Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 13

Raptors squander a second straight year with a fucking depressing end to a fucking depressing and fucking confusing season with a fucking pitiful performance with the highest fucking stakes on the line.

Missed free throws obscure Raptors’ myriad problems in Play-In loss – The Athletic

The Raptors’ myriad flaws were on full display. For one, their depth — Nurse got just 35 minutes out of the four reserves he used. Other than a brief stint from Precious Achiuwa in the fourth quarter, none of them was particularly effective. Gary Trent Jr., who played in three games after dealing with elbow and back injuries, missed six of the seven shots he took. Chris Boucher took one shot and grabbed one rebound in seven minutes. The Bulls’ reserves outscored the Raptors’ 21-8 but, more meaningfully, supplied 63 minutes.

VanVleet played the entire second half despite co-piloting the offence and having the biggest chunk of the defensive assignment on Zach LaVine, who was sensational in the final 24 minutes. It’s impossible to say how much of a role fatigue has in a team missing so many free throws — the Raptors missed them all game, not just in the fourth quarter — but it almost doesn’t matter. This was a team that, for two years in a row, pushed its starters harder than any other team while playing some of the most demanding defensive schemes in the league.

The Raptors’ offensive crispness in the half court was poor. They started out dissecting the Bulls, pretty much getting whatever they wanted. Again, they limped to the finish line in that regard, with things getting especially clunky in the fourth quarter. Patrick Beverley and Alex Caruso, two smaller defenders who were targets earlier in the game, became pests late. They were ultraphysical, and the Raptors started forcing passes into small spaces.

The Raptors had the highest opposition turnover percentage during the season and protected the ball themselves better than any other team, but they committed four more than the Bulls on Wednesday. Perhaps not having a trustworthy backup point guard is bad.

Finally, the Raptors’ lack of rim protection that plagued them before the Poeltl acquisition made one last appearance. After VanVleet hit a deep 3 to tie the score with three minutes and 11 seconds remaining, LaVine and DeRozan took turns blowing by their defenders and finishing layups easily. Poeltl was out of the game, and the Bulls wings attacked like they had nothing to worry about if and when they got to the rim. And they didn’t.

That raises a question: If the Raptors have so many good defenders, why can’t they make life more difficult on explosive swingmen unless O.G. Anunoby is the guy defending?

Raptors plagued by familiar shortcomings in disappointing play-in loss to Bulls – Sportsnet

Figuring out where to go next — with their head coach, with whom they may be amicably parting ways, with three pending free agents among their top six players and with an extension to be considered for Siakam — will be the primary questions that need answering, and that work begins now.

“We’ve definitely shown some good stretches but also some stretches where we weren’t good at all,” said Siakam. “I think that we’re gonna have to be better, when you look at the season, a lot of ups and downs. When you look at our record, 41-41, just not consistent enough and that’s gotta change.”

Looking back, the Raptors season seemed destined to end this way. Their prize free agent signing, Otto Porter Jr., was injured in training camp, played eight regular season games, and then was lost for the season with a dislocated toe. The other off-season focus was deepening the Raptors’ rotation and that never materialized as Nurse remained as dependant on his starters as ever — four of them played at least 40 minutes against the Bulls and none played less than 36. The bench combined for eight points.

The hope was that Scottie Barnes would build on his standout rookie season, but he mostly only broke even. There was also optimism that Siakam would build on his all-NBA season and while his numbers did improve, he wasn’t able to lift the team the way the best players in the NBA — being recognized as one his stated goal — often can. He was an injury replacement in the All-Star Game but will likely fall short of making all-NBA recognition.

The Raptors decided to add to their talent at the trade deadline when they traded future draft equity for Jakob Poeltl — the centre they believed they needed to round out their roster — and while his impact was undeniable, the Raptors weren’t able to take advantage of the momentum his presence helped create to make a move up the standings. They were seven games under .500 on Feb. 1 and couldn’t dig themselves out quickly enough.

The hope was that a strong finish to the season — even advancing out of the play-in tournament, making the playoffs, and perhaps finding a way to push the first-place Milwaukee Bucks would put a sheen on a year that was full of pocks and scratches. The playoff experience alone for the younger players on the team was deemed as valuable.

But it didn’t happen as the blew their chance against the Bulls. The Raptors frittered away a strong start — they led by five after the first quarter and 58-47 at halftime and were up nine to start the fourth quarter — with a dismal finish: there aren’t many occasions when you can win a crucial game by shooting 9-of-22 in the fourth quarter — including 1-of-6 from three — and 5-of-10 from the free throw line. Math doesn’t work that way in the NBA, and it certainly didn’t work that way for the Raptors.

