Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 110-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
One — Nasty: This was a tough watch. Credit the Lakers for playing an exceptional game without Anthony Davis and LeBron James, but the Raptors just didn’t have anything. From the jump, it was clear that the Raptors were struggling with the Lakers’ size, and their fight wasn’t there to make up for the gap. At least there was a bit of extracurricular entertainment in the first quarter, but it’s best to just forget this game ever happened and to just move onto the rest of the week.
Two — Random: OG Anunoby got ejected in one of the strangest fights in NBA history. Anunoby was dragged down by Dennis Schroder, who was trying to tie him up on the fast break, and the two remained tangled even after the play was blown dead. Anunoby tucked his arm under Schroder’s leg, and in one effortless motion Anunoby flipped Schroder with the same care and ease as one would flip an egg without breaking the yolk. A crowd gathered and there was plenty of shoving, with Schroder trying to claw back while Anunoby offered a bemused expression as the referees ejected him upon review.
Three — Shorthanded: Anunoby’s ejection only made things more difficult for the Raptors, who had just nine healthy bodies coming into the game. The immediate impact was that Nick Nurse had to lean even deeper on his wing depth, and between Yuta Watanabe and Stanley Johnson, there is none to be found. The Raptors also badly needed a playmaker to unlock the Lakers defense, but Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet were sidelined. So all that was left was a rock fight from the Raptors, who scored purely off hustle and almost never through skill.
Four — Empty: This was one of the worst performances of the season from Pascal Siakam despite him finishing with 27 points which largely came in garbage time. Some of it was just the matchup, as the Lakers had the size to deny Siakam from getting to the rim where he is most effective. Some of it is a lack of skill, as Siakam continues to be mired in a season-long shooting slump and his misses are so erratic that the defense and his own teammates are ignoring him when he’s open. But the most telling part of his performance was his lack of explosiveness, which is a core component of what makes him effective. Siakam was getting pushed around by Wes Matthews and Markieff Morris, getting blocked by Marc Gasol and Kyle Kuzma, and it’s obvious that his conditioning isn’t anywhere close to where it needs to be.
Five — Concern: It’s one thing to struggle, it’s another thing to bottom out. Siakam can sometimes get into his own head when he misses a few shots, and his decision making gets all out of whack. He erratic defensively and it dragged the team down as a whole because you can’t plan around gambles. Siakam’s game isn’t at the point where he can take over when he wants to, but there needs to be a way where he can step back in prominence and while still being a positive contributor in other areas. His heart is in the right place but winning won’t always come on his terms, and there is as much honour in stepping back and sacrificing when things are going his way, as there is in continuing to force the issue until something breaks.
Six — Effort: The best player for the Raptors was DeAndre’ Bembry, which is as much an indictment on the team as it is a compliment to Bembry. He stepped up once again for the starting five, filing in around the gaps on both ends wherever he could with heads up plays. Bembry is a very useful glue guy who is a 3-point shot away from being a rotation player on a playoff team, and the Raptors were smart to attach a second year on his contract. The entire bench has been a letdown all season, but Bembry is a keeper. He makes smart plays, which is why the coaching staff keeps changing his role because they are comfortable in his ability to adapt.
Seven — Limits: This was a forgettable performance from Gary Trent Jr. after the high of his game winner. Trent Jr. was pressed into creating so much of the offense for the team in the first half, and he struggled with the Lakers’ physicality to generate enough separation to fire off clean looks. Shot creation isn’t his main skillset, but there is a huge chance for Trent Jr. to grow in that area especially with the Raptors suffering injuries in the backcourt. Trent Jr. has some good tools to work with between his midrange game and even a bit of a stepback three, but there is room for improvement on his driving and finishing at the basket. Time is on his side as the youngest player on the team, which is easy to forget since Trent Jr. already plays his role like a veteran.
Eight — Bullied: Malachi Flynn wasn’t able to impact the game as he did in the Raptors’ two wins against Washington and Golden State, and much of it came down to a lack of physicality. Alex Caruso was bigger and more aggressive in his approach to defense, which made even simple plays like dribble hand-offs difficult for Flynn to execute. Flynn is wiry and he’s tough, but he needs to find some way to improve his strength without sacrificing his quickness, because otherwise opponents will be able to muscle him off his preferred spots. VanVleet had similar issues as a rookie, but has eventually grown into a very strong player who can use it to his advantage on both ends.
Nine — Shuffle: Nurse is never one to accept a loss, so much so that he used his coach’s challenge in the final minute with the Lakers just trying to run out the clock on a sure win. Nurse also pulled out his usual catalogue of trick defenses, spanning from various zone coverages to pressing full court and aggressively trapping ball handlers like an underdog in March Madness. Nurse said the most effective look was the 3-2 zone, which hasn’t been used much by the Raptors this season. It was very much an on-the-fly decision, as Trent Jr. playing in the middle of the zone had to receive new instructions during every time out, but this has also been the theme of the season.
Ten — Smart: Marc Gasol was clearly excited to play against his former team, and 13 points for him feels like 30 points from anyone else. Gasol brings so many intangibles that have been missing this season, and for all the talk of him declining in the twilight of his career, his experience alone is truly invaluable. Small things like timing his help defense at the rim, making the extra pass at the top of the floor, spacing out as the center, finding the right angle to screen to get his teammate an advantage, these things have all been missing on the Raptors this season. The thought of Gasol becoming the third-string center for a fully healthy Lakers team is almost a cruel joke, as he would start without question for the Raptors.
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