Morning Coffee – Wed, Mar 1

Nurse outreaches Donovan to a Raptors win | Will Barton in, Bo Cruz out | We are looking at the real Raptors team now

Raptors need Fred VanVleet down the stretch — and into the future, too – The Athletic

Since the arrival of Jakob Poeltl to Toronto, VanVleet has been throwing some truly audacious passes. He tries to split defenders. He lofts the ball up over defenders, trusting Poeltl will catch it. It doesn’t come off as overly showy, because he’s 6 feet without much leaping ability, but it is his version of playmaking swagger. He dished out nine assists against Chicago, giving the Raptors the season series tiebreaker over the Bulls, should it come to that.

VanVleet shot 1-for-11 on Tuesday, reminiscent of some of his off nights early in the year. There wasn’t much forcing of those looks. In February, VanVleet averaged 20.3 points and 7.6 assists per game, with the Raptors going 6-2 in the games he played in the month. His percentages still aren’t where he would like them to be, but his impact has been felt more acutely over the last month or so.

Against the Bulls, he also had zero turnovers. He makes the next pass — correctly — more reliably than anyone else on the team. It wasn’t a complete coincidence that the Raptors hit 15 3s on Tuesday after hitting 16 total in a pair of games over the weekend.

You could see how much they missed that ability in Detroit and Cleveland over the weekend, and when he wasn’t running the show Tuesday. The ball just doesn’t get moving — in part because he’s the best pick-and-roll ballhandler on the team, and in part because the spacing he provides gives him and his teammates extra space to operate. Even in transition, the Raptors haven’t been as efficient as you’d like. Until Scottie Barnes finished through a DeMar DeRozan foul in the fourth quarter, the Raptors were finding many ways to bungle those opportunities.

“It makes a big difference having Fred out there. (It) definitely helps our team,” O.G. Anunoby said. “He’s just a steady presence. We know he’s gonna get us into the right stuff.”

To be sure, VanVleet isn’t perfect. His side-to-side agility is not what it was a few years back, and the Bulls attacked him in the second half, making him the target of pick-and-roll actions with Zach LaVine as the handler. The Bulls built their lead out to eight in the third quarter with that as their main action. He adds plenty as a weakside defender, but he isn’t the guy you want closing out to 3-point shooters, limiting his utility in that spot.

Assuming he declines his player option for next year, he will become an unrestricted free agent. There have been multiple reports that Orlando will go after him in the summer, but Markelle Fultz has been pretty darn good there this season. (The two might not be mutually exclusive.) The market never shapes up exactly as you think, but VanVleet figures to be one of the more accomplished UFAs on the market.

Forget the competition the Raptors might have for VanVleet, though. The Raptors need him. Sure, there is a chance Barnes’ handling and shooting come far enough to make him a real option as the primary guard on the team, but that would require a massive leap. It doesn’t feel like something that will happen over one summer. By trading their first-round pick next year in the trade for Poeltl, the Raptors have signaled they intend to be competitive next year, too. The Raptors have no other guards in the system and won’t have cap room to replace him if he leaves, either.

Shooting 39 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3, VanVleet hasn’t had the dream “walk” season heading into free agency. Still, with what has and has not happened elsewhere on the roster, the Raptors might need him more than he needs the Raptors.

Finally at full strength, Raptors pick up necessary win over Bulls – Sportsnet

Fittingly the game had play-in implications. Not only did 11th-place Chicago come to Toronto trailing the ninth-place Raptors by on-and-a-half games, the two teams were also tied 1-1 in the season series. If the Bulls went up 2-1 they would have the tiebreaker if their records were identical at season’s end, which could determine who got into the play-in tournament or where the game would be held. The Raptors now have that advantage. 

Similar scenarios are in play later this week when the Raptors travel to Washington for two games against the 10th-place Wizards. 

“Big games, yep [but] again, us just trying to really zero in on us,” said Nurse.” I don’t think it matters that much where people are in the standings. I mean, it does because they’re right around us and we are inside 20 games to go or something like that but, again, just trying to get us to play to our capabilities … if we do that and keep getting a little bit better, if we do that then we’re gonna have a really good chance every night we step out there and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Raptors’ front office is trying to win at the margins as well. Shortly before the game Tuesday Toronto waived  Juancho Hernangomez and signed veteran Will Barton who had earlier been bought out by the Wizards. Barton, 32, is in his 11th season and coming off a poor stint with the Wizards. It was his first experience coming off the bench after starting in Denver, primarily, in the previous three years, and playing starter’s-type minutes for all of his eight seasons with the Nuggets. 

