Spoiler Alert: If you’re on team positive, I have a little bit for you later in this recap but not much.
The Raptors have made it a habit of finding ways to lose against shorthanded teams, or teams on back to backs (or both). This game may be remembered as the one that broke the demographic of a fanbase that was hoping for a return trip to the playoffs.
The Timberwolves landed in Minnesota at 4am Eastern time on Thursday, coming off a grueling four point loss in altitude to the West leading Nuggets. Their valiant effort nearly paid off in a win until they fell apart late in the fourth. Somehow the T-Wolves mustered enough energy trailing by double digits just 18 hours later to defeat a Toronto team that badly needs to string together wins.
At some point, reality sets in. This current version of the Raptors simply invents new ways to lose. They are being handed teams hampered by circumstances that Toronto had grown accustomed to facing over the last couple years, especially in Tampa. Even with rest advantages and healthier rosters, something goes awry way too often. That’s what bad teams do.
Of course there are still 36 games left this season, but only 10 remain until the trade deadline. Things may look very different soon.
Anyway, time to explain the inexplicable.
The Good: Joe Wieskamp and Scottie Barnes
Wieskamp didn’t see any court time on his first 10-day contract, but made good on the encore in his Raptors debut. He made all three of his attempts behind the arc, finishing with nine points. Toronto is third from the bottom in three point percentage (33.2), so this is desperately needed off the bench.
Matt Devlin called him Weezy. Fred VanVleet has a nickname too.
Skip to the fourth, where Scottie had 12 of his season-high 29 points. Barnes is enjoying his best stretch in Year two since the Raptors have been utilizing him as a versatile big. He started this game finishing plays in the dunker’s spot or in transition. Post ups and drives came later, and then Scottie went to his perimeter jumper for a couple of key baskets.
The Bad: D-loading vs the zone
First of all, very little of anything the Raptors have done defensively has provided results lately. They came into this game with a defensive rating over 121, allowing over 50% from the field and 40 from three over their last five games. Minnesota continued that trend with 101 points through three quarters.
However the Raptors were still up double digits so the red flags didn’t come to fruition until they stopped scoring. D’Angelo Russell took advantage of good looks as the Timberwolves swung the ball against a zone. Three consecutive treys against a late closing Pascal Siakam cut the lead to six.
Nick Nurse then switched to man after a timeout. Still, Russell found space for a fourth three after Fred lost him while helping on an Anthony Edwards drive.
Russell had 16 of his 25 points in the fourth.
The Ugly: Raptors late game drought
Toronto did a great job moving the ball for most of the game, leading to 14 threes and 52 percent shooting. Unfortunately those numbers lie when you factor in the final 7:49 of this game, where the Raptors scored four points. The dreaded drought couldn’t have arrived at a worse time.
The first team to play defence in this game was going to win. As Minnesota started to clamp down, too many broken isolation possessions resulted in this:
There were a couple of decent looks that could have fallen too, but not the same quality from earlier in the game when there was more ball movement.
That being said, O.G. Anunoby had two open shots in the final minute that could have resulted in the Raptors escaping with a win if either one fell.
Before Anunoby’s last miss, Russell got the rip through move on Fred for a foul and the game winning free throws. O.G. is going through his worst shooting month of the season (13.9 ppg on 38.5% FG), making at least half his shots only twice through 10 games.
In conclusion the Raptors fall to 20-26, 1.5 games behind the Bulls for the final play-in spot. That won’t help a team that already looked somewhat dejected at shootaround before this game. Siakam in particular has played 127 minutes over the three game road trip and was rewarded with one win. Chris Boucher was a DNP-CD after going scoreless in 14 minutes at Milwaukee.
Sidenotes: Gary Trent Sr.
Much needed change of vibes here. Sr. was in the house for Gary’s homecoming trip to Minnesota and had a funny moment on the T-Wolves broadcast. Rocking a lot of fur too.
Up Next: The Raptors return to Toronto for a weekend back-to-back against the Celtics and Knicks. Time is ticking.