Lost adjustments, lost performances, trying to find the season

When will this team provide proof of concept?

Prior to the game, I asked Rick Carlisle about the ingenuity of defensive adjustments and what might be next, and he suggested it wasn’t schematic tinkering that would light the way, but sticking your man. The Raptors would later fail to get stops against a repeated action in the fourth quarter, and lose.

“I don’t think there are gonna be shortcuts. I think the truth of the game will likely come back to the basic fundamentals. Having guys that can guard their position and play both sides of the ball is what it’s likely gonna be about.” Carlisle told me before the game. “You see teams like Toronto, and us (Pacers) to some degree, where we are acquiring players of like-size that can switch and stay in front of people. But, it’s likely going to come back to a players ability to guard a guy and guarding him well enough to keep your team out of rotation. It’s a constant changing — think of chess pieces, whatever you wanna call it — that’s what’s so compelling about todays NBA game.

And chess pieces it was. The double drag action that netted the Pacers two of their final few buckets, the flow of it was dictated by who the Raptors had on the floor. When Chris Boucher was on the floor, the Pacers benefitted from a lack of conviction and a slight lack of attentiveness and got a hard rolling Turner to the rim. When Boucher came off the floor (for Malachi Flynn, who had hit 2 threes to that point), O.G. Anunoby drew the Turner matchup and instead of the Pacers following through on that process, Turner drove Anunoby into the paint for a quick post-up and a fader with deft touch. Later, Siakam would be Turner’s check and he’d block him at the bucket. Right players, right places.

“We just didn’t have an answer at all. We didn’t really get to an adjustment that worked either.” VanVleet said of the defense down the stretch. “We’ll look at the tape and understand we could have done something differently. Overall our defense has been a lot better than it was tonight. They spread the floor pretty well, play a lot of different guards. That was a tough matchup in that regard. We just couldn’t get it in control out front pretty much the whole game. We had good defence in couple-minute spurts, the second and third there. Other than that, they pretty much got whatever they wanted.”

Downhill off of screens, and shooters around that rotation. That was, as VanVleet said (roughly), Indiana’s recipe for success. The Raptors? Similarly simple, just far less effective at the end of it.

The Raptors chase extra possessions every single game. They also aim to take away as many as they can from their opponents. As far as that went, they won the turnover battle 18-10, and the rebounding battle by 1. 9 extra possessions, which is great, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t score the ball. The Raptors getting outscored 20-11 on fastbreak points? Almost inconceivable considering the disparity in opportunities. In transition points per play, it was 169 (per100) vs. 92 (per100). Someone get Vizzini from The Princess Bride in here, because that is INCONCEIVABLE.

A lot of that boils down to the allocation of those extra possessions. It’s usually great offense to find a shooter after an offensive rebound, or against a collapsed transition defense. The Raptors kept finding players, not shooters (for last night, at least), behind the line and there was no reward awaiting them. Sure, the Raptors had a lot of extra possessions, but they took 13 more three-pointers, and hit 4 less. The Raptors took 14 more free throws, only hit 8 more of them. I’m not boiling down the game to this, it’s never this simple, but:

8 extra free throws = 8 points

4 extra made threes = 12 points

4 points is the margin of defeat.

Just kind of funny.

This is the stuff of deeply imperfect teams. They couldn’t nail down the defense late in the game, even as they strolled through 8 minutes of the fourth quarter in bonus, and behind the strength of Pascal Siakam’s 18 fourth quarter points on 75-percent shooting. Throughout the game, they couldn’t capitalize on the good looks they had from downtown. It’s too often that they find enough stuff to be competitive, but not enough to win.

These players have been coming into the pressers, post game, and practices, looking at us like “what do you want me to say?” The team hasn’t nailed down an identity except: underperformers. The Raptors, for years, were always greater than the sum of their parts. Now? They’re less. They can’t seem to figure out, and not for a lack of trying. They’ve tried a lot of different things this year, but they don’t have the unifying force or the secret stuff to make it all blend. Maybe they will in the pressure-cooker of the play-in or playoffs. Maybe any one of Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., or Precious Achiuwa could have swung this game for the Raptors, but these are all hypotheticals.

As far as factuals? The Raptors are 35-38, despite having many chances to achieve a record much better than this. This team, has been thoroughly mid and they were last night. Let’s hope for better things going forward.

Have a blessed day.

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