Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 23

Raps knock of Knicks on first game of a brutal road swing | Tanking still the preferred strategy

The Raptors Show with Will Lou –

Host William Lou recaps the Toronto Raptors’ 125-116 win over the New York Knicks. Three stars: Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr. Gerald Henderson award: Obi Toppin.

Raptors-Knicks observations: Scottie Barnes the QB, Pascal Siakam gets a rest, and more – The Athletic

Fred the pest

VanVleet missed Saturday’s game with rib soreness, an injury he has been dealing with since last week. It didn’t hurt his shooting form: VanVleet shot 48.8 percent from the field and 48.7 percent from 3, and he averaged 31.3 points in the four games he played, his best scoring stretch of the season.

He was also a combined minus-32 in the first three games. That wasn’t all on him, but the Raptors had trouble defending with him out there. He was a plus-six against the Knicks.

He seemed to be everywhere, ending up with two steals and what had to be a half-dozen more deflections. (Even that doesn’t fully capture how many times he was able to get his hands on the basketball.)

VanVleet said he enjoys “when I’m roaming and just being able to be there as the help guy and attack the ball — just try to be disruptive and cause deflections and change the rhythm of the game.” There is no doubt that’s his best role.

New bench, same problems

After getting almost no production from the bench Saturday, Nurse excised Malachi Flynn from the rotation. Jeff Dowtin Jr., who had been with Raptors 905, and Joe Wieskamp, who had a nice Raptors debut against Minnesota on Thursday, got some floor time.

It wasn’t a good showing. Dowtin looked hesitant in some key spots on offence, but the group looked like one with no prior experience playing together defensively. Siakam got lost on an inbounds play and appeared to expect help from elsewhere, and the Raptors were broken down repeatedly, leaving Obi Toppin wide open in the corner for a few 3s. The Knicks won the opening stretch of the second quarter 14-7.

Raptors stave off Knicks, inconsistencies to win last game before decisive roadtrip – Sportsnet

That shooting combined with the seven turnovers Toronto forced and the 33 per cent shooting they held the Knicks to led to the Raptors enjoying a 37-22 lead after 12 minutes in one of their most complete quarters of basketball in some time. 

The Raptors were in a solid enough position that head coach Nick Nurse felt comfortable rolling out one the most unexpected lineups of the season: 10-day signee Joe Wieskamp, making his second ever Raptors appearance; two-way signee Jeff Dowtin Jr., getting his first meaningful minutes of 2023, along with Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa and Pascal Siakam.

Since there was no guarantee that the fivesome even knew each other’s names — they certainly hadn’t played together before — it wasn’t seamless, as one might expect. The five-man group went 3-of-11 from the floor with two turnovers and gave up a 14-7 run in the first 5:30 of the second quarter before Nurse called timeout and began filtering his starters back in.

That stabilized things, but the Knicks seemed to pick up some confidence from that early spurt. In particular, Obi Toppin caught fire and hit four threes in five attempts off the bench for the Knicks. They closed the gap to five when Julius Randle hit New York’s sixth triple of the period before the Raptors pushed their lead back to nine and took a 62-53 lead into half.

But the fact that the Knicks shot 11-of-19 (and 6-of-12 from deep) for the second quarter after Toronto stifled them completely in the first is part of what has made this Raptors team so hard to figure out at times. When healthy and locked in as they were in the first they turn teams inside out — even with Anunoby sidelined, although Achiuwa can pick up a lot of that slack. But then the lineup shifts a little bit and the rope slips through their hands.

“The defence has fallen back. We’ve been talking about that around here quite a bit,” said Nurse before the game. “There’s a lot of areas that need shoring up. The list is long. We’re getting through it. But we expect to get through it. There’s a lot of basketball to be played yet. The guys in that room can play it.”

The Knicks can play some defence too. They came into the game ranked 11th in defensive efficiency (the Raptors are 19th) and began to turn the screws a little bit in the third quarter. They held Toronto to 33 per cent shooting in the third quarter and were able to use their team size advantage to force Toronto into a number of difficult shots, no more than VanVleet, who was 2-of-9 in the period.

Toronto was up nine with 3:33 left in the third when the Knicks uncorked a 10-0 run punctuated by a Jalen Brunson three, giving the Knicks their first lead of the game with 1:23 left before the two teams started the fourth quarter tied 86-86.

The Raptors now get to take their mixed-up, uneven, unpredictable show on the road as they head west for seven games. They won’t have a home game for 17 days, or until the night before the Feb. 9th trade deadline. Who knows what they’ll look like then?

Raptors 125, Knicks 116: Scenes from an awful start and a terrible finish – Posting and Toasting

The Knicks fell 125-116 to the Raptors in Toronto as they dropped their fourth straight. They lost three out of four games against their division rivals in the season series.

