The Raptors’ season is teetering on disaster


TORONTO — Before Sunday night, Draymond Green had not hit three or more 3-pointers in a game since May 2021. Including the playoffs, that was a streak of 97 games.

In the Warriors’ 126-110 win over the Raptors, Green broke that run. It took three possessions.

Whether this is damning of the Raptors, losers of five in a row, is arguable. Letting the guy who wants to pass, above all else, shoot from deep isn’t a terrible plan. Raptors coach Nick Nurse said it was the plan to help off of Green. It’s hard not to chuckle at the result, though. Of course Green hit all three of his early looks.

That’s not to say the Raptors haven’t been active participants in their recent play. No team gets the ball to the second side less often than the Raptors. More worrying: The Raptors are presenting some of the most feeble on-ball defence in the league.

Plainly: The Raptors’ season is teetering on disaster.

“When it feels like everything is just not working out, it’s hard to have energy,” Pascal Siakam said. “But we have to find it. We have to find it.”

The Raptors’ vaunted identity is gone

To begin the second half, the Raptors started Malachi Flynn in Christian Koloko’s place. Yes, that’s the same Flynn who Nurse didn’t play through the depths of some of the worst perimeter shooting you’ll see in the modern NBA because he was a defensive liability.

Flynn has been fine over the past two games, but it was a concession to a reality everyone can see: The Raptors defence is broken. At least on Sunday, so was their spirit. In the absence of that, they might as well try to go all in on shooting and creation.

It didn’t work. Even without Stephen Curry, the Warriors used their superior ball movement and quick-decision offence to wreck the Raptors. Jordan Poole had a career-high 43 points, but aside from some impressive pull-up 3s, it wasn’t about an amazing individual performance. The Raptors just couldn’t hang with an experienced team with a precise game plan.

“They just kept moving faster than we were ready to move tonight,” Nurse said.

It’s not fair to say this team has given up. However, it is no longer piling up the fast-break points that carried it to start the season. The Raptors forced 17 Warriors turnovers and scored just five points on the run. They had 18 offensive rebounds to Golden State’s 12 but got outscored 23-18 in second-chance points.

The Raptors have three road games before Christmas, then home games against the Clippers, Grizzlies and Suns to end the calendar year. They’re 13-17, and a gimme win isn’t on the horizon. They are almost out of time to fix this.

Get this team a big man

For all the talk about how much more physical the Raptors were against Brooklyn on Friday, they still allowed the Nets to shoot 20-of-23 from inside the 3-point arc in the second half. They weren’t the 2004 Pistons or anything.

The fundamental idea of this team is that among Siakam, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and a few long players off the bench, the Raptors should be able to switch liberally and trap aggressively with the ability to recover to shooters. There have been injuries, but it’s just not happening.

The Raptors don’t contain dribble penetration nearly well enough to have a second-round rookie be their only true rim protector. Yes, Precious Achiuwa would make a difference in that area if he were healthy. He would not be the entire answer.

If the Raptors want to be competitive this year, getting a defensive paint presence is their biggest need. (If they don’t want to be competitive, that’s a bigger conversation.) Project 6-9 — throwing out lineups with countless 6-foot-8 swingmen and no true big man — makes sense, in theory. In practice, it’s not working with this group. Lamentably, the Raptors are in a terrible negotiating position.

Careless with the ball

The Raptors entered Sunday’s game with the lowest turnover percentage. It’s not something they talk about publicly often. They discuss forcing turnovers more than avoiding them, but to win the turnover battle, you obviously want to be careful with the ball.

Because of their isolation-heavy style, the Raptors don’t naturally cough it up much. A few more turnovers wouldn’t be the worst thing if it meant they were moving the ball a bit regularly. Under no circumstances can they abide by the thoughtless ones.

Barnes had two of them. The worst was the first, when he threw a pass to Chris Boucher, who had not come to a stop above the 3-point arc. That wasn’t an error in the name of trying to make a play. It was just sloppy.

The next one was more forgivable. Upon getting his own rebound, Barnes saw Fred VanVleet on the perimeter and tried to get the ball to him. He rushed it, and the pass was deflected and stolen. Barnes needed to show a bit more patience.

Everyone watching the Raptors struggle knows how small the margin of error is. They cannot live with these types of turnovers.

Leaning on stars

Before the game, Golden State coach Steve Kerr spoke about how he didn’t have the option of piling the minutes on his veterans when his young players are struggling. The injured Curry, Green and Klay Thompson are all older than 30. In Kerr’s words, he has to be “disciplined” with their minutes.

As we’ve discussed, that isn’t what the Raptors generally do. Nurse leans on his veterans hard. And with the Raptors going through a brutal first quarter, Siakam and VanVleet stayed out there. Siakam got pulled with 68 seconds left in the quarter, and VanVleet played the entire frame.

It is not as if the Raptors bench is overflowing with options. VanVleet and Siakam are also younger than the Warriors’ stars. Golden State also has the right to believe it has a cleaner path to an eventual playoff spot, given its history of winning. The regular season is more important to the Raptors than the Warriors.

Still, the approach is notably different. Nurse tried to make up for it by putting Siakam in for VanVleet to start the second quarter and later replacing Siakam with VanVleet, about midway through the quarter. With the game out of hand at the end, neither played more than 40 minutes on the front end of a back-to-back.

Injury watch

Gary Trent Jr. missed his second consecutive game after suffering an injury before Friday’s game in Brooklyn. Weirdly, Nurse said it was a thigh injury — or, thighs injury, plural. Trent is feeling soreness in both legs, and it did not improve over the weekend.

Positively, Nurse said he expects Anunoby to play at some point before Christmas, with the Raptors in Philadelphia, New York and Cleveland on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Nurse listed an illness, Anunoby’s hip and hand as being problems, but he’s rounding the corner.

Anunoby last played nine days ago in Orlando, with the hip injury cited as the biggest concern. He missed 13 games last season with a hip pointer. For the second straight game, Juancho Hernangomez started in the spot that would have gone to Anunoby or Trent had either been healthy.

(Photo of Malachi Flynn and Draymond Green: John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)


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