Morning Coffee – Thu, Mar 23

WTF was that? | Team Canada beats the Raptors | Is the season over yet?

Raptors report: Andrew Nembhard, Bennedict Mathurin make Toronto their own – The Athletic

It isn’t often you see some good, old-fashioned cherry-picking in the NBA. Players frequently don’t sprint back in transition, but a guy just not trying to get back? Rare.

Congrats to Boucher, who accomplished the feat. To be clear, I don’t think it was egregious. It looked as if Boucher had been nudged in the back as he went for an offensive rebound, and he fell beyond the baseline, near the stanchion. Meanwhile, the Pacers ran the other way, and that was coming after the pace had been high for a few possessions in a row.

Sometimes it pays to not run back. The Pacers missed a 3, and Boucher was still in the opposite paint, asking for the long bomb. He got a layup out of it. Given the way the Raptors offence was operating at the time (and for most of the season) maybe a little four-on-five defence was a good idea.

Pacers trio shines in homecoming on night Raptors celebrate Canadian basketball – Sportsnet

The Pacers started strong — buoyed by the Canadians — and never let the Raptors wrest control of the game back from them. Down the stretch it was Mathurin and Nembhard doing a lot of the work as they combined to score or assist on all 19 of the Pacers’ points in the final 6:12 of the game, capped by Nembhard’s triple.

“Well, both of them have uncommon courage and moxie for those situations,” said Carlisle. “Mathurin was just kind of born for this kind of thing. You know, he’s undaunted, and he loves to compete and he’s just unafraid. You know, categorically, unafraid. And Drew’s similar. Their personalities are different, but the qualities are similar.”

Mathurin finished with 15 points — seven in the fourth — on 3-of-5 shooting while going 6-of-6 at the free-throw line. Brissett had nine points and six rebounds.

The Pacers shot 55.8 per cent from the field and 11-of-21 from three which was enough to overcome 18 turnovers. The Raptors shot 43.8 per cent from the floor and 7-of-34 from deep with 10 turnovers.

Fred VanVleet had 28 points and 11 assists but was 7-of-22 from the floor and 3-of-12 from deep. Siakam had 31 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

The Raptors were without Scottie Barnes (wrist), Gary Trent Jr. (elbow) and Precious Achiuwa (hamstring), which resulted in Will Barton being inserted in the starting lineup, but given the Pacers were without Haliburton, call it a wash.

But the real problem was Canada’s team didn’t come with the energy that the Pacers’ crew of Canadians brought.

“Definitely a difficult game for us,” said Boucher, the veteran from Montreal who had 11 points and three blocked shots off the bench for Toronto. “I feel like they had more energy than us, were moving the ball a lot faster, they were going in transition, even when we were scoring they were just getting the ball and getting it up to the other side. They have great three-point shooters and made shots.”

If Nembhard’s bomb was the exclamation point, Carlisle’s long view provided the perspective needed to appreciate it.

The way Canadians have infiltrated the NBA in the past 10-12 years — we are the most represented country in the league after the United States with 23 players this season — is a story we’ve gotten used to hearing.

But there has never been a stretch like this. Consider the talent that has passed through Scotiabank Arena of late. Last Tuesday it was Jamal Murray starting for the Denver Nuggets; Thursday it was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort starting for the Oklahoma City Thunder; Saturday Nickeil Alexander-Walker was part of the rotation for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Then came the Pacers with their three starters and on Friday the Detroit Pistons will arrive with Cory Joseph, who was at the crest of the current wave and is still a productive veteran in his 12th season.

Pacers final score: Pacers close out Raptors 118-114 – Indy Cornrows

Missed free throws haunted Toronto throughout the game, missing 10 in total. The Pacers, meanwhile, finished a perfect 11-11 in the fourth as Mathurin worked his way to the foul line to maintain Indiana’s lead late. The Pacers led by four in the final minute when Nembhard, shaking off Pascal Siakam, drilled a big time step back three to put the home Raptors to rest.

The Raptors have been a tough matchup for the Pacers in the past decade, the amount of time it’s been since their last regular season win in Toronto. They’ve entered the year having gone just 10-22 in the series matchup since then, which makes their 3-0 season series victory this year all the more surprising.

