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10 things: Raptors throw away winnable game in frustrating loss to Celtics

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 104-88 loss to the Boston Celtics.

One — That was the most frustrating loss of the year. The Celtics played better than they did in their first matchup, mostly because it was almost impossible to be that bad again, but this was very much a winnable game that the Raptors just threw away.

It’s one thing to lose games that are hard-fought like their bitter defeat by the Cavaliers, or to just be ice-cold from the field like the home opener loss to the Wizards, but this was not that. This loss was a product of the Raptors not giving enough effort while also not playing smart. The amount of easy chances the Raptors squandered was embarrassing, and they engineered their own demise.

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Two — The most important stat for the Raptors is the possession battle. Over their five-game win streak, the Raptors consistently won the offensive rebounding battle while forcing more turnovers from their opponent. On Wednesday, they failed miserably on both accounts, as the Celtics doubled the Raptors on the offensive glass which led to a 21-8 advantage in second-chance points, while the Raptors also turned it over 18 times which led to 21 points in transition.

Overall, the Celtics attempted 17 more field goals than the Raptors, which was the entire difference in this game. The Raptors need to get back to outworking teams because they’re simply not skilled enough to win any other way.

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Three — The Raptors continue to squander simple transition opportunities. There was a sequence in the second half where Precious Achiuwa stole the ball up top, and all he needed to do was advance it to Svi Mykhailiuk who was streaking ahead for a guaranteed basket. But instead of making the simple play Achiuwa decided to take two extra dribbles which allowed Josh Richardson the opportunity to strip him. A few plays later, the Raptors had a three-on-one with Mykhailiuk running the break while Achiuwa was the obvious pass already waiting at the basket, but one missed pass leads to another and the Raptors missed another opportunity to cash in.

It’s baffling that a professional basketball team routinely fails to execute one of the fundamental plays of the sport. Part of the issue is that the Raptors allow everyone to bring the ball up, and some bigs aren’t as efficient with the ball as a point guard would be, but that can’t be a crutch. Everyone at this level should know how to play with numbers in transition. In all fairness to Achiuwa, he threw two nice lob passes that did end up in layups, so he clearly can make these plays.

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Four — The most frustrating stretch of the entire game was Chris Boucher‘s 88-second cameo at the end of the third quarter. In just that short spell, he managed to airball a three, commit a double dribble under very little pressure and leave his feet on a pair of closeouts that both ended up being shot fakes. The second one was so egregious that it eludes rational explanation because Boucher sprinted half the length of the floor before leaping out at Richardson who was at halfcourt while there was still five seconds left on the clock, and that mistake promptly gave Richarson a wide open lane to drive in for a layup at the buzzer.

Needless to say, Boucher was benched for the fourth quarter until the benches cleared.

These are not mistakes due to injuries, or any product of bad luck, they’re simply mistakes in the reading of the game from a player who should be experienced enough to act better, only he doesn’t. Boucher is hardly the biggest problem on this team, but his problems are the obvious types of errors that really stand out.

Five — Pascal Siakam is clearly still reintegrating himself back into the game. It’s awkward from both ends, both from Siakam to his teammates and in how they’re adjusting to him. Siakam got himself caught in the air twice looking for the kickout pass where nobody cut to get open for him. Similarly, Siakam had two sequences where he first tried to get into his spot then gave it up hoping to receive the feed right back, except Gary Trent Jr. hesitated with half a mind to swing it elsewhere instead of going back to Siakam.

It’s going to take time for Siakam to get his touch back, but also it will be an even bigger process for his teammates to learn how to play with him. These are things that will be corrected through experience.

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Six — Khem Birch‘s absence is obvious. His physicality would have come in handy against Robert Williams, while the Raptors could have also used his presence on the offensive glass. Truthfully, Birch wouldn’t be relied on that heavily on other teams, except the Raptors have such a weakness in the frontcourt that the presence of Birch can very well represent the difference between winning and losing.

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It would really help if the Raptors reinforced the center position, but this is a position they have largely shunned since the championship. Look no further than their starting lineup, which does not feature a center by design. The advantage of that look is that the Raptors can switch almost every action and they have length elsewhere, but it was a massive problem against Williams, and will likely burn them again in their matchup against Andre Drummond.

Seven — Scottie Barnes continues to have his way in the paint. It’s truly impressive to see him operate down low, because even if he’s caught out a step too far, or if he’s not fully balanced, Barnes still manages to get up a good look either by stretching his way there or by muscling his defender out of the way. Barnes continues to play within the flow of the offence for the most part, but recognized in the third quarter that he needed to impose himself on the game, and he confidently waved his teammates out of the way to create space for himself to back his man down.

