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10 Things: This season’s Raptors can’t afford to take weaker teams lightly

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 127-121 loss to the Detroit Pistons.

One — The Raptors are not a good enough team to take any opponent lightly. This is a team that will only win by outworking the opponent, and it was very apparent which of the two teams was more focused. Even though the Pistons were playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road, they played with all-out effort from start to finish. It was as if the Raptors somehow thought they could suddenly turn on a switch in the fourth quarter and put the annoying Pistons to bed. Newsflash, the Raptors aren’t that far above the Pistons, so taking an arrogant approach wasn’t smart and it left them with yet another regrettable loss.

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Two — This was their worst defensive performance of the season. The Pistons had managed just 78 points on Friday, yet dropped 127 on the Raptors who at no point looked to have any of it under control. Detroit’s first basket was a layup by Isaiah Stewart, who managed to slip undetected behind the defence despite being the largest man out of 20,000 in Scotiabank Arena, and that was one of nine point-blank layups he got on the night. The Raptors didn’t fare much better against the Pistons’ wing scorers, who were all able to get downhill and pressure the paint and either get to the line, or kick out to shooters. There wasn’t one specific weakness to point to, only a general lack of communication and execution from the Raptors.

Three — The fourth quarter was a comedy of errors. The Raptors didn’t have a single possession in the first six minutes where they correctly executed their defence, making mistake after mistake while the Pistons took the lead by simply making the extra pass and knocking down the open shot. It was clear from how the Raptors moved that there was a lack of communication, as there were so many possessions where two players tagged the same cutter, and the end result was always three points for the Pistons. Nick Nurse didn’t help matters by trying out a zone defence, which only gave an easier way for the Pistons to get open from deep. And while the Raptors did finally have it under control for a short three-minute stretch, the Pistons had so much confidence by the end that their one-on-one scorers were able to take over and close out the win.

Four — Pascal Siakam was the main positive to come from this game. He was sharp from the start, knocking down elbow jumpers and making quick reads to find his teammates open, and it carried through to a 25-point, 13-rebound, 7-assist effort that resembled what he’ll bring after fully regaining his conditioning. Siakam got downhill and lived at the foul line, which was the only area he didn’t capitalize as he was only 5-for-9, but he was able to get into the paint and force the Pistons into sending extra defenders. That downhill element is the main piece that is missing from the Raptors’ offence, as Fred VanVleet is the only other player who consistently gets inside the paint. Hopefully, when both players are back, Nurse can ensure that at least one of the two is on the floor at all times so their offence doesn’t fall into prolonged lulls.

Five — It was encouraging to see Siakam’s confidence in the fourth quarter. Siakam scored 10 points in the final frame, going 3-for-3 from the floor including a pull-up three, an and-one finish driving downhill, a hustling putback, and he was fouled at the rim on another two drives. Siakam was dreadful in clutch scenarios last season, where he infamously missed a handful of looks at the final buzzer, and it dragged the team down as a whole because the Raptors didn’t have a specific player who they could turn to during important moments.

As of right now, the book is still out as to who gets the last shot, but it does appear that the Raptors have a few options. OG Anunoby was certainly trustworthy in the Sixers game, Fred VanVleet has a history of making big shots, but Siakam could also be in the mix since he’s pretty reliable at getting to his own shot. The deciding factor will be the consistency and trust he has in his jumper, which was sharp tonight.

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Six — The one unanswered question for the new starting five is who plays center. The Raptors have three like-sized options in Siakam, Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes, but they’re all wing defenders and one of them will have to sacrifice and learn how to play in the middle. Anunoby is probably the best option of the three at the moment since Siakam generally lacks physicality down low, while Barnes is still learning the nuances of how to be an effective help defender at the NBA level. But so far, they haven’t looked all that effective as a defensive trio, and if it doesn’t click in soon, Nurse will have to make a difficult concession by taking out one of his productive starters for a traditional big in the middle.

Seven — Goran Dragic was professional and ready when his time came. Dragic got the start in place of VanVleet, which might have come as a surprise since he was a healthy scratch for the last three weeks, but Nurse didn’t want to disrupt his rotations by elevating a bench guard and having to play new lineups in the second unit. Dragic was solid in his minutes, knocking down two threes, getting inside the paint to scramble the defence before kicking it out, and generally displaying the craftiness of an accomplished veteran. It’s satisfying to see him still able to set up the drive to his right, before crossing over and attacking with his preferred left hand. Dragic even showed good compete on a few occasions defensively, knocking the ball loose twice while in a mismatch against Jerami Grant in the post.

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Eight — Malachi Flynn’s short stint paled in comparison. Flynn got dusted on a drive by Killian Hayes, and he didn’t see the floor in the second half. Nurse has only trusted Flynn in very short stints, almost always as a counter for quicker second unit guards, and it’s a giant red flag that Flynn only got four minutes in a game where VanVleet sat out. Maybe another stint in the G-League would help, if only to get Flynn some playing time. Dalano Banton went down to Mississauga for a game, and he’s been in the rotation all season.

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Nine — Chris Boucher’s redemption was short-lived. First, he may miss some time after biting hard on a pump fake at the rim and flipping over Stewart before landing hard on his back. Boucher was able to return to the game, but went to the locker room at the start of the fourth quarter and did not return. He was also back to making the same errors that characterized his game before the brief breakout against Philadelphia. Boucher chucked an ugly airball three in the third quarter, then followed up by fouling the jump shooter on a three on the very next possession. Consistency is just not something he is capable of.

Ten — The curse of Dwane Casey lives on. The Raptors have been swept in the season series in two of the three seasons since they fired Casey in his Coach of the Year campaign in 2018, and Casey continued his torment tonight. After the game, Stewart admitted that the Pistons are especially motivated to play the Raptors because of what it means to their coach, which is a trend dating back to Casey’s first return back to Toronto where he jumped onto the floor to celebrate at the final buzzer.



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