The Toronto Raptors of old were a team known for two things: playing elite defence and taking care of business against bad teams. They weren’t always the most dominant team in the league. They rarely beat up on the best teams with any regularity, but they knew how to win the games they were supposed to win.
This year something has changed. They had hoped that even without Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka they could return to being “real-life defensive monsters,” as Kyle Lowry had said in the pre-season. But these Toronto Raptors, the 2020-21 Raptors are anything but. Instead, they’re the kind of team they haven’t been for years: a team that loses to bad teams, falling 126-124 to the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.
“I just think we weren’t really connected on defence,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “There were a lot of those gaping mistakes.”
The Raptors made it close Friday night. After three disastrous quarters, Toronto climbed out of an 18-point hole to cut the Kings’ lead to just one. It came thanks to a career day from Yuta Watanabe, who scored a career-best 12 points including seven in the fourth quarter, and an incredible 32-point performance from Pascal Siakam.
“He played great,” Nurse said of Watanabe. “He played about as good as he could, I think he was really battling on D, he was really battling on the glass, made a couple of kickout shots, made a tough shot-clock-winding-down drive to the basket which was good to see.”
But the Raptors were burned by their rebounding issues. Hassan Whiteside picked up a clutch rebound off his own miss, kicked the ball out to rookie Tyrese Haliburton for a 3-point and the Kings made the Raptors pay, draining the bucket to solidify the Kings lead.
“We can’t let that happen,” Siakam said of the team’s first-half struggles. “When you don’t do that in this league it’s really tough to come back and win. We did a good job coming back but, again, that lead was definitely a lot and we’ve gotta do better and come out like that.”
The Raptors are not normally a team that loses to bad teams. Over the past three seasons, they’re 78-4 against teams in the bottom 10 in plus/minus, according to Cleaning the Glass. Last season they went 23-1 against the league’s worst teams. With Friday’s loss, they’re now 2-5 against the league’s bottom dwellers, according to Cleaning the Glass.
When the Raptors were at their best they were getting defensive stops and getting out in transition. They were never a particularly good half-court team, but thanks to an elite defence they were able to make it all work. The problem this year is the defence hasn’t been able to make stops and now the house of cards has crumbled.
“I think we’ve got to get better at communicating, I think we switch defences a lot, coach throws things at us on the fly, and our communication just isn’t at the level that it should be,” Kyle Lowry said. “We just kind of, sometimes we don’t talk enough, we’re not loud enough, we’ve got to find ways to be more vocal.”
In the final seconds of the game, Lowry received his second technical of the night and was ejected.
“I definitely didn’t think it was warranted, I didn’t do anything,” Lowry said “It sucks at this point. I do a lot of complaining and things of that nature, but I think it’s getting the short end of the stick on that one.”
Raptors play shorthanded
OG Anunoby and Norman Powell both missed the game due to injuries. It was the second straight game without Anunoby who is battling a calf strain. Powell’s injury was a bit of a surprise. He was out due to a right quadriceps contusion injury. Both of them are considered day-to-day according to Nurse.
Up Next: Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic will make the short journey over to Tampa on Sunday for a 7 p.m. ET tip-off against the Raptors