The Pacers got there through their offense, averaging 119 points per game, 118 tonight, shooting 55.8% as a team and a wildly efficient 11-21 from three. While Toronto outrebounded Indiana on the offensive glass 13-8 and forced Indiana into 18 turnovers, outscoring the Pacers 21-8 in the resulting points, it may have just come down to the Pacers, particularly that of their Canadian players, simply wanting it more.

Nembhard had a tremendous bounce back following his two-point dud against Charlotte, showing out from the opening jump to lead the Pacers with a double double, his third of the year, flashes of his performance in Golden State in December. Brissett finished with nine points and six rebounds while Mathurin finished with an efficient 15 points on 3-5 shooting, including 3-3 from deep and 6-6 at the line.

Outside of his block against Anunoby, it was a fairly quiet night for Mathurin, but his success was vital tonight as one of four starters in double figures. Buddy Hield was also a bit quiet, scoring 13 points on 5-8 shooting, but hit a pair of big buckets in the fourth. Turner also had a solid outing, finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds, his four straight points in the third preventing this game from spiraling out of control.

Off the bench, McConnell was much more in control tonight, finishing with 14 points and seven assists, committing just two turnovers. He was a perfect 4-4 at the line and shot 5-12 from the floor. Nwora also finished in double figures, knocking in a pair of threes. Nesmith had just nine, but pulled in six rebounds, joining Isaiah Jackson on the glass, who finished with five points and six boards, three offensive, helping the Pacers to an efficient 17 second chance points.

Just when the Pacers look out of postseason contention, the rest of the Eastern Conference pulls them back in, moving a game ahead of Washington and back to within 1.5 of Chicago for 10th. It’s important to note the Pacers have won the season series against Chicago and Toronto, because the Raptors are just two ahead of Indiana in ninth.

Shorthanded Toronto Raptors fall to Indiana Pacers, 118-114 – Raptors HQ

While the Pacers were without their All-Star Tyrese Haliburton and somewhat-Canadian Chris Duarte, the Raptors were surprisingly short three players that were not on yesterday’s injury report. The wrist injury Scottie Barnes sustained in Sunday’s loss in Milwaukee is being viewed as a “day-to-day” injury, according to Nick Nurse. Joining Barnes on the sidelines was Gary Trent Jr., who hurt his elbow on a fall — also during the Bucks game. This type of “luck” normally happens in three, so it was almost unsurprising to learn of a third Raptors injury. Precious Achiuwa felt hamstring tightness over the last 24 hours and was forced to sit this one out.

Picking up the slack for the Raptors were their two All-Stars. Fred VanVleet had 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 steals, while Pascal Siakam finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. Freddy was as steady as he could have been in the first half. By keeping the Raptors afloat, VanVleet opened the door for Pascal to take over in the second half.

Siakam was unstoppable in the final two quarters. He had 7 points in the third quarter and 18(!) in the fourth. Whether he was drawing fouls (all 11 of his free throw attempts came after halftime) or driving with purpose, Indiana did not have an answer for Spicy P.

Nurse spoke pre-game about Toronto’s size advantage and the Raptors responded with consistent aggression. In the third quarter, the Raptors got into the bonus only 4 minutes into the frame. That same aggression led to Toronto getting into the bonus (again) in the first 4 minutes of the fourth quarter.

Fred was a constant source of offense in the first half. His 14 points and 4 assists in the first half don’t fully illustrate how much the team depended on him. With three rotation players missing, the offense struggled for much of the first half. VanVleet didn’t shoot the ball especially well (4-for-14 from the field, 2-for-7 from three) in the first two quarters, but he was able to get buckets when no one else could and, more importantly, worked the two-man game to perfection with Jakob Poeltl. The Austrian finished with 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals on 10-for-12 shooting.

With Indiana’s plethora of Canadian basketball players, it only made sense that this game was also Canadian Basketball Night. The Pacers obliged by starting Nembhard, Bennedict Mathurin, and former Raptor Oshae Brissett. It’s not uncommon to see hometown players perform well when they play in front of family and friends at Scotiabank Arena. In the first half, it was Nembhard who answered the call, leading all scorers with 16 points to go along with 4 assists as he consistently found daylight against Toronto’s defense. If he wasn’t getting free from a Myles Turner screen, Nembhard used his speed to blow by Fred VanVleet or show off his range when he hit a pair of three-pointers.