It began terribly for the Knicks in the first quarter as they were outscored 37-22 despite this great highlight play by Julius Randle.

Randle finished with 23 points and 19 rebounds in the loss. RJ Barrett led the Knicks with 30 points and seven rebounds and had this nice link up with Obi Toppin to help start the comeback in the second quarter.

Toppin had 14 points off the bench and helped to spark the comeback with his play on both ends of the floor.

Jalen Brunson had 21 points and Quentin Grimes had eight points in the defeat. In the third quarter, they made some huge plays. Brunson at one point gave the Knicks the lead and completed the comeback.

The Knicks were able to stay in it at the beginning of the fourth quarter and this Obi Toppin jam gave New York some momentum.

However, much like the defeat against the Hawks it got away from the Knicks very quickly after that and it leads to a fourth straight loss.

Knicks’ defense missing again in loss to Raptors as skid hits four – NY Post

The Knicks (25-23) have now lost four straight games, three to opponents with losing records. That’s where Thibodeau’s team is headed if it doesn’t figure out its issues in a hurry. This was supposed to be a soft spot in the Knicks’ schedule before it grows increasingly more difficult, with six of their next seven games against winning teams — an unforgiving stretch that can extend this losing streak.

“We got to weather the storm,” Jalen Brunson said. “Every single game, you’re playing against a great team with great athletes, great coaches. It’s a great battle every night. We just have to figure out how to bounce back quicker.”

For the second time in six days, the disappointing Raptors knocked off the Knicks to improve to 3-1 against them and 18-26 against everyone else this season. In addition to Robinson, the Knicks were also without valuable sixth man Immanuel Quickley (sore left knee). Thibodeau went to Evan Fournier in his place. Quickley was missed at the start of the fourth quarter in which the Raptors (21-27) scored 13 of the first 15 points against the Knicks’ second unit and took command.

“I just think in those moments, certain moments, especially like the start of the fourth, we’ve got to do a better job of being ready out of the gate,” RJ Barrett said.

All five Raptors starters reached double figures, led by Fred VanVleet’s 28 points. Gary Trent Jr. and Pascal Siakam each added 24. The Knicks performed well offensively, sinking 18 3-pointers, shooting 49 percent from the field and piling up 30 assists. Barrett scored 30 points and Julius Randle added 23 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists. Brunson had 21.

But the Knicks were sloppy with the ball, committing 16 turnovers (10 by Barrett, Brunson and Randle) that led to 26 Raptors points, most of them runouts in transition. Toronto crushed them on the offensive glass in the form of 25 second-chance points. The Knicks’ bench let them down, and so did what has become a woeful defense.

“Right now we’re doing some good things, we’re just not doing enough of them,” Thibodeau said. “We have to get back to focusing on each possession [being] important.”

For the third straight game, the Knicks allowed at least 35 points in the opening quarter. This time, it was 37. Obviously, they miss Robinson, the team leader in NET rating at plus-8.0. Several players admitted as much. But they did go 4-4 earlier in the season when Robinson missed time with a sprained right knee. He isn’t coming back soon, and the Knicks need to find a way to win without their center.

Knicks Drop Fourth Straight, Fall To Raptors | The Knicks Wall

The third quarter featured a catastrophic start for the Knicks, as they gave up two wide-open threes. However, little by little, the Knicks chipped away. Before you knew it, a Brunson three gave the Knicks the lead with 1:23 left in the quarter. The fourth quarter saw the length of Scottie Barnes and Chris Boucher pick off lazy Knicks passes, and as quickly as they had gained the lead, Knicks had also lost it. Costly turnovers and empty possessions allowed the Raptors to get going in transition and eventually put the Knicks away for good.

Recap: Toronto Raptors defeat New York Knicks 125-116, behind FVV’s 28 – Raptors HQ

Barnes would end the game with another healthy line — 19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks — but more importantly, he continued his strong play of late and was the unquestioned leader on the floor as the Raptors pulled away from the Knicks.

All told, the Barnes-GTJ-Achiuwa-Hernangomez-Boucher lineup played 9 fourth-quarter minutes and were a +10. VanVleet and Siakam checked in with 3:07 remaining and a 114-104 lead. A classic Fred-Pascal pick-and-roll in the final minute led to a dagger three, pushing the lead to 11 with 1:10 remaining, essentially ending the game.

Before the game, both coaches mentioned specific areas of focus for their respective teams…..and both were disappointed!

Tom Thibodeau mentioned pre-game that his biggest point of emphasis would be points in the paint. Whether it was the absence of Mitchell Robinson (who was also joined by Immanuel Quickley on the sidelines) or a concerted effort from the coaching staff, the Raptors equalled New York’s output in the paint at the end of the first quarter (10 each), second quarter (10 each), and ultimately, the end of the game (42 each).

