Morning Coffee – Thu, Mar 9

Mediocre performance = loss | Kawhi is annoying me for no reason | Fred's right, but it's going to cost him (he's probably happy to pay it) | Raps still in the mix for the play in

Raptors’ Fred VanVleet on NBA referees: ‘This is f—— ridiculous’ – The Athletic

The Raptors, of course, play an aggressive style that will put them on the wrong side of the whistle on some nights. The Raptors picked up their fourth team foul — thus putting the Clippers on the line for every successive foul — with 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter, 6:52 remaining in the second quarter, 7:02 remaining in the third quarter and 6:19 remaining in the fourth. In total, it should be noted, the officiating crew assessed the Raptors only five more fouls than the Clippers.

Again, that isn’t necessarily wrong, and both VanVleet and Nick Nurse said the Raptors have a responsibility to adjust to that. VanVleet picked up his technical after that fourth foul in the third quarter, when Barnes, who was flummoxed at being ejected Monday, was called for fouling Clippers centre Ivica Zubac. Barnes stretched his arms out, wondering what he had done.

“There’s been certain times this year where I feel our team is getting consumed with the way the whistle is going, especially after the night we just had in Denver, the way that finished,” VanVleet said. “So there was a couple calls earlier that we all disagreed with. And if I say to my team, ‘Come on, guys, let’s keep playing through the bulls—,’ and that warrants a tech? I think that’s a little bit crazy.”

VanVleet saved his harshest criticism for referee Ben Taylor, whose night he called “terrible” with a curse word thrown in front of that assessment.

“I think that most nights, out of the three (referees), there’s one or two that just f— the game up. It’s been like that a couple of games in a row,” VanVleet said. “Denver was tough, obviously. You come out tonight, competing pretty hard and I get a bulls— tech that changes the whole dynamic of the game, changed the whole flow of the game.”

Similarly, Nurse was frustrated, two days later, about Barnes’ ejection in Denver. Citing Barnes questioning the integrity of the officiating crew, Foster tossed the second-year player on his first technical foul, giving the Nuggets an extra free throw in a one-possession game.

“Obviously, somewhere within a minute to go of that game, one of the officials got very upset with (Barnes),” Nurse said before the Clippers game. “From my personal standpoint, there wasn’t much angst in that game at all — from either coach, from any players, from whatever. There were a couple tough plays there at the end. Scottie was involved in a couple of them. He obviously talked on the first one, which I challenged. He had a lot of time to talk on that one. But again, Scottie is not a real rough talker. Even if he’s talking, it’s probably not that hard to take it.”

To the extent that the Raptors are getting treated differently, a lot of it can be understood. First and foremost, there is their defensive style. As well, they don’t hesitate to let the officials know their displeasure. Nurse rides the referees as hard as any coach in the league, while Siakam, VanVleet and Barnes are in frequent dialogue with the officials, to be sure. That doesn’t make them unique across the league, but they also aren’t helping themselves.

The Raptors can get better in defending without fouling, and they can get better in rolling with the punches — VanVleet, remember, picked up the technical for telling his teammates to ignore the calls, if a bit colourfully. They have a bunch of areas to clean up, and they’re nearly at the end of the regular season’s runway to fix them.

To VanVleet, though, this is about more than just his team’s wins and losses. It’s about the league’s product.

“No one’s coming to see (officials overshadow the game). They come to see the players,” VanVleet said. “And I think we’re losing a little bit of the fabric of what the NBA is and was, and it’s been disappointing this season. You can look it up: Most of my techs this year have been with Ben Taylor officiating. So at a certain point as a player, you feel it’s personal and it’s never a good place to be. That’s not why we lost tonight — we got outplayed. But it definitely makes it tougher to overcome.”

Fred VanVleet eviscerates officials as frustrations run high for Raptors – Sportsnet

The context matters. Toronto is two nights removed from a last-minute loss to the Denver Nuggets that was decided by a number of coin-flip type calls that went against the Raptors and culminated with a sudden ejection of Scottie Barnes by crew chief Scott Foster after the veteran official claimed that the second-year forward questioned the crew’s integrity, though Barnes is adamant he was speaking to himself.

The frustration with Barnes’ ejection reverberated around the Raptors organization. The pump was primed. The loss to the Clippers tipped things over.

Against the Clippers the Raptors had more field goal attempts (96-71), more offensive rebounds (15-9), fewer turnovers (17-12) and made more threes (13-6) but lost in part because Los Angeles got to the free throw line 31 times to 14 for Toronto.

And for Toronto, every game matters. The loss dropped the ninth-place Raptors a game-and-a-half behind Atlanta for eighth place and leaves them just a half-game up on Washington for 10th.

Why the Clippers had the edge in free throws could be for a number of reasons. The actual discrepancy in fouls called wasn’t all that significant: 23 for Toronto to 18 for Los Angeles. But the Raptors put the Clippers into the bonus with four minutes to go in the second quarter, and again with 5:51 left in the game. As well former Raptor Kawhi Leonard — playing some of the best basketball of his career after recovering from missing all of last season with a knee injury — was his aggressive best and got to the line nine times.