He appeared in just 40 games for Washington, starting none, and had largely fallen out of the rotation after being traded there in the off-season in a deal that brought him closer to his home in Maryland. He shot the ball well from distance – 38 per cent from three – but didn’t have anything else happening offensively. In his last year in Denver, Barton averaged nearly 15 points, five rebounds and four assists a game with decent efficiency over 71 starts. He also has 29 playoff games on his resume. 

“He’s an interesting player. He has played a lot in the league on a team that won a lot,” said Nurse. “He’s an offence creator. He can play screen-and-roll. He can also shoot the 3. Made a bunch of them in his career. Those two things should help us.”

Barton saw his first action with five minutes remaining in the second quarter of a tie game. He didn’t do too much – one shot, a triple that he missed but Thad Young rebounded for a putback. 

But in that sense, Barton fit in with the rest of his new team in the early going at least. 

Bulls vs. Raptors final score: Chicago can’t control the boards nor limit turnovers in 104-98 loss – Blog a Bull

It was another rough loss where the Bulls faded down the stretch and everything we have worried about with this team showed up again.

As a team Chicago shot the ball pretty well at 52.1 percent and their three-point percentage was solid too (40 percent). However the problem was volume as they attempted just 25 three-pointers, which was stark in contrast to Toronto who had 42 tries. The Bulls got dominated on the boards, losing the rebounding battle by 12 and committed 19 turnovers.

Nikola Vucevic led the way with 23 points, five rebounds, and four assists. In a contrast to how it has been recently, he was solid at spreading the floor by knocking down four shots from downtown. While he was Chicago’s leading scorer on the night, he did commit the most turnovers as well.

Zach LaVine struggled to continue his hot shooting from three, going just one of five yet he continued to find other ways to score the basket in a 17 point effort. He shot 50% from the field and added three assists.

DeMar DeRozan struggled against Toronto’s defense as their gameplan was to limit his influence and impact. The Raptors were even doubling team him on the catch late in the fourth quarter. He finished with 13 points on five of 11 and even missed two free throws in the fourth, which was uncharacteristic for him. He struggled with foul trouble and had the lowest +/- of any Bulls starter.

Patrick Beverley scored eight points, dished out four assists, and even grabbed seven rebounds in his 29 minutes of action. Alex Caruso contributed six points and six assists.

Ayo Dosunmu was the highest scorer off the bench with 10 points, six rebounds while going five of seven from the field. Patrick Williams had eight points but it came on just five shots. Andre Drummond made an impact in his 16 minutes with six points and 10 rebounds. Coby White struggled to score the ball efficiently but was a playmaker with five assists as he once again showed that he is expanding his portfolio on offense.

Toronto had four starters in double digits with Pascal Siakam scoring 20 while Gary Trent Jr. had 19 points off the bench.

Rebounding and sloppy offensive execution continue to be the kryptonite for Chicago. Even when they are playing solid defense, they can’t seem to get out of their own way to make life easier for themselves. Given where they are in the standings, these are must-win type of games. They notched one against Washington but took a step back with this defeat in Canada. The Bulls will continue to fight to get into the play-in but time is running out for them.

Recap: Toronto Raptors defeat Chicago Bulls, 104-98 – Raptors HQ

Before the game, Nick Nurse called out Chicago’s preferred lineup of four guards and Vucevic. With VanVleet back in the lineup and Poeltl’s growing comfort in a Raptors uniform (again), the Raptors used a bevy of high-low feeds and cutting action to get some easy buckets in the paint. Pascal Siakam helped himself to a handful of points in the paint as well.

The Bulls’ speedy guards returned the favour in kind. Ayo Dosunmu blew by VanVleet twice in the first quarter for a pair of layups.

Considering the importance of the game (rubber match between teams fighting to get out of the play-in), it was surprising to see newly acquired veteran, Will Barton, check into the game midway through the second quarter. He performed… just as you’d expect someone to perform who literally signed with the team a couple of hours earlier. Barton played four minutes, missed his only field goal attempt, and finished a minus 4.

The Raptors were stellar on defense in the first half in limiting Chicago’s All-Star backcourt. Zach Lavine was held to four points on four attempts. DeMar DeRozan was limited to six points and only two free throws. In the first three minutes of the second quarter, Jakob Poeltl blocked DeRozan twice. The first block occurred because O.G. Anunoby shut down DeRozan’s drive and led him into Poeltl’s waiting paws. A couple of minutes later, Poeltl stuffed DeRozan under the basket. It’s nice having a rim protector!

At the half, Toronto had more offensive rebounds (6-1) and more steals (6-2), which led to a sizable advantage in field goal attempts (48-36). However, the Bulls were considerably more efficient as they shot 53% from the field to the Raptors’ 35%. Chicago also did a great job of limiting Toronto’s lethal transition attack to only five attempts and two points.

