Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 24

Poeltl goes beast mode against Pelicans

Raptors defence will make or break their end-of-season push – The Athletic

“From this stretch a year ago, we had one of the best defences in the league,” Nurse said before the game. “Pretty much the same guys (on the roster). We’re trying to have another run like that, get back to that point. I still think this team has the capability of presenting a lot of problems at that end.”

Well, it’s not all the same guys. Jakob Poeltl is here now. He anchored a first-half performance that was simply one of their best of the season on defence, holding the Pelicans to 37.8 percent shooting while also forcing nine turnovers to help ignite their stagnant offence.

“I think everyone can be more aggressive on the ball with Jak back there, just like when Christian (Koloko) is back there,” Anunoby said Wednesday. “We can be super aggressive.”

Even Poeltl wasn’t always conservative against the Pelicans, fronting Jonas Valanciunas in the post on what ended up being a steal that led to a Gary Trent Jr. layup.

“It’s a little bit counterintuitive when you are used to playing a little bit more passive, where you have to protect yourself,” said Poeltl, comparing Toronto’s system to San Antonio’s. “Now I’m being aggressive and putting myself out there in almost bad defensive positions because you trust that if you speed your man up, there is someone else there to pick up the slack.

“You can practise it and think about it as much as I want, but over time it will become second nature.”

Imagine how it might look when that happens. This was not just the impact of Poeltl, though. Everyone was engaged, even in the little moments — Scottie Barnes tapping the ball out of Brandon Ingram’s hands as he tried to isolate him, or Chris Boucher forcing the Pelicans to burn a timeout by defending an inbounds play.

With Poeltl on the bench, the Raptors looked tied together on the defensive end. Occasionally a player would not get his hand up on a shooter or miss a box out or find a man in transition, but those were rarities. New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram took over with midrangers to make the game closer than it had been for most of the night late in the fourth quarter.

On the whole, though, this was a lot better. The blow-bys of the first half of the season were replaced by intelligent ball pressure and, when necessary, controlled rotations to help the initial defender.

Raptors begin final push with impressive win over Pelicans – Sportsnet

But the Pelicans (30-30) are fighting for their playoff lives, too. They cut the Raptors’ lead to seven midway into the fourth and looked to be making headway by going with a smaller lineup, swarming Siakam on every touch and scrambling out to shooters on the pass.

But something had to give and it was the Pelicans’ ability to rebound defensively with so many bodies and motion. Poeltl made them pay. He scored nine straight points in a two-minutes stretch late in the fourth on three putbacks after offensive rebounds, a lay-up on a dive to the basket and then brought the Scotiabank Arena crowd to a roar with a block on a dunk attempt by the Pelicans’ Herbert Jones.

“They they brought [Larry Nance Jr.] because they wanted to blitz Pascal with the speed and athleticism and Jak made them pay for that,” said Nurse. “That’s what you need to do when they’re making a counter move, your counter move is you stay big and you got to make them pay down there and he did.” 

The flurry kept the Raptors’ lead intact even as the Pelicans kept answering, with Brandon Ingram scoring 14 of his game-high 36 points in the final seven minutes. Another Ingram jumper pulled the Pelicans closer in the final minute before Gary Trent Jr. hit a triple with 12 seconds left to give the Raptors the breathing room they needed.

Poeltl finished with 21 points (on 9-of-11 shooting), a career-high 18 rebounds (seven on the offensive glass), three steals and a block in his 30 minutes of floor time. Trent Jr. and Scottie Barnes had 18 points each, with the latter – playing at point guard with Fred VanVleet out (personal reasons) – chipping in three assists and three steals.

It’s fitting that the Raptors had a date with the Pelicans to start their push. It was their meeting with New Orleans back on Nov. 30 that signalled things with the Raptors might be more concerning than a slow start and some injury concerns.

