Morning Coffee – Tue, Dec 12

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Raptors Takeaways: Without a prominent strength, reality is starting to set in – Sportsnet

The starting lineup

Toronto once again started poorly, despite what Tom Thibodeau’s timeout 92 seconds into the game might suggest. The Raptors started the third quarter poorly enough, allowing Julius Randle two attempts in the post against blown angle-and-help coverage on the same possession, that Darko Rajakovic was the one calling the immediate timeout. That group then struggled enough closing the game that Rajakovic turned to Precious Achiuwa over Jakob Poeltl.

For the night, the starters were outscored by six points in their 18 minutes. The Knicks are good, to be sure, but they were without starting centre and defensive- and rebounding-standout Mitchell Robinson, asking a still-green Jericho Sims to start in his place. You can at least understand some of the offensive struggles given the spacing issues, but it’s remarkable how a defence-first group has fallen off so quickly at that end of the floor despite at least two very good individual defenders.

I feel like a bit of a broken record here with the team’s lineup choices. Starting Gary Trent Jr. for Dennis Schroder or Achiuwa for Poeltl won’t resolve much – Trent was very ineffective again Monday and has been as up-and-down as Achiuwa – but the guard swap is probably worthwhile at least to expand Barnes’ playmaking role and see how that looks with nominal spacing.

Other lineup and rotation notes

Rajakovic tried to add more spacing to Barnes-and-bench units, giving him three shooters (in theory) and a big who operates well in space in the second quarter. Barnes looked comfortable with a bit of extra space, on both sides of the pick-and-roll, but Trent, Achiuwa, Malachi Flynn and a freshly-recalled (off a shaky G League stint) Gradey Dick were, predictably, not up to task against arguably the league’s best bench (even down Immanuel Quickley).

The Raptors had some success with three bench players and any two of Barnes, Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, which aligns with earlier results and what we’d expect. That trio has still only played 11 minutes together this year without at least one of Schroder and Poeltl. Even with bench options who aren’t sure-fire contributors, the Raptors need to see more of that.

Flynn had a solid game, by the way, and should probably eat a bit into Schroder’s stranglehold on minutes alongside the core trio on nights Schroder doesn’t have it offensively (lately, better Monday) or defensively (a tough one Monday).

Knicks share the wealth to top Raptors without Mitchell Robinson – New York Post

It took several Knicks performing well on Monday, from the big three of RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Brunson to key reserves Quentin Grimes, Josh Hart and Isaiah Hartenstein.

“Very important, psychologically, first and foremost,” Randle said. “Get back on the right track on the winning side.”

It was not a defensive performance that will be remembered fondly against the Raptors, one of the worst offensive teams in the league who hit 14 3-pointers, but the Knicks buckled down in the end somewhat.

Mostly, they won with offense, shooting 60.5 percent overall and making 17 3-point attempts on a night Immanuel Quickley (left knee inflammation) wasn’t available.

Randle led five Knicks in double figures with 34 points, eight rebounds and five assists, Barrett added 27 and Brunson notched 21 points and nine assists.

Playing the bulk of the minutes in place of Robinson, Hartenstein had 11 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two assists.

Jericho Sims got the start and produced seven rebounds in 21 minutes, a season-high.

Grimes (19 points) and Hart (seven rebounds, eight assists) combined for 35 points, outscoring the Raptors reserves by themselves, and the Knicks totaled a season-high 36 assists.

Knicks 136, Raptors 130: “Sharing is caring!“ – Posting and Toasting

Randle, by the way, was called for his first tech of the season for getting overly excited after dunking. And we loved to watch his reaction as much as Wally.

“I was just excited!” Randle said. “My first tech of the season. I’ll take it.”

Bench MVP Quentin Grimes notched a season-high 19 points along with fellow off-the-piners Isaiah Hartenstein (11) and Josh Hart (16) reaching double-digit pops in IQ’s absence.

Hartenstein stayed put on the bench, entering the game in relief of Jericho Sims. I-Hart said that Mitch Rob “Called me before the game, wished me good luck.” And good luck he had, as the big German went on to put up 11 points to go with eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block. Mitch Lite, anyone?

Sims, starting in Mitch’s place—something the young Hercules already did 16 times last season—contributed seven rebounds and one assist in 21 minutes.

“The more reps you get the better you’re going to play,” Sims said. “I’m better, stronger, and quicker than I was last year, and I know the game more.” Yes, Sims said he is stronger. How that’s even possible, I don’t have a clue.

Donte DiVincenzo had a bit of a rough outing in his second consecutive start, dropping only three points on two shots but adding four boards, five dimes, and one block.

Thibs opted to go with Sims instead of Hart to keep the team as close to its original version and game-planning as possible. “We’re not going to change [our] style of play. A lot of the things Mitch does Jericho does as well,” Thibodeau said.

“With Isaiah, it’s different. I like having that flexibility. It’s two different looks.”