Barnes didn’t score on that play, but he kicked it out right before a second defender converged which led to an open three. Barnes should look to do that more often, especially in the first quarter where he is more passive as compared to later in games.

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Eight — Barnes does have a few lapses defensively. The Raptors initially had Barnes assigned to Williams, but Williams popped free often with putbacks and the occasional lob play where he separated from Barnes to make plays at the rim. It was better in the second half when OG Anunoby took the center position, as Williams was much less effective since Anunoby is more experienced and better at playing the gaps.

Barnes will get there eventually, though, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Anunoby to tackle centers should the Raptors stay with their centerless starting lineup. Barnes is very good as an on-ball defender, but asking him to defend pick-and-roll sequences means asking him to be in perfect position on most trips down, and you’ll find a much higher success rate with Anunoby.

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Nine — Nick Nurse is working with limited options with his underperforming second unit, but some changes are clear as day. First off, pairing Boucher and Achiuwa together is just asking for trouble, as both frontcourt players are unpredictable in their decision making. Second, it made little sense for Nurse to turn towards a tiny backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn when the whole idea of the Raptors is to play big and to be impervious to mismatches. Nurse used both looks in short doses, but on both accounts he was burned.

Ten — Nurse should also look to play through the post more often. It’s hardly the most efficient play in terms of points per possession, but post-ups allow for a different angle in which to set up the attack. The Raptors also have three good choices to play through between Anunoby, Barnes, and Siakam. All three players can score one-on-one due to their length and strength, while they are also willing playmakers who can feed the perimeter or hit the cutter around the rim.

The only thing is that the Raptors need to do a better job of spacing the floor around them because it was too easy at times for the Celtics to swarm the post while nobody on the Raptors was moving to create the outlet.

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2023 USFL schedule: Best early games, title odds and more!

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What are the best games in the early part of the USFL season? Who is favored to win it all? We break it down.



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NBA Trade Targets: 6 potential destinations for Raptors’ Anunoby

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O.G. Anunoby is a defensive ace, one of the most talented 3-and-D players in the NBA and a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate. So, the prospect of trading a player with that all-around skillset is a tough proposition.

But as Thursday’s NBA trade deadline draws closer, Anunoby is a player that will draw interest from several teams on the market as he has the tools that can fit into any scheme. Recent reports have linked him to several potential candidates.

With that kind of demand, the asking price and potential return will likely be the highest of the three big names being floated around in Toronto Raptors trade rumours: Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. Making Anunoby an even more attractive trade chip, the defensive wing has one more year of control on his contract and a player option worth $19.9 million (likely to be declined) for the 2024-2025 season.

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On the floor, Anunoby hasn’t been lights out offensively this season, averaging 16.9 points on 45.7 per cent from the field and 36.6 per cent from long range. But he is the defender often tasked with trying to shut down the opposing team’s No. 1 option, so going all out on both ends is a lot to take on. Currently, he leads the league in steals at 2.1 per game and is averaging a career-high 0.8 blocks. And he’s currently hitting corner 3’s at a 46 per cent clip and is 39 per cent on catch-and-shoot looks from beyond the arc.

Should he be traded, Anunoby is not going to be a first or second option on offence for a championship contender, but he can be a final piece as a role player that makes a defensive impact and contributes some offence when called upon.  

Here are six teams that could potentially swing a deal for Anunoby and what they would have to include to get it done.

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NEW YORK KNICKS

Adding Jalen Brunson in the summer, despite calls of it being an overpay, has been key to the success of the Knicks so far this year. Forward Julius Randle has seen marked improvements, bumping his averages from 20.1 points and 9.9 rebounds on .411/.308/.756 shooting splits to 24.7 points and 10.8 rebounds on .457/.341/.749 splits — good enough to earn him all-star honours. This season, he has 15 30-plus point scoring performances compared to the 14 he had over the course of last season.

Under coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks have been a solid defensive team but have regressed in recent years, finishing first in points-per-game allowed in the 2020-2021 season, sixth in the 2021-2022 season, and currently sitting 10th this year. Despite being in the top-third of the league, the Knicks will want to improve on those defensive numbers.

Shams Charania of The Athletic reported interest from the Knicks in Anunoby, a player that could absolutely bump that rating to where it was in years past and be the true No. 1 defensive stopper that Thibodeau needs. Moreover, Anunoby would become the best corner 3-point shooter on the team, eclipsing Quentin Grimes’ 44.3 per cent, and the second-best catch-and-shoot option behind Brunson’s 43.0 per cent hit rate.