And as Chris Boucher pointed out, a lot of fouls often come as a result of being a hair late defensively.

“Sometimes it’s just a tick-tack foul [and] we could be in better position. At the end of the day, it starts costing us a lot when they’re at the free throw line,” Boucher said.

The Clippers shot 54.9 per cent from the floor.

So there are plausible explanations for the discrepancy, but that’s not where the Raptors — and VanVleet — wanted to go after the game. He was especially vexed by a technical foul Taylor called on him at the 7:02 mark of the third quarter after Barnes was called for a foul on Ivica Zubac.

“You come out tonight, competing pretty hard and I get a bulls–t tech that changes the whole dynamic of the game, changed the whole flow of the game,” said VanVleet. “And you know, most of the refs are trying hard, I like a lot of the refs, they’re trying hard, they’re pretty fair, and communicate well. And then you got the other ones who just want to be d–ks and just kind of f–k up the game. And no one’s coming to see that s–t.”

The Raptors (32-35) started the game well and led 25-17 after the first quarter and were tied 49-49 at half with the Clippers (35-33) who are in as tough a fight for the playoffs as the Raptors find themselves. Toronto was trailing by seven when VanVleet picked up his technical foul which he says was because he said to his teammates: “‘come on, guys, let’s keep playing through the bulls–t.”

Did the game turn at that moment? Toronto actually went on an 8-2 run and cut the Clippers’ lead to two immediately after the call, but the Clippers responded with a 13-2 run over the next three minutes — a stretch in which only the Raptors got to the line, ironically — as Los Angeles took an 83-74 lead into the fourth quarter.

That’s when the free-throw disparity became more pronounced as the Clippers shot 13 freebies to four for Toronto.

But it was also during the fourth that Leonard — who came into the game averaging 28.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 52.6 per cent from the floor, 49.6 per cent from three (on more than five attempts per game) and 91.5 per cent from the line of his last 22 starts — showed he can lift teams over the finish line as the Clippers have been waiting for him to do since he signed with them in the summer of 2019.

“The only probably complaint I had late [about the Raptors defence] is Kawhi got straight on a line downhill a little bit on us late,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “Take those four or five straight line drives out of there, and then I think it looks really good.”

Red-hot Kawhi Leonard’s dunks help Clippers beat Raptors – Los Angeles Times

In yet another push toward the Clippers’ playoff goals, Leonard punctuated the victory over Toronto with five dunks, each more powerful than the last, the capper his second-half drive into the chest of Raptors center Jakob Poeltl before his right arm slammed the ball over the big man’s head.

“Even when we lost those games we were confident in ourselves,” Leonard said of the team’s recent five-game losing streak. “And I’m on the floor. Whenever I’m playing, I feel like we can win a basketball game.”

Leonard scored 24 points, adding 12 rebounds.

“This last run he’s been on since January has been unbelievable, one of the highest levels I’ve seen, and that’s how we need him to play to be successful every night,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “… That definitely gives us confidence on both sides of the ball that he can be elite.”

Extricating themselves from a potential play-in tournament position will require more players inspiring similar levels of confidence. The Clippers (35-33) remain a work in progress, following a first half filled with turnovers with a snarling, third-quarter defense, allowing 25 points — less than half of the 51 allowed in Sunday’s third quarter against Memphis. Paul George scored 23 points and Lue credited him with setting the strong defensive example the team had pleaded for during two days of practice.

“All our veterans have stepped up,” Lue said, and added, “This should be the blueprint.”

With 14 dunks, one of the NBA’s oldest rosters looked spry in attacking the interior of Toronto’s defense. Ivica Zubac’s rim protection was indispensable. Terance Mann’s role as closer, scoring 14 points in 28 minutes, was invaluable as Lue displayed confidence in finishing the game without a “traditional point guard” despite Toronto’s pressure. Before Russell Westbrook checked out a final time with 17 minutes to play, his small contributions setting screens that turned into points were noticeable, indications of the role he is willing to play on his new team.

But just as noticeable was seeing Toronto grab seven of its 15 offensive boards in the fourth quarter and in the process unfurl an 11-1 run. A once-comfortable 15-point Clippers lead with five minutes left was down to four with 54 seconds to play. The difficult ending mirrored their troubled start, a lack of consistency that will continue to be their most difficult challenge to overcome in this season’s final 14 games.

Recap: Toronto Raptors disappoint in 108-100 loss to Los Angeles Clippers – Raptors HQ

As it has so many times this season, it was the third quarter that undid the Raptors. For the period they were outscored 34-25 and gave up 73% shooting to the Clippers, who also assisted on 11 of their 14 made field goals in the frame.

Coming out of the break tied at 49, the Clippers started the second half on a 9-4 run, and eventually stretched their lead to 62-57 after a Leonard dunk, prompting head coach Nick Nurse to call an early timeout. The Clippers extended the lead to 70-62 after a George three, as once again the Raptors found themselves in one of their patented offensive droughts, this one coming against one of the league’s poorer defensive teams.

An Anunoby three and a Siakam and-1 got the lead back down to two, but the team proceeded to give up a wide-open corner three to Eric Gordon that started a 7-0 Clippers run, giving them the 77-68 lead.