The Pelicans had Zion Williamson in the lineup then and the oft-injured fourth-year star was playing his best basketball — his 33 points, 10 assists, four steals and two blocks only begins to capture it. The Raptors were overwhelmed both by talent –even though the Pelicans were without Ingram and CJ McCollum — and effort. They fell  behind by 27 at halftime and never competed.  A bad loss in Brooklyn followed and then a six-game losing streak not long after that.

Both teams are different now. The Pelicans, who were at the beginning of a run that saw them briefly reach the top of the West, have come back to earth with injuries to Williamson and Ingram (he missed 29 games with a toe problem) robbing them of their momentum as they struggle to stay in the playoff picture.

Pelicans get outplayed in paint by Raptors, lose 115-110 – The Bird Writes

In a game that saw the Toronto Raptors lead for the vast majority, the Pelicans fell by a final score of 115-110. Brandon Ingram, though, nearly wrote a different ending despite the team constantly needing to battle uphill.

Ingram finished with a season-high 36 points but really caught fire down the stretch, pouring in 11 points over the final 4:22 of regulation. He twice made it a one-possession game with a midrange jumper. However, Jakob Poeltl and a Gary Trent 3-pointer late in the shot clock prevented the Pelicans from stealing the win in Toronto.

While Ingram’s point total and hot finish were impressive, his six turnovers were costly. It felt as though Toronto turned them all into points on the other end. Thus, Pascal Siakam and Poeltl seemed more impactful from start to finish to the final outcome.

Siakam totaled 26 points, four rebounds and five assists. He set the tone for the Raptors, helping them slowly build their lead through much of the contest. But it was Poeltl’s play that sealed the Pelicans’ fate.

“He was huge,” Green said. “Down the stretch of the game when we went and helped and contested shots, he was right there under the basket. He kind of cleaned up everything as far as offensive rebounds for those guys. Got putbacks, got to the foul line. And now we’re playing against a set defense. To me, that’s the difference in the last stretch of the game.”

Poeltl, who outplayed New Orleans’ entire front line, finished with 21 points, 18 rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot. While he missed four of seven from the foul line, he made nine of 11 field goals, with most of them via putbacks.

The Pelicans lost the rebound battle (55-50) and were hammered in points in the paint (62-42) and in second chance points (22-13).

“It was really the 22 second-chance points,” Green said. “That’s the difference in the game. And they had 62 points in the paint. That’s too much to overcome. We have to be better in those areas and we will.”

The first half was a slog. The offense scored 45 points, tying their third lowest output in the first 24 minutes on the season. There was little rhythm. Wide-open jumpers consistently missed the mark. Bunnies rimmed out. On one possession, Ingram brought the ball up the floor and dribbled for darn near the entirety of the shot clock, settling for jumper that not surprisingly bounced off front rim.

The offense found life in the second half, but the damage had been done. Beating a team that’s better than their record says — Poeltl is really going to help Toronto — on their home floor, is a difficult task for a Pelicans team that has a smaller margin for error while Zion Williamson remains sidelined.

“Once we got stops, rebounded the ball and started to play downhill with force, the game changed for us,” Green said. “We have to play like that not just the last couple of quarters but try and put that together for 48 minutes. Tonight, we didn’t do that.”

Pelicans Late Rally Falls Short in Toronto – Sports Illustrated

The Raptors would get major contributions from their entire starting five as they scored at least 12 points in the game.

A Pelicans rally in the fourth quarter was too little, too late. Down 11 points with less than 3 minutes to go, New Orleans cut the Raptors lead down to 2 points before Gary Trent, Jr knocked down a 3-pointer to extend the Raptors lead to 5.

The loss dropped the Pelicans to .500 on the season in a tight playoff race in the Western Conference.

Toronto had a decided advantage outscoring New Orleans 62-42 in points in the paint. Jakob Poeltl had a career night for the Raptors, scoring 21 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. Pascal Siakam led the Raptors pouring in 26 points. 

Aside from Ingram, McCollum scored 23 points for New Orleans. However, no other Pelicans player scored more than 12 points in the loss that dropped them to 10-20 on the road and 8th place in the West.