And so a season that began with high expectations — and maybe in some ways was doomed by them — ends in disappointment, as the Raptors kept falling short of ever more attainable goals, until the season was over and there were no goals left to chase.

“You have to find different ways to win, not the other way around,” said VanVleet.

A fitting epitaph for a season that started poorly, ended badly, and didn’t feature all that many bright spots along the way.

Bulls rally from 19-point deficit to win play-in game vs. Raptors – NBC Sports Chicago

The Bulls scored 22 points off Raptors’ turnovers to offset the Raptors’ 22 second-chance points. The Bulls opened 2-for-18 from 3-point range and finished 7-for-26.

The matchup featured adjustments from both coaches, most notably Donovan riding DeRozan. In the first half, he had short breaks of 1 minutes, 52 seconds and 2:23 in the do-or-die affair.

But initially, season-long issues hurt the Bulls. Fred VanVleet’s double-pump, 40-foot 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer gave the Raptors a plus-18, first-half advantage from beyond the arc. And Siakam scored 20 by halftime, repeatedly burning favorable matchups against smaller guards, particularly in the non-Caruso minutes.

After a poor start to the third quarter, the Bulls showed a pulse when Derrick Jones Jr. entered for the first time. A small lineup began forcing turnovers defensively, and LaVine entered attack mode, scoring 17 in the period. He also sank a heat-check 3-pointer in transition that cut the deficit to five points and felt symbolically large.

“They were so far back. Gary Trent and people know I’m going to try to go to the rim. So if his feet are below the 3-point line, I just pulled up,” LaVine said. “If I get going, I’m going to throw them up with confidence and get downhill the next possession.”

The Bulls trimmed a 19-point deficit to nine entering the fourth and then took their first lead since 29-28 on a Patrick Beverley 3-pointer with 5 minutes, 7 seconds left.

The Bulls won all three meetings this season against the Heat, including a season-opening victory on the road. The Heat lost at home on Tuesday night to the Atlanta Hawks.

“We match up well against them,” LaVine said. “Once again, this is a one-and-done situation. We have to go in with the same mindset. They’re going to make adjustments. We are too. It’s going to be whomever wants it more. It comes down to that.”

NBA Play-In recap: Toronto Raptors blow 19 point lead, lose Chicago Bulls 109-105 – Raptors HQ

Leading by 11 at halftime, the Raptors opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run, capped off by a VanVleet triple that made it 66-47. The lead was at 17 with 4:42 to go, an when DeRozan subbed out with 3:46 to go, ripped up his towel on the bench and hung his head in frustration, it looked like the Raptors had things well under control.

That’s when LaVine snatched that control away.

He went on a personal 7-0 run that cut Toronto’s lead to 77-69. The Raptors pushed the lead back to 12 with 10:24 to go, and LaVine again went wild, scoring 7 during a 9-0 Bulls run that cut the lead to three and completely took the ScotiaBank Arena crowd out of the game.

The plethora of empty seats made it clear it was far short of a sellout crowd, but through three quarters they were pretty into the game. But LaVine completely silenced the building (other than Diar, of course).

The Bulls kept chipping away, and finally broke even with an Alex Caruso corner three that tied things at 91. After Barnes and Caruso exchanged buckets, Patrick Beverley drained a corner three of his own — his first and only points of the game — giving the Bulls the 96-93 lead. The Raptors tied the game at 100 after a VanVleet three, but it was clear the starters — who all played 40+ minutes, except for Jakob Poeltl — were absolutely gassed at that point.

Gary Trent Jr. came back in for Poeltl to try and give the Raptors life, but he missed a wide open corner three that would have given the Raptors the lead, and layups from LaVine and DeRozan put the Bulls up 104-100.

After a Barnes free throw, the Raptors had a chance to tie on a VanVleet a pull-up in transition three, but it rimmed out. After a LaVine miss, Siakam got himself to the line — but predictably missed 1 of 2.

After a DeRozan free throw, Siakam threw down a sensational two-handed dunk to cut the lead to one. LaVine scored, making it 107-104 and setting up Siakam’s missed FTs that doomed the Raptors.

“We had our chances,” Nurse said, lamenting just a few poorly executed possessions that changed the game. “One stretch the we weren’t completing passes, we had a couple set plays that were open but had four or five poor executed passing plays that let us down and let them get out in transition,” he said.

“For the most part, we did a god job executing,” he added, saying the team did “a good job of trying to share the ball and make the right plays.”

Siakam concurred, saying that there were “just some moment out there in the second half where we didn’t play well.” He reiterated Nurse’s point about a few bad passes out of double teams, and added that they just didn’t get the stops they needed in the fourth.