In the third quarter, the crowd had barely settled into their seats by the time Chicago grew its two-point halftime lead to eight. Lavine made a conscious effort to be more aggressive. He would score 11 in the quarter and end the game with 17 points — well below his season average of 24.2.

Until cloning is perfected and legally allowed, there’s only one Anunoby. So, Nurse had to decide who would get the O.G. treatment between DeRozan and Lavine. He opted for DeRozan, essentially matching their floor/bench minutes. DeRozan was not only shut down (his 13 points were also well below his season average of 25.3) but looked very ‘un-DeMar-like’. He missed two free throws in the fourth quarter — the first miss was met by a loud roar as it won the crowd some free pizza; the second miss with Chicago down four with 17.2 seconds remaining. In addition to Poeltl’s two blocks on DeRozan in the second, Barnes also blocked him in the fourth. Finally, in a weird twilight zone moment, it was DeRozan that ended up on a poster.

The aforementioned small lineup for the Bulls ended up biting them in the you-know-where. After Vucevic missed a three with 1:53 remaining and a 99-95 deficit, the Raptors managed to keep possession for almost an entire minute as they bled the shot clock and corralled two massive offensive rebounds. Toronto came away empty-handed but with less than a minute remaining, the damage was down.

Toronto would end the game at +23 in field goal attempts. As monstrous as that discrepancy seems, that’s ‘only’ tied for the fourth-highest field goal advantage for the Raptors this season.

Raptors beat the Bulls at their defensive game | The Star

With Fred VanVleet back after missing three games for the birth of a daughter, Nurse had a starting lineup decision to make. He decided to bring Trent off the bench and start a big lineup of VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunoby, Siakam and Jakob Poeltl against a predominantly guard-oriented Bulls team.

Trent’s 19 points came in 27 minutes as he started on the bench for the 11th time in 54 games this season. He was part of Toronto’s finishing group, however, as Nurse looked for his offence rather that Poeltl’s defence in the closing minutes.

“I just felt like we needed Gary’s scoring in the game because the scoring wasn’t coming that easy,” Nurse said. “And then defensively we got to a pretty good scheme there the last half of the fourth where we put Scottie on (Chicago’s Nikola) Vucevic, and being able to switch the ball screens so O.G. would go on Vucevic.”

Trent was also part of a deeper-than-usual bench Nurse used that included newly signed Will Barton for four first-half minutes and Thad Young for a veteran presence.

“Thad was able to plug in there,” Nurse said. “And he was really, I thought, just strong and assertive and very good at both ends.”

Scottie Barnes Comes up Clutch as Raptors Victory Over Bulls – Sports Illustrated

In typical Scottie Barnes fashion this season, it wasn’t pretty entirely for most of the night. The 21-year-old missed multiple point-blank opportunities. He was just 1-for-8 from the field through three quarters and missed a pair of free throws that could have been costly. But, as has also been the case all year, Barnes came up clutch when the Raptors needed him.

He kept Toronto around early in the fourth quarter while Pascal Siakam took a breather, nailing a driving and-1 through contact from DeMar DeRozan to put the Raptors up three. He followed it up with a block of Coby White and a transition find of Siakam, pounding his chest as he hustled back on defense as Toronto began to creep ahead.

As if that wasn’t enough, he nailed a three-pointer to put Toronto up nine and blocked DeRozan from behind, his fourth of four fourth-quarter blocks.

“He was really digging in to try to get stops and competing and you could just see that and you could see that picking up as the game went on,” said Nurse. “He was really, I thought, inspirational to the other guys.”

“The competitive side of him really starts emerging in the fourth and he just starts playing really physical and really tough,” Nurse added.

Barnes finished the night with 11 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter, to go with his eight rebounds and four assists in the game.

“He was amazing today,” O.G. Anunoby said of Barnes. “He was everywhere, making blocks, getting the ball and pushing, passing, finishing, he was doing everything. He’s a great player.”

With Fred VanVleet back from his personal absence, Gary Trent Jr. shifted back to the bench. The starters looked solid early with VanVleet and Jakob Poeltl working the pick-and-roll and Pascal Siakam bullying Chicago’s undersized starting lineup.

Trent eventually checked in with just over five minutes to go in the first quarter and nailed a pair of three-pointers, both finds from VanVleet. But Toronto’s offense couldn’t get going early. The Raptors connected on just five of 21 three-point attempts in the first half as Nurse searched for options.

Raptors defence steps up to fend off Bulls for important win | Toronto Sun

The two teams went back and forth all night in this one with no team getting further than nine points ahead of the other at any point in the game.

As advertised, Chicago’s defence was stingy, holding the Raptors below 40% shooting for much of the game.