Next, the Pelicans will travel to New York to take on the Knicks on Saturday, Feb. 25, then return home on Monday, Feb. 27 to battle the Orlando Magic.

NBA: Poeltl has another career-night as Raptors beat. Pelicans – Yahoo!

“He was humongous at getting us extra possessions,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “He was protecting the rim down there. He won a jump ball for us … he did so many good things.”

Pelicans head coach Willie Green had similar praise, calling Poeltl’s rebounding the “difference in the last stretch of the game.”

The victory pushes the Raptors to their sixth win in the past seven games, marking the best stretch they’ve played this season. For the third time, they’ve also won three straight — all have been with Poeltl as a starter — marking a monumental shift for Toronto since acquiring him at the Feb. 9 trade deadline, as he continues to look like the piece the Raptors were missing all along.

It helps kick off what Nurse calls a “seven-week sprint” to end off the season following the NBA’s All-Star break. With the Raptors coming off a week-long rest, all focus is now on climbing up the Eastern Conference standings, where they sit in ninth — good enough for a play-in spot.

“That is what you play basketball for at the end of the day, because you want to win,” said Poeltl post-game. “You don’t just want to win a (single) basketball game. You want to win to get to the playoffs, to get the Finals, to win championships and stuff like that. So, yeah, that is what makes it fun at the end of the day.”

The showing from Poeltl comes after he put up 30 points and six blocks against the Orlando Magic just before the All-Star break.

Once again, it was his ability to make plays from the elbow or at the top of the paint that helped the Raptors make smart decisions in the half-court. In addition, his intensity in the fourth quarter proved pivotal, as Nurse applauded Poeltl’s ability to punish the Pelicans for trying to blitz Siakam with Larry Nance Jr.’s speed and athleticism.

Toronto was able to first pull away in the third quarter, ending the frame up 15 points. It was behind a sizzling frame from Pascal Siakam, who put up 18 of his 26 points in that quarter. To cap it off, Chris Boucher also threw down an exclamation point with arguably one of the best dunks of the year.

“That was pretty cool,” said Nurse. “That’s Chris, right? He’s going to make some spectacular plays. He’s going to do ‘em at both ends. He makes something happen. It isn’t always good but tonight there was a sequence there where they were great, right? So he makes things happen and plays with tremendous energy. And that is what we need from him off the bench.”

Recap: Toronto Raptors defeat New Orleans Pelicans 115-110, Poeltl with 21-and-18 – Raptors HQ

Dowtin gave a good showing, perhaps indicating he’s read for more; Nick Nurse seems to think so. He said they left Dowtin out for an abnormally long stretch in the first because he was playing so well — particularly on the defensive end.

O.G. started the second frame with a pick-six steal and a fast-break and-1, carrying over some more solid Caribbean vibes after Kevin Lyttle’s quarter-break performance.

A Precious Achiuwa block of a CJ McCollum drive led to another Anuoby bucket — a jam this time — to keep the vibes going.

Barnes then drained a three over Jonas Valanciunas, part of rough stretch for JV, who started the game with two fouls, a turnover and 0-for-2 shooting. Barnes then hit another three, giving the Raptors a double-digit lead at 38-28 and forcing Willie Green to call for time.

That impressive run allowed the Raptors to give Pascal Siakam an extended rest — more than six minutes — and when Jakob Poeltl tipped in a Dowtin miss with 3:43 to go in the first, the Raptors had a double-digit lead.

But the Raptors quickly let New Orleans go on a quick 7-2 run, forcing Nick Nurse to call for time. The full complement of starters returned and settled things somewhat, but an unlucky swing happened when a sweet Scottie Barnes finish was ruled an offensive foul, and CJ McCollum drained a three the other way.

The Raptors caught a break of their own with three seconds left when Josh Richardson was called for a foul, then complained enough to get t’ed up. Trent hit the techincal, but Siakam could only split the two freebies and the Raptors went into halftime with a 54-45 lead.