“No matter which way you slice it, a loss in the play in is gonna be frustrating,” Fred VanVleet added. He said that it was a “tough way to go,” especially with DeMar DeRozan getting the win in Toronto. “I’m sure he’s happy but we’re on the wrong side of that for sure.”

Season over for Raptors after play-in loss to Bulls | The Star

A year that lurched from bad to good to mediocre and back again finished in a truly weird way in front of a stunned Scotiabank Arena crowd on Wednesday night.

Blowing a 19-point lead is one thing. Blowing a 19-point lead while missing 18 of 36 free throws as a team and giving up 62 second-half points to an offensively challenged opponent is quite another.

And to do it all while the nine-year-old daughter of a former franchise icon was shrieking ahead of every foul shot miss?

Wednesday was a night to add to franchise lore indeed.

Seeing a 19-point lead disappear under a barrage of Zach LaVine baskets and a truly brutal shooting night at the free-throw line, the Raptors dropped a 109-105 decision to the Chicago Bulls before a stunned audience that barely could believe what was unfolding.

“That was a tough one,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I thought they played really hard. I think for the most part we did a good job executing the game plan. We probably had more mistakes in our schemes in the first half than we did in the second. It just came down to … one on one defence in the second half. So again, I thought they played tough. I thought, again, for the most part they did a good job of trying to share the basketball and make the right plays on offence. Yeah, just a tough one man.”

The loss ended Toronto’s season in the first play-in tournament game in franchise history and will most certainly usher in a series of significant changes in the coming off season

“It’s been a tough season in general and a lot of ups and downs, you just want to sit back, evaluate everything,” Pascal Siakam said. “See what we can do to get better, for me, continue to work but first just relax and clear your mind.”

But that will only happen after the Raptors get over the shock and anger at how they let Wednesday night’s game get away.

The Bulls now advance to play Miami on Friday with the final Eastern Conference playoff spot on the line while the Raptors will be left to figure out how to fix what’s been an inconsistent bunch the entire season.

Raptors Season Ends With Free Throw Line Misery vs Bulls – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors News, Analysis and More

It always seemed more difficult than it needed to be for this group. For all the talent they supposedly had on paper, there was always something missing. It was as if two plus two equaled three and far too often this season it did.

Really it should come as no surprise how Toronto fared in Wednesday’s must-win play-in game against the Chicago Bulls.

Could they have won?


They climbed ahead by as many as 19 in the second half and at times looked borderline unstoppable. But the simple stuff was never quite easy enough. An 18-for-36 showing from the charity stripe ended Toronto’s season in embarrassing fashion 109-105.

“That was a tough one. I thought they played really hard,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “I feel bad for them. I think they tried, I think they tried and played really hard.”

“Any way you slice it, a loss in the play-in is going to be frustrating,” added Fred VanVleet. “It’s hard to explain the free throw shooting. It’s a tough way to do it in a one-possession game. But I’m not going to summarize the whole season based on one game.”

Toronto built this team under the impression that you could always teach shooting. Bring us your most athletic and versatile defenders, the organization preached, and we’ll teach them how to shoot.

The fact of the matter is: That development never happened. The Raptors were among the league’s very worst shooting teams all season and it never changed. Sure, it may have been annoying having DeMar DeRozan’s daughter screaming every time the Raptors attempted a free throw. But c’mon now. This is the NBA.

“I think if you ever miss over 10 in a game, it’s really hard to win,” Nurse said.

Siakam’s 5-for-11 from the free throw line marred an otherwise brilliant night from the All-Star forward who did his best DeRozan impression for most of the evening, rising up repeatedly to bury the Bulls to a flurry of mid-range jumpers. The Alex Caruso and Patrick Beverley combo Chicago sent his way put up little resistance as the 6-foot-9 Siakam connected eight of 13 mid-range shots en route to a team-high 32-point showing.

Raptors season comes to an end with loss to Bulls in play-in game | Toronto Sun

In the end, with a chance to tie it up in the dying seconds, Pascal Siakam — so strong for most of the evening — misfired on two of three attempts after being fouled behind the line and the Bulls would escape with a 109-105 win.

“Tough season for us. A lot of ups and downs,” was how Siakam summed up the year as a whole. But he could have just been talking about this game, which could have gone either way — as surprising as that would have seemed at halftime.

But Raptors legend DeMar DeRozan hit a free throw with 28.7 seconds left in the game to put Chicago up by three and Zach LaVine added two more, following a Siakam slam dunk with 19.7 seconds to go. LaVine finished with 39 points, 17 of them in a third quarter that should have marked the end of the Bulls.

