch for him over the last 48 hours.

Atlanta gets a much needed day off before returning home for a Martin Luther King Day battle against the Miami Heat.

Raptors trail against Atlanta, losing 114-103 to end their home stand – Raptors HQ

It didn’t look like the Hawks were on a back to back — they blasted out to gain a 18-2 lead on the Raptors early on. Fred VanVleet went 0-5 from the field and 0-2 from three early on, and it wasn’t until the wings got involves that the Raptors started getting themselves on the board.

Not a great start. Spoiler alert: it didn’t get too much better.

Nick Nurse was quick to get the subs rolling in, and Malachi Flynn scored a quick five to help the Raptors bridge the gap. Pre-game, Nick Nurse mentioned Flynn’s ability to go on streaks and how he was overall “happy” with his performance this season. He proved those feelings right tonight.

By the end of the first quarter, the Raptors had begun to recover, and were down 34-25 to the Hawks. Hugely in part to Malachi’s seven points and Pascal Siakam’s eight.

The second quarter saw a lot of the same problems as the first, as the Raptors tried to get back. It didn’t help that the refs were seemingly not interested in blowing the whistle much on the Raptors’ end of the court. The Raptors also were not hitting much offensively either.

Nick Nurse even got involved, getting himself a technical foul in the process, but the Raptors still struggled through the second quarter to bring themselves any closer than 10 points.

It continued to be a rough night as Dejounte Murray and Trae Young scored 18 and 17 respectively in the half, causing the Raptors to slide to 69-57 by halftime.

The positive early on was Scottie Barnes, who was extremely active on the glass with seven rebounds. He also scored 13 points on 6-11 shooting. He quickly became the highlight for the Raptors all game.

Raptors let their guard down in loss to Hawks | The Star

Unable to contain Atlanta guards Dejounte Murray and Trae Young no matter what they tried, the Raptors were dealt a 114-103 defeat by the Hawks at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night. Murray and Young outscored the Toronto starting backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. 56-10, and the Hawks shredded the Raptors defence for most of the game.

“Trae’s gonna do a little bit of everything … but I thought Murray was the one who really kind of got in there and kept consistently make those short turnaround jump shots there for a stretch,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said after the game.

Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher — as long and athletic a group as the Raptors can put on the court — got Toronto in the game late in the fourth quarter, but there was no miracle comeback.

“That was kind of my top five for the night left and I figured … we weren’t really guarding them very well with any of the other lineups,” said Nurse. “It wasn’t bad. I thought we made a nice run.”

Notable for the Raptors is that Achiuwa got his longest run since returning from injury. He played the entire second quarter — finishing with four starters as Trent got some rest — and made his first four shots as part of a 13-point, 27-minute night.

“We’re trying to inch Precious closer and closer to a bigger role, longer minutes,” Nurse said before the game. “He’s still not near 100 per cent — physically, conditioning, rhythm, not near it.”

The hope is that Achiuwa gets back to top shape and rhythm quickly, adding a versatile defender to the mix with Anunoby, Barnes and Siakam.

“If any one of those other three are in any kind of trouble, defensively we shouldn’t miss much of a beat there,” the coach said. “It’s really big for us if we get an extra guy in that kind of rotation.”

It wasn’t the frontcourt defence that was the major issue, and Achiuwa, Malachi Flynn and Boucher provided what spark the Raptors had off the bench. But with starters struggling — VanVleet was 1-for-9 from the floor, Trent 2-for-7, Siakam fouled out — even the bench spark wasn’t enough.

Scottie Barnes led Toronto with 27 points and 12 rebounds.

Raptors End Homestand With Split Following Loss to Hawks – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

Two straight losses to open the stretch put the Raptors behind the eight ball but a victory over the Portland Trail Blazers and a sweep of the lowly Charlotte Hornets breathed life into the season. But Saturday didn’t go according to plan. A 114-103 upset victory by the Atlanta Hawks meant the Raptors finished its pivotal homestand just 3-3, unable to make up any ground in a tough Eastern Conference.

“We’ve got a long way to go with some consistency,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “I would have liked to have said we’re making some progress with just being ready to go energy-wise and connectivity-wise and all that stuff and then tonight it didn’t look like we had very good energy to start the game.”

With the starters struggling early, it was Toronto’s bench that rose to the occasion early in the fourth. O.G. Anunoby found Precious Achiuwa for a ferocious slam that seemed to energize the Raptors’ second unit. Moments later Chris Boucher converted an and-1 layup and cut Atlanta’s lead to just nine with a three-pointer that prompted an immediate Hawks timeout.

The Raptors stuck with the group late in the quarter, opting to go without Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet for the final minutes. It was a decision that paid off for Toronto as Scottie Barnes used his size mismatch to bully Trae Young in the paint for a crucial bucket. He followed it up on the very next possession with another paint touch for two courtesy of a great find from Anunoby.

Pascal Siakam found Boucher with a stellar kick-out pass to beat a collapsing Hawks’ defense for three, allowing Toronto to pull within seven. That was as close as they’d come, though. Siakam fouled out on a ticky-tack foul against Young prompting VanVleet’s return and Toronto couldn’t break through. A pair of missed opportunities by Achiuwa and Boucher allowed Dejounte Murray to ice the game and moved Toronto to 19-24 on the season.