His backup, TJ McConnell, was just as successful at picking apart Toronto’s defense. He snaked through the 2-3 zone with ease, “Nashed” through the paint to hit fadeaways, or simply blew by any defender that approached him. Nick Nurse spoke before the game about Toronto’s size advantage and the Raptors needing to stay home on Indiana’s many shooters. The Pacers must have been listening because they constantly drove into the paint knowing Toronto would not have the requisite rim protection. McConnell finished the first half with 6 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals.

With three rotation players missing, Nurse turned to Will Barton as Scottie’s replacement in the starting lineup. That…..didn’t go too well. Barton shot poorly from the field (2-for-8), missing all five of his three-point attempts. Jeff Dowtin came in for some spot minutes but between his workload with the 905 and lack of experience with the big boys, Nurse then turned to — gulp — Malachi Flynn.

As far as surprises go, Toronto going on a 12-2 run after Flynn checked in had to be one of the biggest. Give Indiana credit for withstanding Toronto’s run. After the Raptors reclaimed the lead 73-71, the Pacers ended the quarter on a 12-5 run.

The fourth quarter was much of the same: Toronto would make a run, Indiana would respond. Mathurin only had five field goal attempts, but he took them when it mattered. The Montreal native scored 7 of his 15 points in the final frame.

Pacers’ Canadian content is too much for the Raptors | The Star

The trio — Aurora’s Andrew Nembhard, Montreal’s Bennedict Mathurin and Mississauga’s Oshae Brissett — played vital roles as the Pacers upset the Raptors 118-114 at the Scotiabank Arena, snapping Toronto’s seven-game winning streak at home.

“For it to happen in Toronto, it’s pretty cool,” Carlisle said. “All three of those guys played well. Nembhard had a great game, Mathurin was terrific. I thought Brissett did what he does. He gave us energy, rebounded, he scored the first five points of the game. That was great.”

The moment was not lost on the players.

“For sure, the game meant a little bit more for us three and I think we scored the first three field goals so that gave us confidence,” Nembhard said. “it was fun, knowing how many people were out there watching me, friends and family. It gave me a certain sense of confidence.”

The loss kept the Raptors from making any move in the muddled Eastern Conference play-in picture and was a disheartening way to begin a four-game homestand.

The Raptors were without three key rotation players as Scottie Barnes (wrist), Gary Trent Jr. (elbow) and Precious Achiuwa sat out. It forced them into a series of odd combinations that included a rookie centre (Christian Koloko), a guard on a two-way contract who hadn’t played a minute of an NBA game since Feb. 26 (Jeff Dowtin Jr.) and an emergency starter who had been waived by Washington last month (Will Barton). Barton was replaced in the rotation in the third quarter by Malachi Flynn.

It had a predictable impact as the Raptors looked disjointed for most of the night. They trailed by as many as 15 points before they got settled and made a game of it.

“Didn’t feel super organized at either end at the start or for a while,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Didn’t shoot it nearly well enough with a bunch of wide open shots in the game as well and just couldn’t quite get over the hump.”

Pascal Siakam had 31 points and Fred VanVleet added 28, with 10 assists. Siakam was just 2-for-9 from the floor in the first half but had 25 points in the second.

“We’re down a couple guys and missing some scoring and things like that, you need Fred, Pascal. O.G. (Anunoby) — our main guys — to step up and play and I didn’t think Pascal was into the game early,” Nurse said. “He certainly got going toward the end of the (first) half and certainly most of the second half.”

The Raptors led in the fourth quarter and were within four points with a minute left but couldn’t complete the rally. A Nembhard three-pointer with 32.5 seconds left was the dagger.

“That three-point shot (Nembhard) hit to put us up seven, that was the shot that put the game away,” Carlisle said. “Just an amazing night for him and his family.”

“I knew I either had to get a shot or get to the paint and make a play,” Nembhard said. “I was flowing, it was one of those ones where you’re just in the moment.”

The three Canadian Pacers combined for 49 points and Nembhard registered a 25-point, 10-assist double-double.

Raptors Fall Short as Andrew Nembhard Plays Hero for Pacers – Sports Illustrated

It was bound to come to an end eventually. All the consistency this team had shown lately, handling their business against the league’s bottom dwellers and hanging with some of the league’s best, well, it disappeared Wednesday. Toronto’s seven-game home winning streak came to an end as the Tyrese Haliburton-less Indiana Pacers snuck away with a 118-114 victory, moving the Raptors once again back three games below .500.

