Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 6

Raptors are a hot fucking mess but secured no lower than 9th in the playing...Are we having fun yet?

Despite having right energy, Raptors unable to beat Celtics’ deep roster – Sportsnet

When it comes to depth, the Raptors aren’t nearly as lucky, which is why there has been so much confusion about the status of Jeff Dowtin Jr. On a team that has struggled to establish useful depth this season, why the uncertainty about keeping a player who had gained Nurse’s trust and filled an area of need? He wasn’t available to play against Boston because he’s used all 50 of the games he’s eligible for while on a two-way contract. The Raptors would need to waive someone in order to sign Dowtin Jr. to a deal allowing him to play any remaining regular-season games, play-in games, or playoff games, but there is no indication they’re going to move ahead, which is confusing, given Toronto has a couple of players not in the rotation that could be waived at no consequence.

There wasn’t any more clarity before the game, though Nurse laid out next steps:

“We’ve got ‘til 5 p.m. (Thursday) to make a decision,” he said. “Now with Will (Barton) and Gary (Trent Jr.) back healthy — I think it kind of made sense for us to play Jeff these last few games with those guys out, and kind of just coming back. (General Manager Bobby Webster) is flying in here shortly and we’ll sit down tomorrow. Before 5 o’clock we’ll make our decision of what we’re gonna do.

“Like always, we’ll make the best decision for our organization, in totality, for sure.”

The Celtics showed the advantage having a roster seemingly two-deep at every position in the first quarter. Toronto jumped out to a 17-11 lead before Boston found their feet and finished the period on a 17-8 run and to lead 31-28 at the end of the first quarter. No beat seemed to be missed, especially when Brogdon was on the floor with the starters, giving Boston another high-end creator, shooter, and defender. He already had 11 points in nine minutes when he ripped a no-look pass to a wide open White alone under the basket midway through the third for his first assist.

A moment later it was White with a pin-point lob to Williams for a dunk over Chris Boucher before Brogdon pulled up for a three in transition as part of 14-4 run that pushed Boston’s lead to 12 as Toronto went more than four minutes without a single field goal. A putback by Jakob Poeltl and a fastbreak finish by Anunoby after a Celtics miss stopped the bleeding, but not before Boston had a 56-44 lead to start the third quarter. Brogdon led all scorers with 16 points on nine shots in his 15 minutes off the bench.

“I think they’ve got a lot of practice at that,” Nurse said of the Celtics’ ability to play on even while short-handed. He didn’t say it’s a tell-tale sign of a deep, championship level team, but he didn’t need to.  

“When we had Kawhi sitting out a lot. I think early on people were like, What the heck’s going on here? They don’t have Kawhi, they don’t have a chance,” said Nurse, referring to the Raptors’ 2018-19 championship team that had a better regular season record when their star, Leonard, sat than when he played. “And all of a sudden we’re 20 games into it and we barely even talked about it. Everyone kind of got used to it and adjusted to it … so I think that’s kind of where they are.”

Toronto carved into the Celtics’ advantage in the third quarter. After going scoreless in the second quarter, Siakam threatened to take over after halftime as he scored 14 points and added two assists in a four-minute stretch beginning in the middle of the period with Toronto trailing by 13. He finished his flurry by finding Scottie Barnes for a wide-open three and suddenly the Raptors were down by only two with two minutes left in the quarter. But Brogdon came back with a deep three and hit a tough runner at the horn while the Raptors didn’t score again and in a blink Boston was up seven again, leading 79-72 to start the fourth. 

The Raptors couldn’t reel Boston all the way in because, it’s clear, the Celtics are both better and deeper. Effort can’t fix everything. 

Celtics clinch two-seed with win over Raptors, set sights on playoffs: ‘We want to go in with momentum’ – CelticsBlog

On Tuesday night, the Celtics were without three starters in Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart. Despite that, they were able to squeak out a victory thanks to big-time performances from Brown, Brogdon, and Derrick White.

