The lighting was different, the colors were different, the court was different. Everything was different. My usual walk into the stadium was met by an aesthetic change, and considering how last game went against the Celtics? I was really hoping for a material change in how the basketball was played. I had hope for that until the Raptors were down by 16 in the first half. Then it started to seem like more of the same.
There were lots of adjustments from last week's Celtics matchup. The Raptors were more keen to let Kristaps Porzingis shoot in this game; more willing to allow him mismatches while trusting their guards to win the battle for the lower spot. That led to less driving lanes for Jaylen Brown & Jayson Tatum, and a much better defensive result overall. The Raptors also went through Pascal Siakam in the post more often, where his offense was efficient, clinical, and the lifeblood of what the Raptors accomplished in the halfcourt. The game came down to a couple made shots (as most close games do), but given how dominant the Raptors were with Siakam on the court tonight, you could argue that the game was lost in the 16 straight minutes that Siakam sat from the end of the first quarter until the end of the first half. They lost the Siakam-less minutes by 20 points.
"I sat down for like, I don't even know how many minutes, so I was just tryna play basketball at the end of the day." Siakam said after the loss. "That was it. I just wanted to get into the game. I feel like I sat most of the game."
Brought on by two ticky-tack foul calls that Siakam received while guarding Porzingis, he found himself on the bench after 8 minutes of play. Darko Rajakovic tried to navigate the foul problem by challenging the 3rd foul, and after that was deemed unsuccessful, Siakam sat for the rest of the half.
When Darko was asked about the decision to sit Siakam for that stretch, he looked deeply pained, and quite literally wiped sweat off his forehead. "Yes, that was a tough, tough one." Rajakovic said after the game. "With 3 fouls, it would be really, really hard, and I was not willing to risk him getting the 4th foul, god forbid, and now he can't play the full 3rd quarter. He was able to come back, he kept his mentality there and he was huge in the second half for us. I wish he played 8-9 more minutes tonight."
A lot of coaches, a lot of players have voiced the idea of letting guys play through fouls. That benching a player with fouls, is similar to fouling him out as it has the same effect - taking the player out of the game. Rajakovic obviously considered his position heavily while it was happening, and ended up at a different decision. Maybe he doesn't yet trust Siakam to play foul-less basketball, maybe he thought that Siakam would be in foul-adjacent positions continuously because of the Celtics offense, but that's all in the past. Maybe this will shape a change of philosophy going forward, or maybe Rajakovic will operate the same way going forward. The outcome, of course, was a 16 minute stretch where the Raptors scored a meager 25 points, and allowed 47.