Potential player targets: It’s been speculated that any Anunoby deal with the Knicks is unlikely to get done unless the return package centres around either young guard Immanuel Quickley (two years, $2.7 million) or Canadian wing RJ Barrett (one year, $10.9 million + an extension that kicks in next season at four years, $26.7 million). However, the Knicks are unlikely to part with Barrett in this deal. Instead, the Raptors could look at a combination of forward Obi Toppin (two years, $5.5 million), big man Isaiah Hartenstein (two years, $8.0 million), and maybe Quickley.

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Draft assets: The more attractive part of this proposition is the potential haul of picks that Toronto could get from New York in return, with the Knicks having all of their own picks from now until 2030, as well as the first-round picks from the Mavericks (top-10 protected), Pistons (top-18 protected) and Wizards (top-14 protected) in the 2023 NBA Draft. The two latter picks are likely to transfer to next year’s draft, as the Pistons and Wizards seem to be entrenched in the lottery.

Regardless, the Knicks have a ton of draft capital, whether it be their own or from other bottom-feeding teams, and the allure of holding onto future selections from routinely lottery-bound franchises is an alluring proposition. Charania reported that the Knicks have “shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby.”

PHOENIX SUNS

The other team mentioned by Charania as having interest in Anunoby is the Suns, and considering how disappointing their season has been until now, it’s not surprising that they’d be in the sweepstakes.

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After making the NBA Finals two seasons ago, they crashed out in seven games against the Dallas Mavericks in Round 2 last year and have been a hot bed for drama since. They’re currently the seventh seed, sporting a 27-26 record in a crowded middle-ground out West. Since superstar guard Devin Booker went out with a groin injury on Dec. 25, they’re 10-11 and rank dead last in the NBA in points-per-game.

Booker is scheduled to return as early as Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets, and the team is 18-11 when he plays. He could come back just in time for the Suns to make a run at the trade deadline and use that momentum to climb the standings in the West.

Anunoby would be an interesting fit in Phoenix, playing alongside another great wing defender in Mikal Bridges. The two could form one of the most dynamic and versatile defensive tandems in the league, jumping passing lanes with their length in zone defence, or keeping the top-two opposing offensive options at bay in man-to-man defence.

Potential player targets: The Suns don’t have a lot of players that would draw much interest from the Raptors, as most are either too old, not good enough, or deemed untouchable. On the more optimistic side, the hope would be a return package that included one of Deandre Ayton (four years, $33 million) or Bridges (four years, $22.7 million). However, Ayton still has a no-trade clause that he could exercise if he doesn’t want to come to Toronto and Bridges remains a valuable piece in Phoenix.

Instead, if this deal were to be made, the package would likely centre around wing Cameron Johnson (one year, $5.8 million) and cap filler in the form of Jae Crowder (one year, $10 million) or Dario Saric (one year, $9.2 million), both of which would likely be sent to another team or bought out.

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Draft assets: The more appealing part of a potential deal with the Suns is that they, unlike most other contenders, still hold onto all their draft picks between now and 2030, and they could choose to go all-in this year while Chris Paul is still a positive player.

Even better for the Raptors, with the Suns already struggling, who knows where they could be in three-to-five years when those eventual first-round picks begin to pay off. If the Suns continue to fade even further as guys age out or become unsettled, those picks could be incredibly valuable come 2025 or 2027.

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INDIANA PACERS

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The Pacers have been one of the surprises of the season. Despite winning only two of their last 14 games, they’ve shown a willingness to contend for at least a playoff spot this year. Extending Myles Turner is emblematic of that mentality.

Turner has been a name perennially floating in trade rumours, with even the Raptors being named as a potential destination. That won’t be the case anymore, as his place in Indiana is set in stone and the franchise clearly considering him part of the core.

Though they’ve taken a clear leap this year around Turner, first-time all-star Tyrese Haliburton and Canadian rookie Bennedict Mathurin, the team is still lacking on the defensive side, giving up the sixth most points-per-game this season. Bringing in Anunoby would go a long way in addressing those issues.

Indiana’s other Canadian rookie Andrew Nembhard has been a great depth addition on the defensive end with his ability to guard 1-3. However, Anunoby takes it a step further, as he’s able to take on anyone that two-time block-leader Turner isn’t taking care of in the paint.

The Pacers are also projected to have enough cap space next season to re-sign Anunoby and etch him in as a part of the core moving forward. A line-up of Haliburton, Mathurin, Anunoby, Aaron Nesmith and Turner is small but quick and versatile, with Haliburton leading the charge on offence and Anunoby carrying the load on defence.