Hart acknowledged that missing Robinson “would be tough,” and that everybody would need to step up if the Knicks wanted to get the W against a resilient Raps mob that kept things close all game long.

The Knicks didn’t improve that much on the defensive end compared to what they did in last week’s back-to-back IST losses against the Bucks (146 points allowed) and the Celtics (133) as they allowed Toronto to drop 130 more on them.

That said, the offense was spot-on by dumping a season-high 136 pops on the Raptors and breaking the 125-point barrier for just the fourth time this year, this being the first matchup in which New York scored 130+ points.

“A number of our guys stepped up, especially offensively,” Thibodeau said. “The rebounding could have been better. And we need to continue to work on defense.”

The Knicks scored on 60.5 percent of their shots from the floor. They bagged 58.6 percent of their 3-point attempts. They were awful from the free-throw line (65.2%) but that didn’t matter as the Raptors shot 49/36/73 splits on 96 FGA and 30 FTA on the day.

Toronto Raptors vs New York Knicks Final: 136-130 – Struggles continue for the Raptors as they drop their fourth straight game – Raptors HQ

The Raptors had a strong defensive possession to start the third, forcing RJ into a difficult shot that was left short at the rim. Schroder ran into Brunson but a no-call allowed him to cash in an elbow jumper. An offensive foul and a missed dunk added to the struggles for the Knicks early on, but the Raptors briefly lost their intensity on defence, allowing an offensive rebound for Randle that led to a basket.

The momentum for the Raptors continued to build after the timeout, with O.G. out in transition, managing back to back buckets again. Once the Raptors were finally able to tie the game again at 71, the Knicks proceeded to go on another short run. This continued to establish the pattern for this matchup, with the Raptors grinding their way to a tie game, only to be left back at a deficit due to savvy three-point shooting or quick looks by the Knicks.

Randle was getting fired up late in the quarter with a poster on Precious, but was called for hanging on the rim and provided the opportunity for Scottie to make a shot from the line. Precious answered back with a three-point shot, followed later by Scottie to get the Raptors within one. Another high scoring quarter leaving the teams 98-97 for the Knicks at the end of the frame.

Early in the fourth, RJ started aggressively, with two quick baskets and a foul drawn that earned him free-throws. Malachi Flynn made a nice 3 point shot before checking back out of the game. Scottie’s toughness in the fourth began, with him fighting through a post up down low, scoring on one possession, then finding Boucher for a tough bucket on the next play. A strong take by O.G. led to a trip to the line, and despite continued trouble from the free-throw line, he was able to make both and tie up the game again.

Josh Hart contributed for the Knicks with his intensity, leading the Knicks on another short run that prompted a timeout for the Raps. Out of the timeout, Schroder was able to chip in to keep within striking distance. Brunson started to lock in, making a mixture of shots and assists to give the Knicks a two-possession cushion. Quentin Grimes cashed in another 3-pointer late in the shot clock, followed by Josh Hart with back to back buckets, a frustrating development for the Raptors who were trying to continue to scratch their way back into the game.

Now, with a 10 point deficit, another timeout was needed. Despite trying to scrape back, a costly turnover paired with a tough basket by Randle all but sealed the loss for the Raps. Rather than electing to foul initially, the Raptors tried to make their way back into the game, but even with successful trips to the line, were unable to clinch the victory.

Raptors not bad but not good enough in loss to Knicks – Toronto Star

Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic resisted any urge to change Toronto’s starting lineup after a series of bad first quarters.

It’s not like he had a lot of options — there isn’t a backup whose play would force the coach’s hand — and the Raptors showed more energy early and didn’t play themselves out of the game in the first quarter.

All it took was some pace to the offence and a defence that was passable, not horrible.

“Lot of times that’s a problem for us, when we open up the game and we miss a couple of those shots, it takes some energy away from our defence,” the coach had said.

“I’m telling our guys, first of all, keep believing it and if you don’t make three shots in a row on three possessions in a row, let’s (have) enough pride to go back on defence and get three stops in a row.

“And once we make those shots, then we’re going to be in a game and it’s not going to be deflating for us.”

Trouble is, the Raptors have yet to show they can consistently make shots, primarily from three-point range.

While they shot it well Monday, they didn’t defend the three-point line well enough as the Knicks were 17-for-29 from beyond the arc.

The Raptors stayed with much the same rotation they’ve used all season — Gradey Dick returned from the G League Raptors 905 and filled in with the second unit for four first-half minutes — and also used a group comprising Barnes and four backups.

It worked well enough offensively but there were issues defensively, primarily at the start of the second quarter when the Knicks pushed out to a six-point lead in about a four-minute span.

Barnes was the only consistent scoring threat, which opened space for his teammates to operate.

“He’s a very special player,” Precious Achiuwa had said of that Barnes-led second unit. “Being able to change roles and play different ways is one of the reasons he’s very good. For us, coming in on that second unit with him, it helps a lot. So, yeah, he’s very special.”

