Morning Coffee – Wed, Mar 8

WNBA coming to town | It's either literally everyone or it's Scott Foster | Raps 905 are stacking up for a run

5 bad beats that could haunt Raptors in final push for playoff spot – Sportsnet

Perhaps as bad a loss as the Raptors have had this season or any season. To start with the Raptors were on the road and controlling the game, leading 33 out of a possible 53 minutes, including by eight with 2:36 to play. They promptly gave up a 10-0 run to the Hawks in the space of 1:37 and were trailing by two with 59 seconds left. O.G. Anunoby made a pair of free throws to tie and the Raptors got a stop.

But then the weirdness starts.

Anunoby missed a game-winning jumper, but Christian Koloko got the rebound, knocked it out to VanVleet who drove the lane and dumped off to Barnes for the easiest, most open and in-rhythm game-winning lay-up attempt he’ll ever have in his career. But he somehow missed and the game went into overtime, leading to more weirdness.

The Raptors fell behind by four with 11.6 seconds left, but got a quick score on a dunk by Anunoby; got lucky when DeAndre Hunter missed two free throws and then got lucky again when Atlanta’s Clint Capela bailed out Anunoby and fouled him on a wild drive with 3.8 seconds left. Anunoby made both free throws and the game was tied again. The Raptors pressed on the inbounds, but something got lost in translation as Hawks rookie AJ Griffin (son of Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin) snuck in behind Toronto’s defence and was wide-open for a lay-up as Trae Young split Toronto’s pressure and found him from halfcourt. Game over. 

Bad beat scale: 5/5

Raptors’ O.G. Anunoby is proving why he should stay in Toronto for a long time – The Athletic

It is time to appreciate that luxury for what it is: a cog that can be stuck in literally any defensive game plan. As Raptors coach Nick Nurse pointed out after the game against the Nuggets, Anunoby guarded DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal (twice) and Nikola Jokić well in four straight games. In all of those matchups, those players, the offensive engines for their teams, ranged from slightly to way less prolific than usual. In Washington, Anunoby spent nearly 73 total possessions on Beal, and the Wizards scored just 42 points, per matchup data on Beal shot 2-for-12 in those scenarios. The Nuggets scored 43 points over the nearly 41 possessions Anunoby guarded Jokić, with the star centre scoring two points, dishing out five assists and turning it over three times.

To the extent that the Raptors struggled defensively in any of those games, a lot of it could be traced to offensive sloppiness and the team’s continued adventures in transition defence. After getting well and rightly cooked by Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell, who is on a proper heater, Anunoby has been outstanding. He is probably in line for a matchup against Leonard on Wednesday and potentially Anthony Davis on Friday. What fun.

A month ago, it felt like Anunoby’s time remaining with the Raptors was negligible. For all the reasons listed above, Anunoby made sense as a player for a lot of teams in the title hunt. Combine that with the raise he will demand within the next year and change and the reports — never confirmed by the player — that Anunoby wants a bigger offensive role, and it seemed like the stars were aligning for an Anunoby trade.

That could very well still happen in the offseason. The acquisition and likely retention of Jakob Poeltl means the Raptors will need to cut somewhere else from their current roster to avoid paying the luxury tax for what, at this point, has proven itself to be a team somewhere between mediocre and good. That could mean allowing Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. to leave in free agency. It could mean trading a player with term left in his contract, such as Anunoby, Chris Boucher or Siakam, and not taking as much money back in return. Due to his malleability, relatively affordable contract and his likely value, Anunoby has always seemed like the easiest guy to move.

All of those things also should make Anunoby more valuable to the Raptors, too. Turning 26 in July, he is younger than VanVleet and Siakam. He will get a big raise either this offseason (depending on what a potential new collective bargaining agreement allows for; under the current rules, the Raptors couldn’t offer a deal close to his current market value) or as a free agent in 2024. However, as a defence-first player who has profiled as more than a 3-and-D support player but less than a high-usage option, he should not command a maximum-value deal. (A reminder, as always: It only takes one team for that not to be true.)

Additionally, if one of VanVleet or Siakam left Toronto in those economic efforts, a larger offensive role would be available to Anunoby. Surely, a lot of the void would be filled by Barnes, whose offensive impact, despite a lack of touch from a few spots on the floor, has been evident since the new year. Anunoby isn’t going anywhere to become a team’s top option, especially if he wants to continue to play for a competitive team. The best he can hope for is a bigger chunk of the middle tier of an attack, a few more opportunities to create.

Poeltl’s presence has clarified Anunoby’s role. With a security net behind him, he is free to use more pressure and more physicality to deter opponents. The pressure would be on Anunoby to expand his game offensively, which is presumably what he wants. If he can do it, that would be great; if not, simply improving as a 3-pointer shooter — he is at 37.5 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s this season and is a non-factor on pull-ups — would go a really long way for the Raptors.

Lewenberg discusses if Barnes’ ejection was warranted in loss to Nuggets – TSN

The Raptors let a great game slip away and it culminated with Scottie Barnes getting ejected against the Nuggets. Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg joins SportsCentre to discuss whether the ejection was warranted and if Toronto has a reputation for being ‘yappy’ with the officials.