“We always fight our way back,” said Barnes. “We had a good three games where we played really solid. I don’t know. We’re getting there, I guess.”

Saturday evening started ugly for the Raptors. Maybe not quite as ugly as that Milwaukee Bucks game that opened this stretch but pretty close. Save for a dunk from Barnes, Toronto went 1-for-13 from the field out of the gate including a pair of wide-open, albeit deep, three-point attempts that missed from Fred VanVleet.

Malachi Flynn helped turn things around a little bit. He came off the bench and banged in an early three-pointer, nailed a transition layup on the very next possession off a great pass from Barnes, and found Juancho Hernangomez for a corner three-pointer as the Raptors cut Atlanta’s lead to seven in the first quarter.

VanVleet’s early struggles spilled over to the defensive end where Toronto had no answers for Trae Young and Murray. Young beat VanVleet late in the second quarter on a blow-by before hitting a floater to put Atlanta up 13. Seconds later he took a take foul on Young, as the Hawks reached 69 points in the first half.

Raptors starters go cold from the field against Hawks as winning streak snapped at three | Toronto Sun

Nurse was talking about both the 1-for-13 start to the night shooting the basketball and the ease with which anyone from the Hawks’ backcourt got to their spots and calmly drained basket after basket.

“We’ve got to find a measure of consistency with just moving, getting back, cutting more, you know, all the things that energy provides, getting on the glass, more deflections, again, one of those, you know, we’ve got to finish possessions because there was four or five possessions where we deflected the ball and they end up with some great (scoring opportunity anyway),” Nurse said.

Article content
After taking care of business against the Charlotte Hornets in back-to-back games, the Hawks were always going to be a step up in opposition talent.

They didn’t disappoint, led by that aforementioned backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray.

What wasn’t so expected was the way the Raptors starting five, outside of Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby struggled shooting the ball.

The shooting woes had at least been held to a minimum over the three-game winning streak starting with that win over Portland.

But on Saturday night, all of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. struggled to find the range.

VanVleet, who has been in a special shooting hell all of his own for much of this season, was just 1-for-9 through the first three quarters leading to a light minutes night and a little more run for Malachi Flynn.

Article content
VanVleet didn’t even see the floor in the fourth quarter with the game still very much up for grabs until Siakam fouled out with 2:48 remaining. He finished with just three points in 26 minutes.

Trent Jr., recently on one of the longer heaters of the season, was just 2-for-7 in a short night for him as well.

Scottie Barnes is at the centre of Raptors’ recent turnaround | The Star

Asking Barnes to set as many screens as he has been — in the middle of the court and with a variety of Raptors ballhandlers — does unlock one of his best skills. He gets the ball on a short roll to the basket most times and can either get to the rim, where he’s by far more effective, or pick defences apart with a second quick pass.

It’s not coincidental that he’s had two of his best assist games — a total of 16 in two Toronto wins over Charlotte this past week — nor is it coincidental that the Raptors’ corner three-point shooting has been far more effective of late.

“He’s an offence creator and we need him to be that,” coach Nick Nurse said. “That doesn’t mean shooting, that means creating shots for others and creating good movement for others.

“He’s certainly kind of been in a little up-and-down rhythm with how he’s trying to figure how to play on each night. But when he’s making quick decisions, I think, is the biggest thing: whether he’s bringing (the ball) up the court and hitting the paint, or whether he’s in the half court and he’s got it on a pick-and-roll and he makes the next good play.”

Barnes is better suited to that role in most matchups than he is either bringing the ball up the court or crossing side-to-side, often dribbling aimlessly from the perimeter.

“I’m just really trying to find the best shots that I can,” he said. “I can take those (three-point) shots any time I want, but it’s just trying to find a good rhythm to the offence, just trying to get (the ball) side to side.

“I feel like our ball movement wasn’t really there, but when I’m playing this role that’s what I’m primarily trying to focus on — just trying to get the ball side to side, trying to set great screens — because we’ve got a lot of great scorers and great shooters on this team.”

The Raptors offence was at full effectiveness in the two games against Charlotte, but the Hornets have the second-worst record in the NBA on merit. How it looks against good teams on the road — Toronto plays 10 of 12 away from home starting Monday in New York — will be a more stern test.

“(It’s) just making the emphasis on the team to just share a little bit more and get (the ball) moving a little bit more, let the ball work for you, trust the pass, and he’s been a big part of that, being able to play him as a roller and a second-side guy,” VanVleet said of Barnes. “So, definitely got to give him a ton of credit for the way the offence has been rolling.”

The Raptors have set their lineup to take advantage of Barnes’s abilities and create favourable matchups.

He often guards, and is guarded by, the opposing team’s centres, giving him an athletic advantage on offence, and he’s been able to hold his own guarding bigger, more experienced players. He needs to improve his attention to detail on defence in some matchups, but physically he’s doing the job.

“I feel like I’m better at it every single every time I step on the floor,” Barnes said. “I feel like I’m a big guy as well. I’ve got some muscle on me, so (it’s) just about playing with some heart, some physicality.”

1 thought on “Morning Coffee – Sun, Jan 15”

Leave a Comment