Keeping the Raptors close was the volume of shots they were getting up and the usual big advantage in the turnover department, an area of defence the Raptors doesn’t take a back seat to any other team.

But truth be told the Raptors defence is making some pretty big strides of its own and was a big reason the Raptors won this one 104-98.

Scottie Barnes was particularly huge in the fourth quarter, first leading a bench unit with both Siakam and VanVleet on the bench and helping gain some separation, and then becoming that intimidator at the rim over the final minutes when he added to his block total of four on the night with some pretty huge defensive plays.

“He made a couple of plays not many guys in this league can make. Blocks, push the break, the and-1 — he was talking and keyed in and he had some good boost,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said.

“The best thing about it all was he was really competing, right?,” Nurse said. “He was really digging in to try to get stops and competing and you could just see that and you could see that picking up as the game went on, especially in the fourth he was really, I thought, inspirational to the other guys, right?”

Barnes only scored 11 points on the night, but as far as VanVleet was concerned, it was his defensive play and leadership in that fourth quarter that was the difference between the Raptors winning and losing this one.

It was the Raptors’ fifth win in the past six games and was key for potential play-in seeding and home court advantage should these two teams find themselves in the play-in tournament.

With the win the Raptors win the season series and the playoff tiebreaker should the Bulls and Toronto finish tied at the end of the year.

Siakam once again led all Raptors with 20 points and shared the team lead in rebounds with eight with O.G. Anunoby and Barnes.

Nikola Vucevic lead the Bulls with 23 points.

VanVleet, making his first start since a three-game absence as the VanVleet family welcomed their third child and second daughter (Layla) into the world, looked a little rusty as expected going just 1-for-10 from the field but he had the facilitator part of his game, piling up nine assists in a, for him, conservative 35 minutes.

Looking much more aggressive in his fourth game back since a near month-long absence was Anunoby.

He was decisive on the catch for this threes and determined on his drives, finishing with 17 points, while locking down former teammate DeRozan who was held to a mere 13.

Gary Trent Jr., in his first game coming off the bench since the break, remained the factor we thought he would be regardless of his role. He got up 13 shots in 24 minutes, 11 of them from behind the arc where he made five for a 19-point night.

He was also on the floor to end the game, a much more important measuring stick of a player’s worth to his team.

Raptors sign guard Will Barton, waive Juancho Hernangomez | The Star

Barton is a career 35.5 per cent three-point shooter in 663 career games with Washington, Denver and Portland. His most productive year was 2017-18 when he averaged 15.7 points and shot 37 per cent from three.

It’s hard to see where he’d fit at the top of a Raptors rotation but having a veteran who has appeared in 39 playoff games as insurance can’t hurt.

“We’ll have to see how we can work him in and where he goes,” coach Nick Nurse said Tuesday. “I think there are probably some times that call for some backcourt help off the bench, and we’ll see if he can provide that.”

Hernangomez, signed just before the season began, just didn’t pan out on his one-year deal. He appeared in 42 games, starting 10 but shot just 25.4 per cent from three-point range.

Because the move was made before the March 1 deadline, Barton will be eligible for the playoffs if the Raptors get there.

Raptors Discuss Will Barton Signing, Will be Active vs Bulls – Sports Illustrated

Will Barton is in Toronto and available to play should the Toronto Raptors need him Tuesday night against the Chicago Bulls.

The 31-year-old guard joined the team Tuesday afternoon following a buyout from the Washington Wizards where he’d played in 40 games this season, averaging 7.7 points per game before falling out of the rotation in January.

“He’s an interesting player,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of the 11-year veteran who spent parts of eight seasons in Denver. “He has played a lot in the league on a team that won a lot.

“He’s an offense creator. He can play screen-and-roll. He can also shoot the 3. Made a bunch of them in his career. Those two things should help us.”

Barton is unlikely to play Tuesday as he still needs to get up to speed in Toronto’s system, but the Raptors are hoping his 45.5% three-point stroke on catch-and-shoot threes can help open up the offense.

“I think there are probably some times that call for some backcourt help off the bench, and we’ll see if he can provide that,” Nurse added.

Toronto waived Juancho Hernangomez to make room for Barton. It was a decision that came down to Hernangomez’s contract situation, Nurse said. The 27-year-old is on a one-year expiring minimum contract and parting ways with him will have no long-term impact on the team.

“I thought Juancho had some pretty decent moments for us,” Nurse added. “We thought we gave him a pretty adequate opportunity and look throughout the season. Probably a couple of younger guys we want to keep an eye on.”

Hernangomez played in 42 games, averaging 2.9 points per game while shooting 25.4% from three-point range.

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