Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 15

Poeltl shows up | Where's the accountability?

Jakob Poeltl at least gives Raptors a shot at finding joy in this season – The Athletic

In reality, though, seasons don’t turn on one player or one moment. Single games rarely do. They turn — if they turn — on talent, execution and effort. They turn on habits.

This year, the odd questionably timed whistle has undone the Raptors. In the fourth quarter of their 123-113 win against the Magic, they were victims of such a call. Poeltl was whistled for an illegal screen in the backcourt as Malachi Flynn dribbled the ball up the floor. To say there was no sulking this time around would be tantamount to rewriting history. However, the response — Pascal Siakam stripping Franz Wagner of the ball to get it right back — is what the Raptors need to do more often: put their heads down and just play their butts off.

Perhaps with a real, starting-calibre centre to control the paint, the Raptors will play with more tenacity more consistently. The most jarring thing about this Raptors season is how often they have been outworked, or at least how often their spirit has waned. Against Orlando, they shot 70.7 percent from the floor in the first half but trailed by five thanks to a defensive no-show. So often this year, the Raptors haven’t turned those types of games around and have wound up surrendering 130 points or so.

Instead, anchored by Poeltl’s six blocks, they allowed just 43 points in the second half. It’s one game — one half, really — but it’s progress, a sign of a team that can dig in and fix things as opposed to letting the problems snowball. In the three games since Poeltl was acquired, the Raptors are plus-29 in the 79 minutes he has played and minus-24 in the 65 minutes that he has sat.

“I think it’s the area we wanted the most help,” Siakam said. “His presence is huge.”

Since even before the seven-game Western Conference trip that took them from January to February, VanVleet has been saying and repeating that the team has been on the right track; that the Raptors have been generally trending in the right direction. In the 10 games leading into Tuesday, VanVleet’s feel was borne out in the numbers: The Raptors ranked 13th and 12th in offence and defence, respectively, during that span. Even still, there have been some calamities — both losses to Utah, for instance, or the near-collapse against the Pistons on Sunday.

The Raptors have to get in the habit of helping themselves. They have to make sure they’re in the right places on transition defence. They have to hold on to the ball instead of throwing it into the third row. They have to not get repeatedly beaten on back cuts.

All that stuff happened against the Magic. There is plenty to correct. At least with Poeltl, some of it feels potentially correctable.

When Poeltl walked into the locker room after the game, his teammates gave him a loud round of applause.

“My first week here pretty much has been great,” Poeltl said. “Everyone has been awesome.”

Safe to say, that joy hasn’t been present too often this year.

Poeltl punishes Magic, gives Raptors big boost heading into all-star break – Sportsnet

Poeltl was the fulcrum of a complete team as he served as both a release valve offensively as the Magic pressured the ball intensely and as a roving last line of defence at the other end, blocking shots, helping plug gaps and finishing possessions off with rebounds.

Fred VanVleet enjoyed having his old friend on the floor as the Raptors point guard consistently found Poeltl in the paint for scores and finished with a season-high 15 assists to go along with 10 points. Since Poeltl takes up so little oxygen offensively – all of his baskets came from offensive rebounds or passes received in the paint — there was plenty to go around.

The Raptors had 31 assists as a team, Siakam finished with 26 points and six assists and seven Raptors scored in double figures as Toronto shot 60 per cent from the floor, overcoming their 20 turnovers while playing without starters Gary Trent Jr. (calf) and O.G. Anunoby (wrist).

The Magic played well, shooting 51 per cent from the floor and 41 per cent from deep. Orlando got 26 points from Wendell Carter Jr. and 24 points off the bench from Jalen Suggs, but the Magic didn’t have enough to contend with the Raptors’ inside and outside threats.

“It’s really valuable, right? It really is,” said Nurse of having Poeltl to roll into smaller players after setting screens. “I mean there’s two ways you’re gonna beat teams that switch: the big guy is going to go bury somebody inside or the big defenders going to have to guard somebody on the perimeter that can get by him or shoot a three. So having both of those makes it, you know, you’ve got to probably not switch as much, especially if we’re getting inside buckets. Nobody likes the feel of a switch, throw it inside, get overpowered for a layup very long.”

