Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 105-104 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
One — Giveaway: It’s becoming a trend for the Raptors to capitulate in the fourth quarter. This was a carbon copy of their losses to Oklahoma City and Portland, where the Raptors cruised along for three quarters, only to lose in narrow fashion at the end. San Antonio trailed by as many as 18, before launching a 27-4 run to reassert control. The Raptors made a comeback push but ultimately fell short.
Two — Rusty: Pascal Siakam returned after a three-week absence, and wasn’t at his best. Siakam came out of the gate like a house on fire, scoring 12 points in the first quarter as he effortlessly picked apart the Spurs’ defense, but was nowhere to be seen from thereon. Siakam was on a minutes limit and sat for extended stretches, which might have disrupted his flow, but it mostly comes down to rust. Siakam spun past DeMar DeRozan for a wide-open layup that would have tied the game in the final minutes, except he inexplicably missed the bunny forced the Raptors into fouling to stop the clock. A huge part of Siakam’s game is predicated on energy, and he just didn’t have any tonight.
Three — Weakness: There’s an open question as to how the Raptors will generate offense when the games get tight in crunch time. It’s not necessary as reductive as handing the ball over to your best player, but generally speaking, having a reliable closer is an incredible luxury. Just compare how the two sides got their points in crunch time. For the Spurs, the ball was in DeRozan’s hands each time and he would either drive to the rim and score, or he would pick out an open shooter. And for the Raptors? Siakam got a turn, Norman Powell got a few looks, Serge Ibaka made a “no, no, no, yes” type of three, and Kyle Lowry hit a bomb at the end, but that speaks in part to the Raptors lacking for a closer. The stats say differently — Toronto boasts a top-10 offense in crunch time — but the eye-test says that this is where they miss Kawhi Leonard the most.
Four — Confusing: Then again, the Raptors should have never been in a position to scrap it out in a close game if Nick Nurse made the right adjustments. Gregg Popovich had the Spurs play zone against Toronto’s bench, and that changed the momentum of the game. The Raptors couldn’t buy a basket and didn’t even have a coherent plan as to solving the zone, and all those misses turned into run-out situations for the Spurs. Having Marc Gasol back as a playmaker in the middle of the floor will solve things, as will the return of their most dependable shooter in Fred VanVleet, but even still Nurse had more than enough pieces to get it done, but instead he stuck with his bench and it cost him the game.
Five — Frustrating: The overuse of Pat McCaw continues to be a point of frustration. In all fairness to Nurse, VanVleet was unavailable and Terence Davis was miserable, which meant someone had to lead the offense in the absence of Lowry, but McCaw just clearly didn’t have it tonight. McCaw can be effective in certain lineups, but he’s absolutely a liability when teams zone and force him to shoot. McCaw wouldn’t even look at the rim for most of the night, and it’s no surprise that he finished as a minus-18 in 20 minutes. In Nurse’s own words, McCaw is a “specialist”, which inherently means that there’s a time and place for his deployment. This wasn’t it.
Six — Jumbled: The other task for Nurse and the coaching staff is to design a new rotation. Nurse gave extended run to a lineup with McCaw, Davis, Matt Thomas, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and one of Chris Boucher or Oshae Brissett, but that’s always going to be an uphill battle since there’s just no scoring talent whatsoever in that group. The best-case scenario is that they hold the lead by playing lockdown defense, but that clearly wasn’t the case in the fourth quarter. The third-stringers surrendered momentum to the Spurs in the fourth quarter, and the Raptors’ response came too late.
Seven — Bright: The positive from this game is that Norman Powell hasn’t missed a beat. Powell returned to the starting lineup and resumed his role as an efficient finisher. Powell was money on open threes, cut to the rim with purpose, and delivered 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting. It remains to be seen if Nurse will keep Powell in the starting five once VanVleet returns, but he’s making a case.
Eight — Hustle: Ibaka’s tireless effort was wasted in this loss. LaMarcus Aldridge has eaten Ibaka’s lunch in previous match-ups, but Ibaka was undoubtedly the better player tonight. Ibaka’s energy on the defensive glass was appreciated, and he was excellent on offense. Ibaka drained a clutch three from the top of the floor, and found Powell in the corner with an extra pass on the move for another triple.
Nine — Reunion: DeRozan finally got his revenge after getting punked in Scotiabank Arena by Lowry and Leonard in his first time back. DeRozan was unstoppable in the second half, and was particularly effective when guarded by his good friend Lowry. Unlike their last meeting in which DeRozan opted to post-up, he instead was able to attack off the dribble to great effect. As usual, his charge was aided with a few generous foul calls, but his efficiency is on another level at the moment. DeRozan had led the Spurs to road wins over Milwaukee, Boston, and now Toronto, while posting the best true-shooting percentage of his career.
Ten — Costly: A loss in January isn’t necessarily the biggest deal, but it’s still frustrating to lose these games. The Raptors have dropped three of their last four home games by a combined four points, and these results could be the difference between getting a bye in the first round as a two-seed, as compared to slugging it out with Philadelphia, Miami, Boston, or Indiana. Nevertheless, the Raptors should still be a good bet to secure home court as they have the third-easiest remaining schedule.
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