One of the many facets of the Toronto Raptors that didn’t appear to make the trip down to Tampa with them was their ability to get things done in the clutch. Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse built a champion out of the Raptors, in part, because they were masterful when the chips were down and the game was on the line.
The Raptors lost more home games in Tampa last year than they did in the prior two seasons combined, and opponents playing in an empty arena without the raucous cacophony of Raptors fans going nuts in Scotiabank Arena certainly impacting Toronto’s play in the clutch.
The Raptors went from vaunted clutch performers that would lock down in the last few minutes to a team that couldn’t stop a nosebleed or hit a shot to save their lives last year.
Toronto had the second-worst net rating in the clutch (last five minutes, point differential is five points or less) in the NBA, and there was a cavernous drop-off between Toronto and the 28th-ranked Houston Rockets. Only the Detroit Pistons, owners of the worst record in the East, ranked lower.
It gets worse. The Raptors had the worst clutch rebounding rate in the entire NBA while coming in 28th place in efficient field goal% in these situations. Safe to say it’s clear where the Raptors were struggling to hammer home victories last year.
The Toronto Raptors must improve their clutch play.
We are some of Pascal Siakam’s biggest fans, but playing like he did when all eyes were on him and Toronto trusted him to take the big show is simply inadequate. As Sports Illustrated’s Aaron Rose exhibits, Siakam was the fifth-worst qualified clutch player in the league in terms of field goal percentage, making just 14 shots while turning it over seven times.
Perhaps an even more alarming name on that list is that of Fred VanVleet, who was dead last in the entire league. With Kyle Lowry potentially leaving in the offseason, the Raptors’ options at that spot could be limited to two of the five worst clutch performers in the game.
Despite that, Siakam made over half of his shots in similar situations for the Raptors in 2019-20. Between that encouraging number and Gary Trent Jr. proving himself by hitting a buzzer-beater against Washington, Toronto has their pick of two options they can lean on late in games.
The first handful of games next year will be pivotal, as we can see how much of Toronto’s struggles late were due to the circumstances and how much were due to plain old inefficient shooting.