Poeltl was excellent in the early going, and the impact he can have as his familiarity grows with his new surroundings is obvious. He brings a package of abilities offensively and defensively that the Raptors didn’t have previously, and they’re useful.

“I mean, you guys tell me,” Poeltl said when asked if he felt like he was the missing puzzle piece the Raptors needed. “I’m sure you guys followed the season a little bit closer than I did. But yeah, I think that was the goal of the trade. I can fill that true centre position and I just feel like I’ve been just getting more comfortable with every game out there.”

Turns out having a big dude who can set screens, roll to the rim, catch and finish on one end while deterring opponents in the paint at the other is a good way to play basketball. There were plenty of examples.

Magic lose to Raptors but embrace play-in chase entering All-Star break – Orlando Sentinel

The Magic’s defensive performance didn’t match the standard they set for themselves over the previous 15 games, in which ranked No. 8 in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions).

The Raptors shot 60.2% from the field (50 of 83) and dominated the interior, scoring 74 points in the paint.

Even when the Raptors (28-31) were missing shots, they controlled the offensive glass. Led by Jakob Poeltl (30 points on 15-for-17 shooting, 9 rebounds — including 5 offensive boards — and 6 blocks), Toronto collected 13 offensive rebounds for 18 second-chance points.

Both teams struggled with giveaways but the Raptors took better advantage of the turnovers, scoring 29 points, and had 22 points on fast breaks.

The lack of defensive fortitude, albeit on the second night of a back-to-back, was too much for the Magic (24-35) to overcome despite their hot shooting (51.2% overall, 41.9% on 3s).

Orlando was led by Wendell Carter Jr.’s 26 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Jalen Suggs added 24 points (9 of 12) and 4 assists in 29 minutes off the bench.

The Raptors and Washington Wizards entered Tuesday three games ahead of the Magic for the final two spots in the East’s play-in tournament standings. Tuesday’s loss gave Toronto an extra game advantage.

The Bulls (three games ahead) and the Indiana Pacers (one game ahead) also are in arm’s each.

Seeds 7-10 in both conferences compete in the play-in tournament for the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds in the playoffs.

The Magic are using their play-in tournament/playoffs aspirations to fuel them during the season’s final stretch.

Recap: Toronto Raptors defeat Orlando Magic 123-113, Poeltl scores 30 – Raptors HQ

The Raptors entered the fourth up 94-89, and that was as close as Orlando would get the rest of the night. Siakam kept cooking from the midrange, where he used simple shoulder bumps to create space for that soft-touch jumper of his — a DeRozan-esque move that looks smoother and smoother every time he tries it.

A spectacular Poeltl block on a Mo Wagner dunk attempt ignited the crowd halfway through the frame, and then Chris Boucher blocked a Bol Bol three-pointer in all-time battle of limbs.

Offensively, and Siakam kept on coming, draining two more jumpers to finally give the raptors a double-digit lead, 107-96. The Raptors’ defense was its best self in the fourth, forcing a couple of shot clock violations and near-violations; it was almost — almost! — like the scrambling defense of old. It wasn’t always great, but it was enough for the Raptors offense to maintain a healthy enough lead until the final seconds.

Fittingly, it was Poeltl who stuck in the final dagger, scoring an acrobatic layup off a slipped screen and beauty dish from Siakam that put the Raptors up 114-103 with three minutes to play.

A Scottie Barnes and-1 two possessions later left no doubt.

The game started out with both teams on fire, trading buckets. Siakam lost Harris on the opening Magic possession, giving up a corner three — but got it back on the ensuing possession when he hit his own triple from the corner. On the next play, Poeltl got blown by by Carter Jr… then got a dunk when Scottie Barnes beat Franz Wagner’s pressure downcourt on the next possession.

When Scottie Barnes found Siakam on a 2-1 fast break the Raptors pushed the lead to 7, their largest, and the Magic called for time

Thad Young scored on a drive, breaking Mo Wagner’s ankles along the way with a behind the back change of direction— and the Raps finished the quarter on a beautiful fast break drive where Fred VanVleet found Chris Boucher for the alley-oop and-1 with 1.5 seconds to play. That gave the Raptors a 35-27 lead after 1.

