10 things: With no end in sight, Raptors’ losing skid hits five games

Here are 10 takeaways on the Toronto Raptors following their loss to the Golden State Warriors.

1. It was clear from the jump that the Raptors weren’t prepared to defend. The reigning champions were missing Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins, and yet they had the Raptors grasping at ghosts as the Warriors got open threes and layups all night long. All it took to unlock the defense were the simplest of actions like a dribble hand-off or an off-ball screen, and credit to Draymond Green and Jordan Poole for running a clinic in passing and movement. The Warriors finished with 31 assists and 18 threes made, while shooting 53 per cent and leading from start to finish. There was such a gulf in class between the two sides that you would would never have guessed these two franchises were on the same level three years ago.

2. Golden State managed to withstand injuries because they have a clear system. Even without their top two players in last year’s finals, Steve Kerr’s team still ran the same sets. Everyone cuts, everyone works in tandem, and everyone knows their role. It was never stagnant or predictable with a ball handler coming down, calling for a screener to saunter over, then go from there. It was always quick down the floor, feed the post, two players splitting off each other on one end, while a shooter came sprinting over to the ball on the other. There were options on each play, and they all trusted in the right pass. So, if the Raptors jumped out at the shooter, he would just throw the pocket pass knowing that the screener would roll, and that someone on the other end would dive to the rim with him for the extra pass or the offensive rebound. When there are clear roles for everyone to play, everyone becomes a threat, and even the biggest of absences can be masked.

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3. On the flip side, the talk from the Raptors was about who was missing. Nick Nurse said the team is showing “signs of duress” with half of his rotation injured, while Fred VanVleet opined that they’re “not built to have a ton of injuries” and there’s certainly some truth in it. The Raptors have yet to win without O.G. Anunoby, who was holding the defence together while also being their second leading scorer. Gary Trent Jr. goes hot and cold but had settled in nicely as a second unit scorer. Precious Achiuwa was great defensively last season, while Otto Porter Jr. can be a useful bench piece. But on a night like this, it’s fair to contrast the two systems and wonder why the Raptors were dysfunctional, while the Warriors hummed despite even bigger absences. What does it say about the Raptors’ system, or lack thereof, that they couldn’t compete?

4. The Raptors were built on defence but you would never know it based on their recent form. Toronto holds the third-worst defence in the league over their last nine games, which includes just two wins against the Magic and the Lakers — without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In those nine games, the Raptors have kept only the Magic to under 110 points, and this loss to Golden State is the third time an opponent finished with 126 points. The whole premise of this team is that they’re long, athletic, and able to guard multiple positions with one of the league’s most creative strategists at the dials. However, outside of being league leaders in turnovers forced, the Raptors aren’t very good at the actual business of forcing tough shots. They’re constantly having to compensate for having no rim protection inside which leaves the corners perpetually open, and they exacerbate this issue by pressing up too close which actually invites more drives. There are communication breakdowns on every other trip which is leading to the Raptors allowing the highest field goal percentage within eight feet of the basket dating back 25 years.

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5. Nurse is really searching for answers. Over a span of 10 games, Malachi Flynn played no more than six minutes and was a healthy scratch in another four, but is now suddenly closing out the Nets game, and then being inserted into the starting lineup for the second half against Golden State. The main hesitation with Flynn was that the Raptors didn’t want to play with two undersized guards, but Nurse used Flynn with VanVleet and Dalano Banton in a bizarre three-point guard alignment with Chris Boucher and Christian Koloko in the middle. It made no sense and it went nowhere. After a timeout, the Raptors went to this group and all they got was a contested jumper from Banton, who left it a foot short of the basket. To Flynn’s credit, he is at least providing a scoring spark, while also quietly being the best shooter on the team from three.

6. It would be more palatable to play two small guards if the Raptors had any dependable production whatsoever from the centre position. Christian Koloko is the only Raptors player to have appeared in all 30 games to date, which includes 17 starts. On one hand, it’s commendable that a rookie has managed to stay available so consistently, and he does set solid screens and shows full commitment to contesting shots. On the other, this was his 19th game with just one made basket or fewer, and he’s averaging six fouls per 36 minutes. The Raptors’ other options are veterans Thad Young or Khem Birch, who would probably both do better in the starting group, but they’re both weak spots defensively that opposing teams would try to attack. It’s the one glaring weakness that the Raptors have failed to address for three seasons and it bears repeating until it is solved.

7. If the Raptors ever get into a rhythm like they did to start the game, opponents always have the option of going to zone to shut off the tap. The Raptors are at their best when their overgrown wings are slashing towards the basket, but that option isn’t there against a zone defence, at which point the offence looks like this:

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8. Pascal Siakam got to his averages, but he’s not getting to his baskets the same way he was when he started the season. Siakam opened the campaign at the elbow, faced up against the defence, toying with his defender before driving or spinning into space for his jumper, or reading where the help was coming from before kicking it out. There was a calculation to his approach, where he drew the pressure to him on purpose so that he could counter it. Over the past week, Siakam’s touch from midrange hasn’t been there and his approach is starting to slip back into old habits. He’s back to trying off-balanced runners hoping for a foul, and the Warriors were able to load up at the rim and wall him off. It’s a credit to Siakam’s growth that he still finished with a team-high 27 points while being guarded by a Defensive Player of the Year in Draymond Green, but the process of how he’s getting to his results is noticeably different.

9. Chris Boucher’s activity and persistence on the offensive glass was excellent, but he can raise the rest of his game. Boucher has not made a three in four straight games despite good shot selection in only attempting open corner looks. He’s also leaving chances short around the rim, including one circus attempt where he tried to outmuscle his opponent under the hoop which rarely ever works in his favour. The Raptors badly need someone to provide them with scoring in the middle, and while Boucher isn’t a scorer in the traditional sense, he’s usually good to convert more chances than he has lately.

10. Solving the Raptors’ problems is starting to feel like whack-a-mole. The losing started with the Raptors giving up back-to-back 40-point first quarters. Then the issue was losing the third quarter, which doomed them against Boston, Sacramento, and Brooklyn. Then it was a lack of size and shooting in the two losses to Orlando. The problems were that Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet were underperforming but now that they’re back, suddenly Siakam is pedestrian. Trent Jr. was called out and moved to the bench, but he was promoted once Anunoby got hurt. Now that they’re both out, this means Junacho Hernangomez is suddenly starting and being asked to be a defensive stopper. Every day it’s a new issue with them, which is why it feels implausible that the Raptors could rattle off a win streak to balance out the losing.

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