The irony of it all is Toronto could have had the man that snapped the home winning streak, Canada’s own Andrew Nembhard who nailed the game-winning three-pointer, a step-back jumper after shaking off Pascal Siakam with a minute to go. If not for the Thad Young trade with San Antonio that moved Toronto 13 spots lower in the draft, the Raptors would have been in position to draft the Aurora native, selected two spots ahead of Christian Koloko.

Nembhard had his way with the Raptors all night. Toronto couldn’t seem to contain the rookie guard who zig-zagged his way through Toronto’s defense for buckets at the rim. When the Pacers did get the ball moving, taking advantage of weak point-of-attack defense from the Raptors, Nembhard buried his hometown team from behind the arc, scoring 16 of his 25 points in the first half.

The Pacers kept Pascal Siakam under wraps in the first half, forcing Toronto to lean on the pick-and-roll attack of Fred VanVleet and Jakob Poeltl. The two kept the Raptors close, scoring 29 of Toronto’s 52 first-half points.

With Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., and Precious Achiuwa all sidelined, Will Barton got the start, his first of the season for Toronto. It wasn’t pretty. He was repeatedly picked on by the Pacers on the defensive end and provided almost nothing offensively, failing to convert on any of his five three-point attempts.

Jeff Dowtin saw early playing Wednesday before Toronto eventually gave Malachi Flynn a try. It was Flynn who put Toronto ahead in the third quarter, connecting on a side-step three after a kick-out pass from Siakam. He connected on another three early in the fourth quarter, finishing eight points on 2-for-5 shooting.

But it was VanVleet who provided virtually everything from Toronto’s backcourt, driving through the lane to nail a late shot clock bucket before pulling Myles Turner out to the perimeter with dribble penetration and whizzing a pass inside to Poeltl for a bucket as the Raptors hung around.

Siakam’s early patience paid off for Toronto as the 28-year-old made headway late. His early passing and seven assists Wednesday eventually opened up the offense for himself as he got into his short-mid range game and connected on a crucial and-1 through tough contact as the Raptors pulled ahead by four. Even when the Pacers responded to recapture the lead, Siakam kept coming back, nailing a driving layup before posting up Nembhard for a bucket off the glass, finishing the night with a game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds.

WOLSTAT: From Naismith to Nembhard, the growth of Canadian basketball was on full display against Raptors | Toronto Sun

The powers that be wisely picked the game as the season’s Canada Basketball Night and the Pacers went above and beyond in starting a hat trick of Canadians — rookies Andrew Nembhard and Bennedict Mathurin and former Raptor Oshae Brissett, the first time three Canucks have started an NBA game.

But Indiana didn’t just do it as a measure of goodwill — Mathurin’s been in the rookie of the year race all season and is also the highest-scoring reserve in the league (Indiana was missing star guard Tyrese Haliburton), Nembhard also should make the all-rookie first team and was the best second-round pick of the 2022 draft, while Brissett has been a useful piece ever since joining the Pacers.

Nembhard fired off seven straight points at one point in the first quarter as the Pacers demolished the Raptors off the dribble and Mathurin rudely gave O.G. Anunoby a taste of his own medicine, surprising the standout defender with a chase down block of what Anunoby thought would be an easy layup.

They were far from done. Mathurin was a pain defensively and also scored 15 points, while Nembhard was the player of the game, finishing with 25 points (his second-best scoring game yet), including a late dagger three-pointer, with 10 assists for good measure.

“The game meant a little bit more for us three and I think we scored the first three field goals so that gave all confidence,” Nembhard said afterward.

And the three-pointer to sink the team he grew up watching and cheering for? “I knew I either had to get a shot or get to the paint and make a play. I was flowing, it was one of those ones where you’re just in the moment,” he said.

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Even though he played like he circled this date on the calendar ahead of the season, Nembhard said that wasn’t the case. “Honestly no. My preparation and everything leading up to the game was very normal. It felt like just another one, I didn’t feel too much pressure to play out of character, I just wanted to be aggressive. I knew Tyrese was going to be out so I would have the ball in my hands a little bit more,” he explained.