Nurse said his top priority would be the team’s physicality and, more specifically, collecting defensive rebounds. Despite leading 62-53 at halftime, Nurse had a reason for concern: New York had collected 10 offensive rebounds to Toronto’s 12 defensive rebounds. The Raptors did a better job on the defensive glass, limiting the NBA’s #2 offensive rebounding team to four in the second half.

The Knicks were kept in the game by an unlikely source as Obi Toppin nailed 4 triples in the second quarter.

The Raptors improved to 9-1 on the season when they shoot 40% or better from three. Trent Jr. (6-of-10), VanVleet (4-of-8), and Siakam (3-of-6) helped Toronto to their 4th-best shooting performance from beyond the arc (44.1%).

With Anunoby sidelined and Achiuwa promoted to the starting lineup, Toronto’s bench was in need of a boost. Boucher provided just enough of everything, finishing with 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals. For New York, their reserves were led by an unlikely source. Obi Toppin nailed 4 threes in the second quarter to help the Knicks chip away at a Raptors lead that reached as high as 17.

Toronto now has a couple of days off before starting the annual (dreaded) western road trip. The Raptors’ next home game is not until February 8 — the day before the trade deadline. There are understandably a lot of questions surrounding the team and the current roster construction may not be the same by the time they return. For one night, at least, the Scotiabank Arena crowd was treated to a fun night of (winning) basketball — ominous cloud notwithstanding.

Raptors get ready for the road with a win over the Knicks | The Star

A loss to the division rival would have made the upcoming flight to Sacramento a painful experience and the journey ahead even more arduous. But the Raptors will instead be hitting the road in good spirits on the heels of a solid win that saw them jump out to a commanding early lead before withstanding several runs.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to grow, get better, come together as a group and see what we’ve got,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said of the upcoming stretch after he finished Sunday’s win with a team-high 28 points and three assists.

“I’m excited about it. I think our group is trending in the right direction. We’re getting closer and closer. We’ve been playing some pretty good basketball of late, we just need to translate it into wins and I think we will.”

The Raptors entered Sunday at a disadvantage. They were playing the second night of a back-to-back and their fifth game in seven days. After losing to the Boston Celtics by two on Saturday, they figured to be in tough against a rested Knicks team that was desperate to a snap a three-game skid.

The Knicks should have been the ones starting strong, but it was the other way around. Nick Nurse’s squad opened with a sense of urgency that hadn’t been seen much during a 5-10 start to January. The first 12 minutes were some of their best this season.

The Raptors went 7-for-11 from downtown to take a 15-point lead after one quarter. VanVleet, initially listed as questionable because of rib soreness, led the way with 14 points while Gary Trent Jr. hit a trio of three-pointers.

The rest of the night wasn’t nearly as smooth. The Knicks outscored the Raptors in the second and again in the third. After 36 minutes, the game was tied. That’s when Nurse went with a five-man unit of Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Juancho Hernangomez and Trent. It was an unconventional group to open the fourth, but effective as the Raptors reclaimed a 10-point lead within minutes and never looked back.

“I think that was a long stretch for those guys and they were working really hard,” Nurse said. “We were playing zone for most of the quarter, but they were really working hard to figure out all the different formations that were coming at them. They did a great job on the glass at both ends.”

Sunday’s win was a big one for the Raptors but what comes next is even more crucial. The team is one spot out of a play-in game but has a bit of time left to turn things around, but if it doesn’t happen on the West Coast, it’s not going to happen at all.

Raptors survive surge from Knicks, snap losing streak | Toronto Sun

Finally, a lead the Raptors could hold.

The strategy worked to perfection Sunday in a 125-116 win over the New York Knicks before a rare non-sellout crowd at Scotiabank Arena.

Some 600 shy of the standard sell-out of 19,800 saw the Raptors build a 17-point lead in the early going and then give it all up by the end of the third quarter as the Knicks came storming back on the strength of a run of three-pointers from the likes of R.J. Barrett, Evan Fournier and Jalen Brunson and a huge advantage on the glass.

But the Knicks struck too early as Toronto came back with a barrage of its own from a big lineup to start the fourth that included Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, Scottie Barnes, Juancho Hernangomez and Gary Trent Jr.

Normally those minutes without either Pascal Siakam or Fred VanVleet are ‘keep it even’ at best, but on this night Boucher, who was almost the entire offensive bench production, and Hernangomez meshed so well with Trent Jr., Achiuwa and Barnes that Nurse stuck with them until there was just over three minutes left in the game.