Siakam finished with 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but missed five of 11 free throws. Toronto shot just 50% on its 36 attempts at the line. The previous season-low had been 58.3% and ESPN reported the 18 misses by the Raptors were the second-most by any team this season.

“We left a lot of points on the board,” head coach Nick Nurse said.

DeRozan scored 23, Fred VanVleet 26 for the Raptors, with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

Play-in for what? Raptors’ demise might be for the best | The Star

This futile post-trade deadline adventure in attempting to become a wannabe playoff team, almost certainly set up to fail against the No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks, didn’t come cheaply. The Raptors wouldn’t have even been playing a home play-in game without the pre-deadline acquisition of Jakob Poeltl. To get Poeltl, the Raptors sent a protected 2024 first-round pick, Khem Birch and two second-round picks to San Antonio.

They were in 10th place when they acquired the big Austrian. They were ninth when the regular season ended.

And when you consider the talent-rich draft that’s coming in June — and that the Raptors could have saved their draft picks, let a doomed season run its course and only improved their odds in the draft lottery — it’s hard to make the case that the fleeting juice of Wednesday night’s game was worth such an enthusiastic squeeze.

After all, Toronto’s late-game collapse — the squandering of a 19-point, third-quarter lead that ended in the undignified thud of Pascal Siakam clanking two of three free throws, down three points with 12 seconds left — told us a lot of things we already knew about this Raptors team.

It told us they were 4-10 in games decided by three points or less for a reason. It told us this team doesn’t have reliable playmaking under pressure. It told us the Raptors don’t have sufficient shotmaking in the clutch.

Heck, none of the East’s top 10 teams shot the ball worse than the Raptors this season as measured by true shooting percentage, which takes into account both two- and three-point shots from the field and the free-throw line. So, even though it was an aberration, could anybody be truly shocked that the Raptors missed an appalling 18 of their 36 attempts from the free-throw line to end their season?

“We left a lot of points on the board there, for sure,” coach Nick Nurse said. “You’re never going to make ’em all … But I think I’ve said this to you before: If you ever miss more than 10 (free throws) in a game, it’s hard to win.”

Siakam, who had 32 points on 13-for-22 shooting, flailed badly down the stretch, but so did most of the Raptors. Toronto committed six fourth-quarter turnovers that led to nine Chicago points. And Fred VanVleet, who added 26 points, simply didn’t have the firepower to do the heavy lifting required. Chicago’s Zach LaVine’s 39-point explosion, which included 13 points in the fourth quarter, carried the day.

But as for Toronto’s defence, which allowed the Bulls to score 37 points in the final frame: No Eastern team allowed opponents to shoot a higher field-goal percentage than the Raptors this season. So, was it really a surprise the Bulls shot 49 per cent in the win, including a stunning 63 per cent in the final frame?

Raptors allow play-in game to become play-out game | Toronto Sun

A Raptors season almost devoid of explanation ended sadly and rather painfully on a Wednesday night at home, a night of confusion, a night in need of further dissection.

The play-in game was right there for the Raptors to take until it wasn’t and became a play-out game instead against the Chicago Bulls.

Maybe the final night for Nick Nurse as coach of the Raptors.

Maybe the last game for Fred VanVleet as starting point guard and Gary Trent Jr., in Raptors colours.

A season ending one game after the regular season came to its conclusion, playing their own game of billiards, the Raptors left leaving too much on the table, missed too many free throws and too many easy shots.

It was, this 109-105 loss to the Bulls, a microcosm of the Toronto season. There were moments of greatness. There were moments that had you believing. And in the end, there was so much to doubt about this team, these players, this coach, and this management team.
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The loss to the Bulls was a canvas of their season: It was collective in defeat. The playing wasn’t good enough. The coaching wasn’t good enough. The team that management put on the court wasn’t good enough. And in the final seconds, Pascal Siakam did the most Raptors thing of all. He had three free throws to tie the game with less than 20 seconds to play. He made the first one, but missed the next two. And suddenly a tie game wasn’t a tie and the one win needed to advance the Raptors into Miami now turns out to be a DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry matchup of sorts. There is a Raptors theme in all that. A theme of what used to be.

A theme of what isn’t any longer.

If this is the end of Nurse as Raptors coach — and it sure seems like that is happening — this wasn’t the kind of end he had in mind. The Raptors played well for three quarters in almost area except from the free-throw line.
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The fourth quarter was won by Chicago 37-24. Nurse had no answer. The Raptors had no answer. The team ended the night with 18 free throws made, 18 free throws missed — a horrible 50% total, that cost them a game that really should not have been close.

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