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Potential player targets: Now that Turner is off the table, the Raptors would have to shift their attention to the depth pieces that the Pacers possess. As far as the younger players go, Mathurin (four years, $7.4 million) is also likely off limits, so if Indiana intends on getting an Anunoby deal done, they’d probably have to include Nembhard (four years, $2.1 million).

To make the deal financially viable, big-man Daniel Theis (three years, $8.9 million) would likely have to be included. And to make up the rest of the cost, the Pacers could throw in 22-year-old stretch-four Jalen Smith (three years, $5.0 million) and 25-year-old Canadian wing Chris Duarte (three years, $4.4 million) alongside the aforementioned Nembhard.

Draft assets: The Pacers, like most teams that were thought to be tanking this season, already possess a bevy of future picks at their disposal, including all their first-rounders from now until 2030. They also control Cleveland and Boston’s picks in this upcoming draft, and though those are projected to be picks in the mid-to-late 20s, they possess value in what should be a pretty stacked draft class.

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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

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Currently sitting at 25-28 as the 12th seed in the West, the Thunder have had a surprising season, surpassing expectations for a team that most had already written-off (especially after theseason-ending injury to rookie Chet Holmgren). Though they’re not in a position to contend right now, their young core takes shape more and more each day.

Canadian first-time all-star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a revelation and is finally getting his well-deserved flowers, Josh Giddey has taken an under-appreciated step in his sophomore season, bumping his shooting splits from .419/.263/.709 to .485/.326/.778, and rookie Jalen Williams has been a Swiss Army knife, doing everything and doing it efficiently.

Pairing Anunoby with defensive stalwart (and famed James Harden stopper) Luguentz Dort on the wing would be a match made in heaven. Additionally, SGA has been a stud on that end as the only guard in the top-25 in blocks-per-game this season with 1.1 a night. He has also averaged 1.7 steals, good for eighth across the league.

The Thunder are the youngest team in the league with an average age of 22.6. Adding Anunoby, a championship-winning player who has been on his fair share of playoff runs, to a roster this young and inexperienced would signal a change for the Thunder. It would mean that all those years of tanking are finally coming to an end, and that it’s time to cash in on the surplus of youth and draft capital.

Potential player targets: Let’s make this clear off the top: Toronto is not getting SGA. No amount of Photoshopped jersey swaps can change that for the time being.

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Instead, the Raptors could ask for a combination of OKC’s young talent. That could include 19-year-old Ousmane Dieng (four years, $5.2 million), 22-year-old Darius Bazley (one year, $4.2 million) and 21-year-old Tre Mann (three years, $3.5 million). Then maybe add 31-year-old Mike Muscala (two years, $3.5 million) as cap filler and that could get the deal done. Or, if the Raptors want to target a more valuable piece in return, they could ask for Canadian Dort (five years, $16.5 million) and Dieng as a package.

Draft assets: The more intriguing element to a potential deal with the Thunder is the draft capital that could come back to Toronto. Thunder general manager Sam Presti has been stockpiling draft picks for years, collecting them in trades that sent stars like Paul George and Russell Westbrook out of town. As it currently stands, the Thunder have 31 picks between now and 2030, with 16 of those being first-round selections (with minimal protections).

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MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES AND NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

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Recently, oddsmakers have pegged both the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans as not only possible, but highly likely destinations for Anunoby. Both teams see themselves as contenders, with the Grizzlies sitting in second place in the West at 32-21 and the Pelicans (despite recently going through a 10-game losing streak) have looked every bit like a contender at points this season when superstar Zion Williamson is healthy.

Both squads are rivals in the Southwest Division, and reports have suggested that neither team wants the other to acquire Anunoby’s services, for obvious reasons.

Both teams also have the assets to get a deal done, with neither team having sacrificed much draft capital to get where they are now.

Here’s how a potential deal with the Grizzlies could look:

Memphis acquires: Anunoby (two years, $18.0 million)

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Toronto acquires: Dillon Brooks (one year, $11.4 million), Xavier Tillman (one year, $1.7 million + team option next season), Ziaire Williams (two years, $4.7 million + team option in 2024-2025), 2023 first-round pick, 2024 first-round pick (via Golden State), and a 2025 pick swap

Here’s how a potential deal with the Pelicans could look:

New Orleans acquires: Anunoby (two years, $18.0 million)

Toronto acquires: Dyson Daniels (two years, $5.6 million + team options in 2024-2025 and 2025-2026), Jaxson Hayes (one year, $6.8 million), Garrett Temple (two years, $5.3 million), 2023 first-round pick, 2024 first-round pick (via Milwaukee), 2025 first-round pick.

Should the Raptors decide to cash in on one of their most valuable assets in Anunoby at the NBA trade deadline, there will be no shortage of suitors lining up to make a deal.

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