Trent came alive a bit in the fourth, scoring the team’s first five points of the quarter. A Chris Boucher three cut the lead to five with 9 minutes to go, but Paul George calmly settled his team down, scoring 6 in the frame. A late rally didn’t even truly approach fake comeback territory.

Boucher scored 14 off the bench.

The Clippers couldn’t take care of the ball early, with three turnovers in the first five minutes. That, and two missed, wide-open corner threes from Russell Westbrook — only opening the door to more “Russell Westbrook is ruining the Clippers” discourse — helped the Raptors jump out to an early 11-4 lead.

Raptors were particularly disrespectful to Westbrook early, giving him a ton of space and denying Leonard and George, while targeting him in the pick-and-roll on the offensive end. The Clippers did score four straight after Eric Gordon subbed in for Westbrook, but two more turnovers forced Ty Lue to call his second timeout of the quarter.

Another turnover led to an Anunoby runout reverse, giving the Raptors a 20-11 lead.

Other than transition, Raptors couldn’t get anything going on offense themselves. The Clippers started the second on a 7-0 run, but two Boucher buckets, the second a vicious dunk after cleaning up a loose ball, put the Raptors back up 29-24. The Clippers finally tied it up at 31 after two George free throws and a Terance Mann layup. The Raptors ran off a little 7-2 run in response, but George tied it again at 41 a few plays later. A Leonard dunk just before the two-minute mark gave the Clippers their first lead, 43-41.

Fred VanVleet drained two threes over the final two minutes, but the Raptors once again botched the quarter-ending 2-for-1, missing both ends of the “two” and letting Leonard drain a three on the “one.” The two teams went to the half tied at 49.

Raptors Flirt with Mediocrity in Loss to Clippers – Sports Illustrated

At times Wednesday, the Raptors looked like they could hang with the Clippers. Their defense was dominant early as they sagged off Russell Westbrook, at times to an insulting degree. Toronto left him unguarded in the corners, begging him to take and clank a pair of wide-open jumpers in the first quarter. The 5-on-4 style defense gave Toronto the opportunity to wreak havoc on the Clippers, forcing nine first-quarter turnovers as the Raptors jumped ahead by 10 on an O.G. Anunoby pull-up three.

Anunoby took on the Kawhi Leonard assignment and looked OK in the role. It wasn’t quite the defensive performance he’d shown against Bradley Beal or Nikola Jokic as the former Raptors superstar nailed a pair of his trademarked pull-up jumpers and tied things up in the second quarter on a corner three-pointer.

It didn’t help that Precious Achiuwa had three fouls in his first three minutes, forcing Toronto to turn to Thad Young for backup center minutes that he struggled in. The Clippers’ early comeback came courtesy of a handful of far-too-easy layups against the undersized Young playing out of position.

Toronto’s hyper-aggressive aggressive defense that had looked so good in the early going, began to cause problems as the Clippers nailed far too many open jumpers and lightly contested layups. Eric Gordon drilled a corner jumper with nobody in his area code as Los Angeles jumped ahead by double digits in the third quarter, stretching the lead to 13 when Terance Mann took it end-to-end for an easy layup.

It took until late in the third quarter for Gary Trent Jr. to score his first buckets, a pair of free throws after starting the game 0-for-8 from the field. Considering how well the bench had played over the past couple of games, a pair of no-shows from Trent and Achiuwa put Toronto in a bind.

The Clippers just about put it away from there. Paul George found Mann for an alley-oop and-one finish through contact from Scottie Barnes to put L.A. up 13. Moments later, Leonard blew by Anunoby for a one-handed slam over Jakob Poeltl, wrapping up the night with 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting.

An Anunoby three and a pair of free throws from Barnes allowed Toronto to make it semi-interesting late, pulling to within four but another ally-oop pass from George to Iviac Zubac put the final in the coffin for the Raptors.

Raptors’ Thad Young finds fun fighting for a playoff spot | The Star

Young isn’t going to make public waves about his usage or his playing time because that’s not in his nature, but he admits it stings to be so far down the rotation. He has been in the post-season nine times, appearing in 57 games and making 33 starts for four different franchises.

“This is one of the first times where I’ve been in and out of the rotation,” he said. “Last year, when I was with San Antonio, I wasn’t playing at all and that was told to me and explained to me, but this year it has been up and down for me.

“I think the reason for that is because obviously we have a lot of guys, we have a lot of young guys and we all kind of play the same position so, sometimes, I’m not going to play games. I understand what’s going on, obviously when you’re a veteran guy you want to play and you don’t like it. But, at the end of the day, I understand and I try to keep my mind and my body … ready and prepared for each and every situation.”

The juice of the last 15 games should provide some excitement to an otherwise dull Raptors season that has unfolded in fits and starts.Asked if it will make the disappointment of the season worthwhile, Young dismisses the idea.

“I think every season is worthwhile because you get a chance to learn a lot of different things throughout the course of a season,” he said. “You learn who you are as a player, you learn what you are as a team, what you have to build for the future, what the current state of your team is.”

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