Raptors’ Scottie Barnes earned his tech, but did it have to be called? | Toronto Sun

Barnes did not appear to show up Foster publicly. Some lip readers — why is the world suddenly filled with lip readers? — suggested post-game that Barnes, with his head down, could be seen saying “Y’all are cheating, bro.”

Again, no way to verify that. Barnes did seem genuinely surprised by Foster’s call in the moment and again afterwards when he addressed the media after the game.

Was it the culmination of a build-up over the course of the game between Barnes and Foster. There’s no question Barnes is not shy about voicing his displeasure when he believes he has been fouled and the call isn’t made. He did so on a handful of occasions during the game, but was that a factor in all of this? Should that have been a factor?

Coaches and players often talk about time and score awareness. A gamble you might try up nine points is not one you might try in a one-point game.

Players, at least the vast majority of players, don’t throw up a heat check three with the game on the line. They might midway through a quarter, but not at the end of the game.

And, yes, officials have to officiate the same way at tipoff as they do in the final 30 seconds.

But quite frankly, that call in those circumstances wreaks of ego.

Knowing full well that a technical at that point in the game likely to almost definitely decides the contest, Foster went ahead and called one anyway.

Again, did it need to be called?

The one thing most will agree on is seeing a good game decided on an official’s call away from any game action is a bad way to end a night.

The Raptors who did speak post-game — Barnes, Fred VanVleet, and head coach Nick Nurse — each tread very carefully when discussing the particulars of the game-altering call.

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The league has no qualms about fining a player or coach who demeans one of their officials to the media.

But all made it very clear that, at least in the Raptors room, the opportunity to settle this one on the court was taken away from them by Foster.

Dial 905: Raptors 905 back in the playoff picture after four straight wins – Raptors HQ

Sterling Brown was probably the MVP of this series with his two-way play, putting up 19 points, six boards, and eight dimes. Brown also shot 60% from deep and anchored the bench mob in both games.

Joe Wieskamp showed us in this series that he’s not just a spot-up shooter, showcasing (for good or bad) the other facets of his game. His lack of burst/acceleration on his drives might hurt his opportunities to the basket, but leveraging spin moves and utilizing his length helped him get to the cup. Wieskamp’s also shown various ways he can get his three-point shots. He’s tried them off the bounce, on the move off-ball, and the patented Klay Thompson relocation for a better kick out to mixed success.

The reinforcements meant fewer shots for Ron Harper Jr. Perhaps a big development of his game — he’s been doing a better job of being a playmaker than a shotmaker these past few games. He’s been averaging 6.8 dimes over the last five games, getting reps to make plays for his teammates even in the half-court setting.

Unfortunately, Christian Koloko was not the best big man in this series, as that belonged to Kylor Kelley. The sparingly-used Oregon State big man had his best stretch in the G League, posting 15 points, nine boards, and 2.5 blocks.

Koloko should be looking into how Kelley’s getting his opportunities. His offense is limited to the team calling for his number in the half-court set. While Koloko is showing flashes of good decision-making at the nail and a nice midrange touch, being an “energy” guy can help his case to get a call-up with the main club. Given his size, length, and athleticism, there’s no way that Koloko should not get a couple of putbacks per game.

If anything, Koloko’s rim protection should be more than good enough for him to get 8-10 minutes a night. Heck, even one shift for 4-5 minutes.

After their victory over the ignite last night, the Raptors 905 have now won four straight games, propelling them into the playoff picture, sitting in 5th place in the East as of this writing. They have a tough schedule ahead of them, but the team’s been playing much better lately, especially with the reinforcements. However, kudos to coach Eric Khoury, as he’s pushing the right buttons regarding his rotations and doing a better job at making his players accountable. He’s been very Popovich/Spoelstra-like regarding his timeouts if he doesn’t like what he’s seeing, unlike before, where he was much more willing to let the players figure it out.

WNBA star Napheesa Collier excited for Toronto game | The Star

Tickets are being consumed rapidly by fans, virtually assuring a sellout crowd of about 20,000 for a game that will be the showcase of a women’s basketball-themed weekend in the city,

And while the league is eyeing the business aspect of adding teams, the players also see a chance to perform in front of new, appreciative fans.

“One of the really big things the players get is Toronto is a really great market and there’s a buzz about the game already,” Collier said in a telephone interview. “They’re talking about it being sold out, so naturally we’re impressed to play in front of a crowd that wants us there and is going to support us.

“That’s a huge selling point for us.”

There was heavy symbolism to the league first offering tickets for public sale on International Women’s Day for a game that is two months away. It was a way to celebrate not only the WNBA but women’s professional sports and add to the chorus of stories of the accomplishments of the players and the breadth of their reach.

Collier is an example for all that female athletes can be. The 26-year-old was an Olympic champion in 2021 in Tokyo, was the WNBA rookie of the year in 2019 and is a two-time WNBA all-star. She is also a relatively new mother, having given birth to a daughter in May 2022 and returning to the Lynx just 10 weeks later.

That’s a significant part of the message she wants to send: All things are possible.

“It’s not easy, there’s definitely days when you have your ups and downs but it’s 100 per cent worth it if that’s what you want to do,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to have kids and I knew that I wanted to have a career, so both things happening is really important to me, and thankfully I’m surrounded by a great family and a great support system and a great team.

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