Ultimately the Raptors assisted on 13 of 16 made field goals in the opening frame. Poeltl clearly has a lot to do with that; even though he only had 1 dime of his own in the frame, he’s a smart passer and an outlet in all kinds of screen and drive actions.

This game showcased just how effective Poeltl can be in multiple areas of the game, and if the Raptors can just clean up their too-often lax defense, especially when Poeltl sits, and get a healthy Gary Trent and O.G. Anunoby back after the All-Star break… they might just be in good shape to make a run!

Raptors go into all-star break on high note with win over Magic | The Star

Making his second start and playing just his third game after being acquired from the San Antonio Spurs last week, the seven-foot-one centre made his first eight shots on Tuesday and eventually finished with 30 points, the most he’s ever scored in two stints with the Toronto. He added nine rebounds, went 15-for-17 from the floor in a memorable performance.

According to, Poeltl and David Robinson are the only players in NBA history to have 30 or more points without making a free throw or a three-pointer while also registering at least five blocked shots. Poeltl also tied his career high with six blocks.

“I think he was nervous the first night, a little bit nervous the first game coming back, that kind of stuff,” Nurse said of Poeltl. “I thought he settled in a little bit.”

His screening ability, and seamless connection on pick-and-roll action with Fred VanVleet has given the Raptors a new, and much needed, addition to their offence.

“We were cutting but I didn’t think we were doing quick enough job of cutting towards the rim to give him somebody to hit,” Nurse said after the game. “I think that’s something we can explore and get a little better at.

“We did get a couple a couple of them in the second half, but his rolling in the screen and roll was huge because they were trying to put multiple guys on Fred and Pascal and every time we hit him seemed like something good happened.”

Not bad for someone who was obtained primarily for his size and defensive rim protection.

“I feel like I’m just in a little bit of a different role,” Poeltl said this week. “In San Antonio I had the ball in my hands a lot and I was trying to create for other guys. So far here I’m just in a lot of pick and roll situations. We have really talented one-on-one scorers in P(ascal Siakam) and Fred and all those guys so yeah, I’m just trying to play a more supportive role on offence I guess.”

Or a proactive role if that’s what is called for.

“I’d argue I was still in the support role, I was just getting a lot of passes out of the pick-and-roll,” Poeltl said after the game. “It’s about reacting to the defence, they trapped Freddy a bunch of times so I’m comfortable catching the ball at the top of the key and trying to make plays.

“I feel like I was looking for the pass a little bit early on and then I noticed they were backing off so I was able to look for my own shot a little bit more. I think Fred did a really good job in the pick-and-roll finding me and it was just about finishing those off.”

It’s too much to ask Poeltl to put up huge scoring nights — and that’s not his primary role by any stretch with this team — but he’s a real threat opponents feel.

Jakob Poeltl Leads Raptors Into Break with Win vs Magic – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

Nothing has come easy this season. The practices have been relentless all season long with more of them than ever before during Nick Nurse’s tenure. He’s demanded excellence from his group and too often they’ve failed to deliver. Even the so-called gimme games, if you will, against tanking teams have proven far more difficult than they should be. Maybe it’s a product of the league being better and deeper than ever before or maybe it’s just exhaustion.

“It’s a good time for us (to have the All-Star break),” Nurse said Tuesday night as the team wrapped up their pre-All-Star break schedule. “We’ve just been trying to polish and fix and rebuild and build a foundation and all those things and that takes work, that takes practice time, that takes a lot of things.

“Yeah, I think it’s probably a decent time for us to have a little breath or two of fresh air and come back and take a run at these last 20-plus games.”

The Raptors haven’t done itself any favors over the first 59 games. For much of Tuesday, that was no different as Toronto went toe-to-toe with a lackluster Orlando Magic team. It took the better part of 48 minutes for the Raptors to finally take care of business, but timely buckets from Pascal Siakam and a breakout performance from Jakob Poeltl proved enough in a 123-113 victory.

