One game that was extremely difficult to watch: The Rockets have been the source of two of the Warriors’ most disheartening performances this season (the other being the shameful surrender in San Antonio). Something about Houston’s switching defense has completely perplexed the Raptors, and if I were a member of an opposing team in the playoffs, I would look into how Houston approached this particular match-up. Toronto’s offensive tenacity and consistency were put to the test during this match, and they fell woefully short.
The Raptors were unable to overcome a two-goal deficit because their bench players were inadequate. They caused a 20-point deficit for the team in the first half, and then, after the starters put together an incredible defensive effort to take the lead in the third quarter, the bench players came back and made things even worse for the team. OG Anunoby and Marc Gasol both had minus 30 games, while Jeremy Lin (minus 22) and Norman Powell (minus 16) also had bad games. They were unable to execute even the most basic offensive sequences, and Houston capitalized on every error by ramming the ball down their throats.
Three – There is a need for clarity: When Gasol plays with the second unit, his role must be clearly defined. His ambition is to become a distributor, but he must first establish himself as a scoring threat. If he doesn’t, the rest of the game will be made up of dribble handoffs to Powell and Lin, who will then drive into traffic. When Nick Nurse comes off the bench, he must concentrate on Pau Gasol, the team’s primary scorer, and run actions in which Gasol is either in the post or playing pick-and-pop. It is completely unacceptable that Gasol only took five shots tonight.
Four – It has to get better: I want Jeremy Lin to succeed, and he’s clearly better than what he’s displaying right now, but there’s no denying that he needs to improve his performance. He has been playing as poorly as a 6-foot-2 Jared Sullinger crossed with DeMarre Carroll since suffering a foot injury. Oh my god. Lin is impersonating Bad Norm in tandem with the real Bad Norm, which is putting a significant strain on the second unit. Lin’s midrange pull-up is the only shot he can consistently make right now because he can’t get to the rim or shoot from beyond the arc. Lin would be dropped from the starting lineup if Toronto had any other viable options.
Five – Help is on the way: I’m not entirely convinced that Fred VanVleet is the savior, despite how much the second unit misses him. VanVleet’s shooting ability should complement Gasol’s passing ability, but he is not nearly as effective at creating offense off the dribble as Powell or Lin. Because there is no simple solution, another issue that must be addressed is how the Nurse will coordinate the shifts. Is VanVleet simply taking all of Lin’s minutes? Is Powell being punished once more? Or will Pat McCaw’s inexperience work against him and cause him to receive less playing time? Lin is likely to take the hit because the nurse appears to support McCaw’s defense and Powell makes a lot of money.
Kyle Lowry had an off night after scoring 30 points in his first game of the season, scoring eight points on an unflattering 4-of-16 shooting performance, but don’t be too concerned. The majority of Lowry’s shots were good, but they weren’t connecting for some reason. The fact that he was so erratic in his passing was the aspect of this performance that concerned me the most. The fact that Lowry had five turnovers in the first half only added insult to injury for the Raptors’ struggling bench unit. The Raptors, as usual, follow Lowry’s lead in everything they do.
Pascal is featured in Seven. Siakam should see more touches, especially when facing defenses that prefer to switch. Other than Kawhi Leonard, Siakam is the only player on the team capable of creating his own offense, and he torched James Harden in the post. Lowry simply does not have that aspect of his game anymore, and Gasol is also approaching the point where he will no longer have it. When Siakam is leading the second unit in a lineup, the go-to play should be Siakam attacking one-on-one.
Eighth – After a terrible first half of the game, Serge Ibaka turned in a dominant defensive performance in the third quarter. Ibaka put on a show that was reminiscent of when he was an elite defender for OKC, contesting every shot around the basket, snatching loose rebounds with authority, and generally putting on a strong defensive performance. The Thunder were able to limit the Rockets to just four points in the first six minutes of the third quarter thanks to Ibaka’s interior defense. Ibaka most likely lacks the stamina to play at his peak for extended periods of time, but it is encouraging to know that he can still go for more.
Nine – Additional assistance: I am aware that Houston has advantages that For Your Eyes Only does not, such as favorable weather and tax rates, but the Astros were given a portion of their rotation for free. Austin Rivers joined them after being bought out by his previous team and quickly became their scoring leader, surpassing both Lowry and Lin combined. Gerald Green is making the bare minimum for the second season in a row, but he nearly outscored Toronto’s bench players on his own (18 to 20). Kenneth Faried did not play in tonight’s game, but he recently destroyed the Toronto Raptors and is now making the league minimum after being waived by the Brooklyn Nets. Is it possible for Toronto to produce at that level with two roster spots still up for grabs? I have my doubts.
The Raptors’ next game is against the Pelicans, and online gambling site are currently offering favorable odds for a return on a Raptors pick.
The fact that the Raptors were able to keep James Harden from scoring was the most disappointing aspect of this loss. Danny Green sat on James Harden’s three-pointer and drove, and the Raptors’ bigs did a good job of timing their help at the rim, preventing Clint Capela from getting easy dump-offs or alley-oops. Harden didn’t get his usual bogus free throws, and instead spent the majority of the second half with four fouls, giving Toronto the benefit of a clean whistle. This provided Toronto with an advantage in the game. Harden eventually broke out late in the game, hitting difficult floaters and impossible stepbacks to seal the game; however, the Raptors squandered an opportunity.