Brogdon stressed the importance of health heading into the postseason, calling it the “number one” priority, but that’s not always a controllable factor. Their win over Toronto displayed Boston’s ability to win under varying conditions – a skill that will be crucial come playoff time.

“You’ve got to be malleable,” said Mazzulla. “Matchups, doing different things. Our guys are very open-minded. Very coachable. They’re very detail-oriented. So, you just have to be open-minded to all those things. By any means necessary, find a way to win.”

Toronto threw plenty of punches against the Celtics on Tuesday night. They’re still playing for their play-in positioning, and a couple of wins vs. a couple of losses could be the difference between having to play one or two games to make the playoffs.

But even when Toronto made a fourth-quarter run, even when they tied the game mid-way through the final period, and even when Boston’s offense lost its legs after playing in Philadelphia last night, the Celtics found a way to persevere.

A couple of late-season falters kept them from vaulting the Milwaukee Bucks for number one, but that’s behind them now. And the playoffs are in front of them.

“To be a part of the winning organization, to add to it, and to come out each and every night and play with purpose,” Brown said. “So absolutely, it’s great. We’re getting ready to head into the postseason with a better feeling.”

Passive Toronto Raptors fall to shorthanded Boston Celtics, 97-93 – Raptors HQ

Both teams were cold to start, shooting 1-for 8 combined with four turnovers. O.G. Anunoby broke the spell with a three, making it… 5-1 Raptors after three minutes; Siakam scored on the break 30 seconds later to make it 7-1.

Sam Hauser finally broke through for Boston with a corner three at the 8:25 mark; Brown then scored on a drive and a Derrick White layup tied it at 9.

Barnes had a good start to the game, with two early dunks, and a three at the 5:30 mark that put the Raps up 20-14. But Hauser hit another three, and Jaylen Brown got behind the defense after a scramble to hit a layup that brought Boston within one.

A couple of Brown layups put the Celtics up three, and that’s where the quarter ended, with Celtics leading 31-28.

Gary Trent Jr returned in the first quarter after missing 7 games, and the rust certainly showed; he missed his first four shot, and booted a dribble off his foot for a turnover. He finished the game with a big ol’ goose egg.

The Raptors didn’t do themselves any favours early in the second. They picked up two early loose ball fouls, gave up two early offensive rebounds, and let White pick up a defensive rebound and go coast-to-coast for a layup, making it 38-34 Celtics. And it only got worse from there, as the Raptors went into one of their prolonged shooting slumps. Two Brogdon threes, sandwiched around a White layup and a Robert Williams dunk, made it 50-38 Celtics with 4:16 to go in the half. They ended the frame with a 56-44 lead.

The Raptors cut the 12-point halftime deficit in half early in the third, thanks to a couple paint buckets from Jakob Poeltl and a three from Anunoby. But a 7-0 Celts run — four straight from White, and a three from Brown — gave Boston their largest lead, 13. The Raptors couldn’t get out of their own way — either with turnovers (three in the first five minutes) or poor defensive rebounding (the Celtics had four offensive boards in the first five minutes).

Once again credit the Celtics. They hustled! They defended! The Raptors played in quicksand.

Loss to short-handed Celtics leaves Raptors in play-in limbo | The Star

Boston was without four key players — Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Payton Pritchard — but played a far more energetic game than the Raptors for most of the night. They decimated Toronto’s backups, winning the bench battle 33-18, and turned 10 offensive rebounds into 15 second-chance points. Boston got almost every loose ball for the entire game and just seemed hungrier.

The Raptors, who got Gary Trent Jr. back from injury, were abysmal from three-point range: 6-for-33 from beyond the arc.

But after being a half-step behind for almost the entire game, the Raptors made it interesting and got to within two on a Precious Achuiwa three-point play with 12.6 seconds left. Boston’s Malcolm Brogdon, who led all scorers with 29 points, made two free throws with just under 10 seconds left to ice the game.

Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 28 points despite not scoring at all in the second quarter, while Fred VanVleet struggled through a 2-for-14 shooting night.

Trent had missed seven games with elbow and back issues, and the Raptors felt he needed some game action before next week’s play-in games. He’d been going through full workouts and full-speed post-practice scrimmages, but that seldom matches real game conditions.

It was exacerbated by having to face one of the best defensive teams in the league in Boston — instead of, say, the lottery-bound, injury-decimated Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night — and it was obvious from the time Trent stepped on the court in the first half. He was predictably off, missing all five shot attempts in the opening half with no rebounds, no steals, no assists and a turnover. He played 16 scoreless minutes overall.

Trent may get enough game action over the two remaining contests to work himself fully back into shape, but the fact the Raptors can’t know for sure is frustrating.

Rotations are sure to get tighter in the play-in games. Toronto is likely to use five starters, Chris Boucher, Trent and maybe one other player, increasing the need for Trent to supply consistent offence.

The Raptors, who got a splendid performance from the bench in a Tuesday win, got little against the Celtics.

Raptors Face Uphill Battle to Escape Play-In Tournament – Sports Illustrated

Not only did the Atlanta Hawks knock off Chicago without Trae Young, but a victory by the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday means the Boston Celtics remain one win away from clinching the No. 2 seed in the conference.

Alas, Toronto finds itself in a predicament.

If Boston and Milwaukee win Wednesday, the Raptors’ final two games suddenly become meaningless for Toronto’s opponents. That, in theory, should make the games pretty winnable for the Raptors. The problem with this picture is a Celtics win over Toronto on Wednesday also makes Philadelphia’s Friday night game against the Hawks meaningless and therefore more likely for Atlanta to win. 

Conversely, if Toronto does upset Boston on Wednesday, the Celtics remain incentivized to beat the Raptors on Friday night, and beating the Celtics in back-to-back games in Boston seems highly unlikely.

The Hawks, meanwhile, have a date with the tanking Washington Wizards on Wednesday, a game Atlanta is heavily favored to win. After that, they’ll play host to the 76ers in a game that may or may not be meaningful depending on what Toronto does. They’ll then finish the season on the road in Boston in a game that the Celtics will likely have nothing to play for.

All of this is to say the Raptors are virtually locked into the No. 9 spot, meaning the play-in tournament will likely begin on April 12 in Toronto with a must-win game against the Bulls. If the Raptors win that, they’ll head either to Atlanta, Miami, or Brooklyn to face the loser of the 7 vs. 8 play-in game scheduled for April 11.

Toronto Raptors come up short in Boston as play-in drama intensifies | Toronto Sun

Because Chicago lost in Milwaukee, the Raptors cannot finish lower than the No. 9 seed, meaning the most likely scenario involves a home date next Wednesday night in Toronto against the Bulls and DeMar DeRozan.

The Raptors did elevate their game, but it took far too long.

When key shots needed to be made, the Raptors missed on a night of many misses.

A late surge, sparked by their defence, did allow the Raptors to potentially steal this game. Ultimately, the Raptors succumbed to the host Celtics, 97-93.

They could have won had the Raptors been better in the opening half and not waited until the game’s waning minutes to bring their ‘A’ game against the C’s.

For most of the night, the visitors were in catch-up mode, made worse by Fred VanVleet’s woeful shooting display. His first basket was produced four minutes into the fourth quarter.

Pascal Siakam kept the Raptors within reach, especially when he went off in the third quarter after going scoreless in the second.

Toronto’s defence, both in the halfcourt and in transition, was much more on point as the game unfolded.

And when points began to come on the offensive end, the Raptors were right there to pull off the victory before falling short.

Why Nurse soft launching his Raptors exit is unfair to the players – Yahoo

What ever happened to lying?