“At the offensive end, those are such big, important plays,” Nurse said. “I call them high spirit plays. You miss a shot and you think ‘Oh no,’ and then all of a sudden, you’re sticking it back in. It just changes the feel of the whole possession and I think energizes you for running back the other way, and they obviously have to take it out. I thought those guys made really good decisions, on both sides of the ball. They were flying around in the D-zone for the most part, and they were flying around on offence, moving it, taking what was there, cleaning up some misses.”

The Raptors got solid contributions from all their starters including a season-high-tying six three-pointers from Trent Jr. in a 24-point night. Trent Jr. didn’t even finish the night on the court fouling out with just over a minute to go.

VanVleet, who has relocated his shooting touch these past few games continued that trend with 26 points including 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc.

The Knicks were led by Mississauga native Barrett who had 27.

It’s time for the Raptors to truly embrace the tank | The Star

The reason it’s tricky is not just because making great trades is hard in the NBA, but because Toronto has so many hypothetical options for HOW to tank. Even if teams are reticent to offer Rudy Gobert-style deals anymore, team president Masai Ujiri has a whole buffet of options. The question is what the organization wants, and can get.

You want to move one core piece? You have four available, and the differences in potential return between Gary Trent Jr., VanVleet, Anunoby and Pascal Siakam range from minor upgrades to a bejewelled haul. You want to become Oklahoma City, with draft picks in bunches? At least one team has previously offered three first-round picks for Anunoby, and Siakam is worth more. Trading both would be a near-total reset around Scottie Barnes.

And if the right deal doesn’t materialize, well … the team is already seventh-worst in the league, and when you play all five starters 40 minutes a game, it shouldn’t take much to sabotage an already janky team. It’s all there for Toronto, but remember: Ujiri can be as unsentimental as a shark. Any of the core four COULD move.

But the desired horizon matters. Ujiri has never wanted to try a total rebuild; he described the Tampa tank, a one-season experiment, as one of the least enjoyable years of his life. It will be harder to do with a team that is actually playing at home, at MLSE prices.

No, the only recognizable Raptors strategy has to be to let the season go further sideways in the year of Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson and a deep draft, before rising anew. This team will want to contend again, too.

The margins aren’t obvious, or easy. Houston, Detroit, Charlotte and San Antonio are the league’s four worst folding chairs, and will be hard to catch, but Toronto should try. The difference between seventh-worst, sixth-worst and fifth-worst is a 15.3 per cent, 18.2 per cent or 21 per cent change at a top-two pick; fourth-worst is 24.7 per cent, and it tops at 27.4 per cent after that. In a year like this, every percentage point might matter. And even the short-term-tank route doesn’t rule out moving any of the core four: it just sets the parameters for what you’d want in return.

It’s a hell of a puzzle. It’s easy to say you can trade Trent Jr., who is an average player with upside; he might bring back a first-rounder, plus a salary. It has become surprisingly easy to say you could trade VanVleet, whose body, defence and shotmaking have all suffered this season. He’s been walking championship culture for this team, and playing him heavy minutes seems unwise, but VanVleet should be a really good team’s third- or fourth-best player, and shouldn’t be a top shot creator; he’s just not athletic or consistent enough to do it. His potential free agency this summer could hurt his value, some. But there are teams that value him.

And if you want to really change the mix and depth of assets around this team you consider moving Anunoby or Siakam, and this is where things get more complicated. Anunoby is still just 24, and his defence is superb. But his shot creation remains relatively rudimentary, even as he is said to want a bigger offensive role. His salary is easy to move or pair with another contract; he could fit easily into a number of teams. And he would bring back a lot.

And that brings us to the question of Siakam. He’s carried this team this season. He’s the best shot creator they have, by a lot. He can still add electric defence, which he showed at the end of the win over the Knicks in New York last week. He’s great.

And he’s 29 on a team where Barnes is seen as the key to the team’s future. Barnes is now flashing his potential more often as a point centre and in crunch time after a strangely passive year, and this team still believes Barnes can be a superstar — though that isn’t a guarantee yet — so you could see the argument for getting the ball into Barnes’s hands more, and doing so while turning your 29-year-old star into a wealth of assets. There is, at least, a logic there.

NBA trade deadline Big Board: Myles Turner, John Collins top our list of targets – The Athletic

Trent Jr., 24, can be an unrestricted free agent this summer after the Toronto Raptors gave him a three-year, $52 million deal two years ago with a player option on Year 3. And it’s a pretty simple equation for Trent Jr. He’s an extremely effective third or fourth option for an offense, but he’s not going to really contribute as a rebounder or passer. Defensively, he’s good in matchups where he can use his strength to body up offensive players but a bit worse when faced with any sort of quickness. Getting him for a playoff run while also getting his Bird rights is worth at least a first-round pick plus something else. — Vecenie

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