He did admit it’s surreal seeing so many of his countrymen playing in the NBA.

Like Brissett, who had nine points, including a vicious slam over Jakob Poeltl.

Mathurin said having them beside him has helped him “process going to the NBA” and added he pushed himself in rehabbing a recent injury to make sure he was ready for this one. “Looking forward to playing many more games in Toronto and hopefully have a lot of wins,” Mathurin said.

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Even Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle, a champion as both a player and a coach, talked pre-game of his Canadian ties while growing up in Ogdensburg, N.Y., near Brockville, Ont.

“I grew up with no cable television, watching Hockey Night in Canada on Tuesdays and Saturdays because that’s all we got,” Carlisle said. “Saw a lot of Stanley Cups won, but back then, I don’t think anybody could see this (basketball run) coming,” Carlisle said.

“This country has become a real hotbed for basketball talent … What’s happened in in the last 10 years or so has been just something just off the rails, it’s just been crazy.”

Indeed, Canada has been the world’s second-leading provider of NBA talent for several years now (eclipsing France) and in the last 10 days alone, visiting teams started players from Kitchener (Denver star Jamal Murray), Hamilton (Oklahoma City all-star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), Aurora (Nembhard), Mississauga (Brissett) and Montreal (Mathurin).

The Raptors’ defence begins and ends with O.G. Anunoby – Yahoo

This is far and away Anunoby’s best defensive season, as he leads the league in steals with 2.0 per game, on pace to become the first player in franchise history to capture a steals title. Anunoby also ranks second in deflections per game with 3.6 and fifth in loose balls recovered at 0.9. Plus, opponents are shooting just 31 percent on drives when Anunoby is the primary defender, 37.2 percent on post-ups, and 33.0 as the pick-and-roll roller, all elite numbers. It’s why the Raptors are 3.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Anunoby is on the floor, the best number among non-centers on the team.

“I’m not sure who’s as versatile, period. And who’s as effective, even on the winning teams,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said about Anunoby. “He’s certainly an all-defensive team player in my mind, for sure, if not the winner of the [Defensive Player of the Year] award.”

But what has flown under the radar is how Anunoby’s evolution as a defender has changed the way the team around him guards — how Anunoby has become so good at defence that he is no longer one piece of a five-man unit, but the piece that the entire system is built around.

Draymond Green, who is largely considered the best defender of his generation, said recently that “I don’t play defence within the team concept. I know most people think I do. But I don’t. When you’re good enough, the team concepts adapt around you.”

That is exactly what has happened with Anunoby and the Raptors this season. Whereas the Raptors used to be one of the most aggressive teams in the league when it came to getting the ball out of opposing superstars hands through double teams, traps, and aggressive help even if Anunoby was in front of the ball, they have scaled that back this season in order to let everyone — but especially Anunoby — guard the ball one-on-one.

After all, they have one of the best isolation defenders in the world on their team, and they are finally starting to take advantage of it.

“I think in general we just focus on guarding the ball probably over the last few months a little bit more and let the adjustments be adjustments and not make the adjustments the whole entire game plan,” Fred VanVleet said about the Raptors’ defensive scheme changing recently. “And obviously having a player like [Anunoby] is a great luxury because you know that you don’t have to help as much when he’s on a guy… So yes, to answer your question, [it’s largely due to Anunoby].”

“It’s amazing to have somebody of his caliber on our team that can play both sides of the basketball that relieves a lot of worries on our end, because we know he’s gonna be able to guard,” Thad Young added about Anunoby. “He’s gonna be able to contain them and keep us within a structure that we need.”

If you don’t believe the Raptors, who might be biased because Anunoby is one of the most beloved figures in the organization, just ask back-to-back NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, who Anunoby guarded twice in the past month. ”They are playing really good team defence,” Jokic said. “They are long, they are athletic, they can switch one-through-five. And I think [Anunoby] gives them the options to do all those things.”

Given that Nick Nurse is known for his creative and aggressive defensive schemes, Anunoby didn’t earn this level of trust to adjust the scheme around him overnight. But you cannot argue with the results: over their last 13 games, the Raptors have the sixth-best defence in the league. Part of that is Jakob Poeltl’s added rim protection — which is part of the reason Anunoby has been entrusted to guard more one-on-one — but a lot of it is Anunoby’s dedication to the craft.

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