Poeltl finished the half with 11 and 10, and his impact was felt pretty much everywhere. I wouldn’t say the Raptors played particularly well, but with Jak protecting the rim, getting rebounds and throwing outlets, and settling the offense from the to of the key, even when things didn’t look great they looked… acceptable. Which is more than can be said for a lot of halves this season!

The good vibes continued into the half with Patrice Roberts half-time show. The music and the dancing was [fire emoji], and things looked good once the quarter started: OG Anunoby opened the scoring with a hard drive on JV, and he allllmoooost threw down the hammer on his former teammate, coming up just short (but the ball still trickled in).

All in all it was an entertaining game, and a good process-leads-to-results finish. The Raptors have now won 6 of their last 7 games, and head to Detroit to play the struggling Pistons on Saturday afternoon.

Raptors return with a win over the Pelicans | The Star

A Gary Trent Jr. three-pointer with 12.3 seconds left was the big shot off a great pass out of traffic by Siakam, who also led Toronto with five assists. And facing seven of their next eight on the road, a boost of confidence can’t hurt.

“A lot of games coming quick, I’m looking forward to it,” coach Nick Nurse said before the game. “I’m certainly looking more forward to it (than) if half our team was hurt, that’s for sure.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve played great basketball, but we’ve played pretty good for a stretch here, pretty good. If we can propel that forward a little bit, I think we have a lot to look forward to.”

Much if that has to do with Poeltl, the veteran centre who had 10 points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter alone.

“I think he was humongous at getting us extra possessions,” Nurse said. “He was protecting the rim down there. He won a jump ball for us; we’ve struggled on those this year. He did so many good things.”

In his last two games, Poeltl has set career rebounding highs: 16 before the break, then 18 Thursday.

“You can practise it and think about it as much as I want, but over time it will become second nature,” Poeltl said of fitting into Toronto’s defensive system.

VanVleet’s absence delayed for at least a game a chance for Nurse to have the perceived top eight or nine Raptors all healthy and available for the first time ever, given Poeltl’s recent addition.

But it also gave him cover from having to make a difficult decision on who will start and who will come off the bench.

The prevalent thinking is that Poeltl will replace Precious Achiuwa, but the hardest call will be to determine which of O.G. Anunoby or Trent will move to a backup role. Nurse said before VanVleet was ruled out that he isn’t entirely sure yet who will serve in what capacity.

“You know how it is: If we get the win, it usually stays for a while. If they do a good job, it stays,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a little bit of tinkering.

“We’re just trying to make our best educated guess on decisions of what we think it would look like if we got enough ball handling out there, if we got enough shooting out there, if we got enough defence out there, the things we really prioritize, and go from there.”

It was Scottie Barnes, Trent, Anunoby, Siakam and Poeltl to start against the Pelicans with a primary backup group of Achiuwa, Chris Boucher and, somewhat surprisingly, Jeff Dowtin Jr.

“We went through the pre-game walk-through without (VanVleet) obviously, and if he’d have showed up for whatever reason we’d have plugged him right in there, but it gets a little tricky,” Nurse said of filling VanVleet’s spot at the last minute.

Gary Trent Jr Nails Clutch Three as Raptors top Pelicans – Sports Illustrated

Raptors coach Nick Nurse challenged the group to be better and they responded, going 16-9 over the final 25 games of the season and surging to the fifth seed in the conference thanks in part to a 110.2 Defensive Rating over the stretch, good for fifth-best in the league.

This year the message is the same: Shore up the defense and everything else will fall into place.

“We’re trying to have another run like that,” Nurse said Thursday evening before Toronto’s 115-110 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. “Intensity, longer stretches of intense defense, ball pressure, disrupting rhythm, things like that, is kind of our theme, kind of the way we like to do it.”