Toronto seemed to get its offensive issues sorted out early. Poeltl delivered the kind of offensive performance the Raptors have been looking for out of the center spot. He opened up the half-court offense, creating buckets for himself and others out of the pick-and-roll.

“His rolling in the screen and roll was huge because they were trying to put multiple guys on Fred and Pascal and every time we hit him seemed like something good happened,” Nurse said of Poeltl who had a 30 points on 15-for-17 shooting.

When Orlando blitzed Fred VanVleet in the first quarter, the 28-year-old point guard just found Poeltl rolling with savvy dump-off passes. The Raptors center set up Precious Achiuwa for an easy dunk early and took it himself, scoring eight points in the first as Toronto jumped ahead by eight in the first quarter.

“It’s about reacting to the defence. They trapped Freddy a bunch of times so I’m comfortable catching the ball at the top of the key and trying to make plays,” said Poeltl who was mobbed by his teammates as he entered the locker room post-game. “I feel like I was looking for the pass a little bit early on and then I noticed they were backing off so I was able to look for my own shot a little bit more.”

For as good as the offense looked putting up 65 points in the first half, Toronto’s defense looked every bit as bad. At one point a miscommunication between Poeltl and Precious Achiuwa left Paolo Banchero wide open for a layup. Jalen Suggs, the man drafted one pick after Scottie Barnes, lit the Raptors up for 19 points in the first half, nailing a trio of three-pointers as the Magic tallied 70 points before the half.

Poeltl comes up big offensively in Raptors win over Orlando Magic | Toronto Sun

VanVleet played a pretty big role in this one as well with a season-high 15 assists to go along with 10 points.

Poeltl started for the second time in the three games since the trade deadline and once again took another step forward in finding his comfort level within the team, particularly on the offensive end.

At practice on Monday, Poeltl sounded quite happy with his defensive progress in picking up a tougher defensive scheme than he had been playing the past four and a half years in San Antonio, but lamented his lack of offensive role here, something he had developed nicely in San Antonio.

Safe to say Poeltl and VanVleet found something that was effective for all concerned.

“I’d argue I was still in the support role, I was just getting a lot of passes out of the pick-and-roll,” Poeltl said. “It’s about reacting to the defence, they trapped Freddy a bunch of times so I’m comfortable catching the ball at the top of the key and trying to make plays. I feel like I was looking for the pass a little bit early on and then I noticed they were backing off so I was able to look for my own shot a little bit more. I think Fred did a really good job in the pick-and-roll finding me and it was just about finishing those off.”

The 30 points were only one shy of his career-high 31 set earlier in a San Antonio win over Portland.

He didn’t exactly rest on those offensive laurels, either. Defensively he led the team with six blocks while finishing a game-best plus-18 for the night.

Not to be outdone, Pascal Siakam — who got off to a bit of a slow start while Poeltl was carrying the offensive load — came alive in the third quarter and wound up with 24 points, making 10 of his 14 field goal attempts.

All but nine of his points came in that second half.

Between them, Yak and Skills — as they were once known in these parts — were a combined 25-for-32 on the night with 56 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, those six Poeltl blocks and three steals.

Precious Achiuwa got another start with O.G. Anunoby still nursing that sprained wrist. Achiuwa was very hard on himself after the loss to Utah, but Tuesday night took on the Magic’s toughest matchup in rookie Paolo Banchero and helped limit him to just 13 points.

Achiuwa was a force on the boards as well, where he had a game-high 13 rebounds as the Raptors won that battle handily.

From an offensive standpoint, the first half wasn’t just good for the Raptors, it was next-level great.

As a team they shot 70.7% from the floor led by 14 points from Poeltl on a perfect 7-for-7 half.

On any other night that would have almost definitely had them a lead but at the half, the Raptors somehow trailed by five. The Magic shot 60.5% for the half in a real free-for-all half on Tuesday night

The Magic scored 43 in the second quarter alone, but could manage only that much in the third and fourth quarters combined as the Raptors brought some defence into the game.

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