Nurse’s comments on April 2 proved something that anybody who has been following the team has known about Nurse for a while: that he is very capable of twisting the truth when he sees fit. Nurse has done it repeatedly throughout his Raptors tenure when it comes to smaller things like not knowing the starting lineup one and a half hours before the games. Which begs the question: why not lie — or at least refuse to bring it up — when it came to the rumours about his future?

Nurse’s comments were peculiar to say the least, and we can break them down in any number of ways. Maybe his comments were a negotiating technique used to help him sign a lucrative extension instead of walking into the final year of his deal as a lame-duck — something coaches of his stature almost never do. But by essentially laying out his resume with “we got to be up there in number of wins with anybody in the league” and acknowledging that “10 years is a good time to sit back and reflect a bit,” Nurse opened up the possibility of not only leaving the Raptors at season’s end, but also created the optics of pitching himself to other teams.

Maybe the comments were a result of frustration after the relationship between Nurse and the Raptors front office and/or players was already fractured beyond repair. After all, Nurse went out of his way to say that he will “see how the relationship with the organization is and everything,” which is not something you typically hear from someone who has a consistent, healthy dialogue with their superiors.

But regardless of the reason — even if Nurse feels like he has been wronged by the organization in any way — there is no excuse for making these comments right now, with the Raptors in the heat of a play-in race and when every single game matters, focus is of utmost importance, and distractions are unwelcome.

Do Nurse’s comments insinuate that he is not fully bought in with the team on the stretch run of the season? No, I don’t think that would be fair to say. But they certainly don’t make things any easier for the guys responsible for actually taking the Raptors as far as possible in what has already been a trying season: the players.

How do the players feel about this?

Ultimately, the reason that Nurse’s comments are inappropriate is because of the position it puts the Raptors players in and what it appears to say about double-standards and power dynamics between players and coach.

After all, Pascal Siakam has already been asked about his coach’s future in a recent appearance on NBA Today, saying “that’s a question above my pay grade” as his big bright smile turned into a frown when asked about what he hopes will happen with the Raptors coaching situation next season.

All this comes on the heels of the Raptors most grinding season since before the championship, and certainly of the Nick Nurse era. In fact, the Raptors have been practicing almost every off day since the start of the new year — and as much as any team in the NBA — working diligently to dig themselves out of a hole. And Nurse has talked openly to the media about wanting more effort and professionalism out of his players at times this season, hence the increased workload.

For Nurse to ask that from his players and then talk about his own future in such an ill-timed and unprofessional manner might not sit well with some of the players, who are going to be left answering for Nurse as long as the season continues despite having enough problems of their own.

There is an idea that what Nurse did was fine because at least he was being honest. After all, as a media member, I appreciate honesty from the coach. But the coach doesn’t work for the media — they work for the front office and, by extension, the players, because this is a players’ league and the stars will always matter more than the coach does. A good coach has the self-awareness to understand that and to know how much a comment like that can become a distraction in a locker room.

Nurse is a human. And it’s very possible he made a mistake in a moment of weakness by openly speculating about his future — it’s possible none of this was planned and that he regretted saying it the moment it came out of his mouth. But to then completely deny it, falsify past questions about it, and refuse to take any accountability about it when asked to follow-up the next game shows that Nurse doesn’t demand the same accountability from himself that he does from his players.

This isn’t about whether Nurse is a good coach or not. In fact, he has clearly shown to be a smart basketball mind with some of the most creative defensive schemes the modern NBA has seen. And lasting five years as a head coach with the same team is no small feat — you can never take away the championship he helped Toronto win. But coaching is more about managing interpersonal dynamics than ever, especially as younger players have more and more power in the league. And these comments are at the very least a blemish on Nurse’s record when it comes to his ability to read the room.

The relationship between the Raptors and Nurse didn’t have to end on a sour note. Unfortunately, in light of these comments, if it does in fact end this offseason, you can be assured it will not be sweet. When you sow seeds of dysfunction within an organization that prefers to act in quietly the shadows, that is what you get.

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