Raptors struggle through off night in Game 2 loss to 76ers

Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 35 points but Jimmy Butler and the 76ers were too much to handle, winning 94-89 to even their series at 1-1.

TORONTO — Late in the first half Monday, as the Toronto Raptors were in the midst of two full minutes in which they were stuck at 26 — twenty-six! — points during an NBA basketball game in the year 2019, Kyle Lowry got switched onto Greg Monroe at the top of the arc. Lowry’s a deceptive point guard. Monroe’s a lumbering centre. They call that a mismatch.

It was such an obvious, glaring, exploitable one at that, that all four other Raptors on the floor slowly crept toward the perimeter in order to give Lowry as much space as possible with which to work. Lowry took a step back, pulling Monroe out beyond the three-point line, and then took off, speeding to his left as the Philadelphia 76ers centre churned his enormous legs as quickly as he could to keep up.

Help never came. The Raptors had exactly what they wanted. Lowry drove and stuttered just inside the paint, forcing the ball up from beneath Monroe’s long frame, appearing to catch a left arm as he sent the ball skyward. You could hear Lowry’s yell from the last row of seats. You could see Monroe exaggeratedly bend backwards at the waist with his arms up from that far, too. All that mattered was how it looked to the officials watching in real time at court level. No call.

The ball came down in the hands of Ben Simmons and off the 76ers went, racing in the opposite direction. Sprinting up the heart of the floor, Monroe took a trail pass from Simmons and quickly threw it over to James Ennis III, who’s been lost in transition beyond the arc. Ennis rose up and drilled a three, part of a 13-point night that outscored Toronto’s entire bench nearly three times over. Incensed, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse called a timeout, berated the officials and earned a technical foul in the process.

That’s the kind of night it was for the Raptors, who couldn’t get a rhythm, couldn’t get makeable shots to fall and simply couldn’t get going Monday in dropping Game 2 of their second-round series with the 76ers 94-89.

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That final score alone is relatively shocking in this fast-paced, high-scoring era. The Raptors didn’t score a 30th point until there were fewer than three minutes remaining in the second quarter. And Toronto finished the first half with only 38. Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam combined for 34 in Game 1’s first quarter alone.

“Didn’t start out very good with flow and rhythm,” Nurse said afterwards. “I thought we were a little stand-around-ish and a little trying to play mismatches more than just continuing to play and let things come to us a little bit.

“We shot a really low percentage, I thought we had a lot of really good looks on top of that as well. I’ve got to look at the tape but that’s what it felt like in the game.”

That’s what it looked like, too. What it was. It’s never quite as simple as just making more shots, but on a night when Philadelphia went 40 per cent (30-of-76) from the field and 29 per cent (10-of-35) from three, the Raptors really ought to have made more shots.

Lowry and Marc Gasol each bricked multiple makeable threes. Serge Ibaka had no touch in the paint. And Siakam, who deserves a mile of rope for the playoffs he’s had thus far, couldn’t hit anything that wasn’t right at the rim. Look at his shot chart:

Siakam shot chart

Not what you want. And not what the basketball world has come to expect from Siakam, who had his first off night in essentially the last four weeks. What happened?

“I think I missed a lot of shots. Shots that I usually make,” Siakam said, plainly. “Shots that I would take again. Shots that I would take 100 times.”

The problem, according to both the eye test and Siakam himself, was that he was rushing. It’s hard for him not to. He’s gifted with one of the best motors in basketball, one of the most elite energy levels in the game. Everything he does is right on the edge of control, and it’s hard to argue with the results that style of play has produced this season.

But Monday, with Philadelphia opting to throw Joel Embiid at Siakam early in the game, it looked so much harder for Siakam than it normally does. Maybe Embiid’s length bothered him. Maybe Siakam wasn’t able to get as close to the rim as he needed. Maybe he couldn’t see the basket well enough. Or maybe those little five-foot pull-ups he feasted on all season merely drop more often on any other given night.

“I like that shot. That’s a shot I’ve got to make. I’ve got to make that,” Siakam said. “That’s on me, mostly. And just not rushing early in the game. I felt like I did a little bit. But that’s just part of growing and part of learning. That’s what makes the game so fun. You can play so well one day, and then, the next day, it gets tough.”


And so often this season, when it got tough, when Toronto’s struggled to score like they were Monday, Danny Green was the safety valve. One of the NBA’s most reliable three-point shooters, he was as close to automatic as it gets when presented an open look from distance. Perhaps you sense where we’re going here.

Even Green was missing Monday, going a little too heavy or a little too light on good looks from the corners, and a criminally wide-open one at the end of a broken play with 10 seconds remaining that would have tied it.

“You give him that shot another 100 times and I’m sure he’s going to make more than he misses,” Siakam said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight as a team, as a group. We’ve got to be able to bounce back.”

Like Siakam, Green deserves leeway to have an off night. He’s bailed the Raptors out so many times before. And you can still win a game when things like that happen. You can overcome one or two players going cold for a night. But like Siakam said, you’re pretty cooked when the funk is team-wide.

The belief for the Raptors has to be that it was just that — a funky night. One when Lowry couldn’t exploit a massive mismatch, when Monroe was running out and making smooth passes in transition, when Siakam and Green couldn’t convert the looks they normally do. Just a strange, low-scoring game that the Raptors never got into. That the Raptors likely had coming as they pursue something greater.

“Adversity’s always good, man,” Siakam said. “We won Game 1. But, at the same time, we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy series. That’s why it’s a series. Teams make adjustments. Teams come back. They work on things. We knew it was going to be hard. So, yeah, that was a good punch for us. We’ve just got to be ready to bounce back.”

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