Barnes had a solid night with 20 points, six rebounds and four assists but he got the shots the Knicks wanted him to take. Of his 13 field-goal attempts, eight were three-pointers. And while he made three of them, he is more effective driving the ball and using his size and strength in the paint.

Raptors Defensive Woes Continue in Alarming Loss to Knicks – Sports Illustrated

It shouldn’t be that difficult to play hard, but somehow Toronto’s starters have been unable to get stops early in games. Against New York, the Raptors gave up 22 points in the first six and a half minutes before the bench checked in. In fairness, Julius Randle was hitting some tough turnaround jumpers, but still, it the Knicks had no trouble finding a groove against Toronto.

It wasn’t until the second unit checked in that the Raptors found any sort of a rhythm. Malachi Flynn nailed a tough layup to tie the game up at 28 late in the first and looked solid helping to orchestrate the offense alongside Scottie Barnes early in the second.

The offense’s inability to make shots has only worsened Toronto’s defensive woes. Long rebounds off missed threes lead to easy transition opportunities far too often and the Raptors’ 5-for-22 three-point shooting in the first half against New York only made the situation worse.

Toronto’s defense didn’t look much better to start the third quarter until Rajaković called a quick timeout. That seemed to spark the Raptors as OG Anunoby went on a personal 7-0 to give Toronto the lead, scoring 15 of his 29 points in the third quarter thanks to three made three-pointers in the frame.

But even when Toronto was hitting shots, the defense couldn’t get stops. The Raptors shot 56% from the field and 6-for-11 from three-point range in the third but still allowed New York to rack up 32 points in the quarter. Randle just continued to dominate, tallying a game-high 33 points, seemingly unfazed by any of the coverages Toronto threw his way.

Maybe it was just a hot night for New York who connected on 17 of 29 three-pointers, but the fact that Toronto let the Knicks get comfortable early set the tone for how the rest of the night would play out. Quentin Grimes nailed five three-pointers including a huge one late in the fourth after a late shot clock kickout pass from Randle that put New York up seven and the Knicks never looked back.

Toronto’s offensive issues were to be expected this year. Nobody thought this team would be a high-powered offense and, Monday’s game aside, that’s certainly been the case. But these kinds of defensive performances have been shockingly disappointing for this group and continue to be inexcusable.

Raptors fall short in Big Apple for season-high fourth straight loss | Toronto Sun

By now, it should be made abundantly clear that this team is not very good, even when it goes through stretches where it plays well.

The good news for the Raptors is they’ll be home for the next four games. The bad news for the Raptors is they’ll return home having lost four games in a row, a season high.

For the record, Monday night’s 136-130 loss was Toronto’s sixth in its past seven games. There’s resilience when falling behind, but this group can’t sustain a high level of play over an extended stretch.

They can’t defend. And when they do show moments when stops are being produced, they yield open looks that lead to baskets.

Even when games are decided late, which it was Monday when the Raptors valiantly fought back by extending the evening, it still resulted in a loss.

For what it’s worth, the Raptors were much more entertaining in Gotham, but it’s no consolation.

In an opening half when each side did a solid good job of protecting the basketball, the Raptors trailed 66-60.

The team’s Achilles heel, three-point shooting, meant the visitors were outscored by 12 from distance. It didn’t help, either, when the Raptors allowed the Knicks to shoot 54.5%, which highlighted another season-long weakness.

Still, the Raptors were very much in the game against a somewhat undermanned Knicks team that entered the night having lost two in a row. To Toronto’s credit, the visitors forced more turnovers in the second half and made more shots.

Here's What the Raptors Can Get From 3 Teams in Trade Talks – Sports Illustrated

Three teams keep coming up in trade chatter surrounding the Toronto Raptors.

There’s still been no real sign that the Raptors are ready to make a move now nor at the trade deadline. That said, trade rumors have already begun circulating with the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, and Sacramento Kings the teams most often connected to the Raptors.

We’ll have lots of time to break down hypothetical trade ideas but maybe let’s instead dive into their assets. Here’s a breakdown of what the Hawks, Pacers, and Kings have to offer.

Most of the rumored trade packages involving Atlanta have included De’Andre Hunter, AJ Griffin, and future draft pick compensation for Siakam. That exact deal, however, doesn’t work financially and would require Atlanta to add in a player making more than $6.5 million. Patty Mills, for example, would make it work and would likely have to be involved in any trade that sends Siakam to Atlanta.

The Pacers have a ton of intriguing young players and their full allotment of first-round picks plus one. They’d certainly have the ability to make a deal, it just comes down to their desire to do so. Keep in mind, they’ll have flexibility with plenty of cap space next summer to go after free agents should they opt to go that route instead.

Keegan Murray could be the swing piece in a deal with the Kings and it’s unclear if Sacramento would be willing to deal the 23-year-old sophomore. Without him, the Kings are a little light on tradeable first-round picks and valuable prospects to swing a deal.