In their first game out of the All-Star Break, the Raptors rose to the call. The defense looked as good as it has in months. Jakob Poeltl continued to be a stabilizing on both ends and eventually, Gary Trent Jr. came up clutch. It, of course, wasn’t easy for the Raptors who allowed a double-digit four-quarter lead nearly slip away, but a beautiful find from Pascal Siakam freed up Trent for the game-clinching three-pointer and allowed Toronto to sneak away doing just enough to start this playoff-defining stretch with a victory.

“I just think it’s been making progress to getting there,” Nurse said of his team’s defense. “The question is, why weren’t we playing better three months ago, probably? But again, lots of pieces moving, lots of things going on, just whatever, and probably put some of that stuff behind us.”

Poeltl looked a little more comfortable with Toronto’s aggressive defense in his first game out of the All-Star break. He held his own in a pair of switches against Brandon Ingram in the first quarter as the Raptors locked down the Pelicans early, surrendering just 19 points in the first quarter.

“Sometimes you are almost putting yourself out of position, but you are pressuring the ball handler and trusting your teammates that they are going to have your back behind you coming for a trap or coming in for a steal or stuff like that,” Poeltl said of Toronto’s aggressive defense. “It’s a little bit counter-intuitive when you are used to playing a little bit more passive where you have to protect yourself. Now I’m being aggressive and putting myself out there in almost bad defensive positions because you trust that if you speed your man up, there is someone else there to pick up the slack.”

Raptors bring the D and earn the W over New Orleans | Toronto Sun

All five Toronto starters hit double digits in scoring, led by the 26 from Siakam.

Coming into the final 23 games, a stint that will determine whether the Raptors extend their season to the play-in tournament, miss the playoffs all together or — and this is a longer shot — earn a top-six finish in the East and avoid the play-in all together, all head coach Nick Nurse really wants is a run of a good health and some of the defensive fight he saw from pretty much this same group a year ago.

It wasn’t health that prevented him from fielding his preferred rotation Thursday night, but Nurse was still denied at least half his wish list for the first game back from the all-star break when Fred VanVleet was a last-minute scratch from the lineup for personal reasons.

If there were any good fortune to this little bit of drama, it was that at least the Raptors had a ready-made Plan B.

The addition of Jakob Poeltl at the trade deadline and the return of both O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. meant the Raptors already had at least six starters for five spots.

It was expected that Trent Jr. would be that odd man out, but with VanVleet’s absence, it was simply a matter of staying with the five starters that were available.

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VanVleet’s stewardship of the offence was missed at times early on, but once Scottie Barnes settled into the role with an assist from rookie Jeff Dowtin Jr. off the bench, his absence became less of a factor.

Defensively, though, Nurse was happy.

The Pelicans are a team that averages 115 points a game, relying heavily on the likes of Brandon Ingram, C.J. McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas and, when he’s healthy (which is becoming a rarity), Zion Williamson.

Williamson, who positively torched the Raptors in the first meeting between these two teams in New Orleans in November, was once again out of the lineup with a hamstring issue, but the remaining Pels were more than capable of filling up a box score.

The Raptors defence, a disappointment for most of this season, wouldn’t allow that, holding the Pelicans under 40% shooting for much of the night before a late-game surge got them up to 46%.

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Most impressively, they made everything difficult at the basket. Ingram, one of the elite scorers in the NBA with a penchant for finding a way to score against even blanket defence, led the Pelicans with 36 points, but he needed 27 shots to get there.

McCollum, the Pelicans’ other instant bucket, had 23 on a much more efficient 8-for-16 night. Both men though did most of their damage from behind the three-point line where they were a combined 8-for-12 from distance.

The Raptors can live with giving up some looks from deep, but what they can’t do is allow that and give teams unfettered access to the paint.

“I was pretty happy with the ball pressure,” said Nurse, speaking of his team’s defensive effort. “I thought we were big at the rim. You know, we made them take tough shots. And we protected the rim on a number of occasions when it looked like the play was in trouble, right, and we saved them and we were able to get out (and go) the other way. But I thought, the concentration, the effort and the execution of what we were trying to do was good, was solid.”

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