10 things: Raptors limit Curry, but rest of Warriors catch fire

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, left, shoots against Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 119-104 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night.

1. The Raptors got their doors blown off at the start of the game and that sealed their fate. The Raptors trailed 30-11 after the first nine minutes, and while they did eventually get a foothold in the game and launch a series of small charges, the Warriors had an answer each time. There’s no shame in losing as they did to a Warriors side that is playing like the best team in the league, and the only real thing to take away are the honest truths that are revealed when facing the toughest of opponents. The Raptors played well for some stretches, but have some real weaknesses that are holding them back from being a playoff team.

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2. The Warriors picked the Raptors’ defence apart with their movement. Nick Nurse’s strategy was to neutralize Stephen Curry as much as possible, and to contain the rest of the team by rotating on time, but ultimately living with the looks that the supporting players got. The Warriors know this routine well, so they are rehearsed in their movements and passing, and they burned the Raptors with 22 threes, which tied the record for how many Toronto has allowed in franchise history, and only one of those was by Curry. Many of the looks were open in the corners, where Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, and Otto Porter Jr. combined for the majority of their 19 triples, but it was also a case of blistering shooting. Coming into the game, Wiggins and Poole were both under 40 per cent on open threes, and on Sunday they couldn’t miss. You have to tip your cap to a performance like that, because they called the Raptors’ bet on letting someone other than Curry beat them.

3. Fred VanVleet’s defense against Curry was incredible. The Raptors are the first team to use a box-and-one scheme on Curry, but they are hardly the only team that uses that strategy now, nor are they alone in sending extra defenders at him, yet Curry still goes for 40 points once per week. So for him to shoot 2-for-10 for just 12 points in 37 minutes is a massive achievement for VanVleet. This isn’t an aberration, as VanVleet held Curry to 2-for-16 shooting with five turnovers in their last meeting, and VanVleet was also instrumental in the Raptors’ championship win over the Warriors in 2019. The amount of focus, smarts, and endurance required to stick with Curry all night is truly impressive.

4. The Raptors missed too many chances in the paint where they shot 17-for-48. You can’t fault the Raptors on their industriousness, where they won the possession battle with an 18-8 edge in offensive rebounds and winning turnovers 16-10 which contributed to them attempting 20 more shots than the Warriors, but they failed to capitalize on those extra looks. Part of it was the Warriors playing stellar defence, where Draymond Green was able to roam as a free safety since the Raptors started two non-shooters in Scottie Barnes and Khem Birch, but Toronto also was missing point-blank looks. Pascal Siakam and Barnes were the two main culprits, and they were also wasteful from the foul line as they combined to miss seven foul shots which could have changed the complexion of the game.

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5. This game revealed many of Barnes’ limitations on the defensive end. He is pretty capable as a one-on-one defender, but he very much looks like a rookie when he is put in help scenarios, and all the Warriors do is make you read and react on defence with how they screen and pass. Barnes was a step late on many sequences in the first quarter as the Warriors raced out to an early lead, being slow to close out on Poole in the corner while getting caught overplaying Green on an inbound pass that allowed him to race ahead for an odd-numbered rush that ended in a Wiggins triple. Then in the the third quarter, Barnes allowed back-to-back blow-bys to Poole and Green, who both got to the rim for a layup and two free throws, and finally Wiggins put Barnes on his butt with a hard drive to the hoop.

6. It didn’t help that Barnes also had a tough night offensively. He picked up his second foul early in the first quarter after Green sold the contact for a charge, and Barnes seemed to be hesitant from that point onward. Whether it was just a case of being concerned about picking up more fouls, or just a general case of being indecisive, it was clear that Barnes was uncomfortable. That being said, he did knock down two threes, which is what Nurse had been calling for, and he got to the line seven times so it wasn’t as if he checked out of the game altogether. One thing to note is his finishing, which has been off in the last two games. Perhaps his thumb is affecting him more than the team is letting on? His touch isn’t quite there as it was to start the year.

7. Precious Achiuwa had one of his best games by playing within his role. He didn’t try anything he wasn’t capable of, which had been his issue earlier this season, but Achiuwa’s decision making has been very solid since returning from injury. Achiuwa ran the floor hard and made himself available in transition, he scored in the post, hunted down offensive rebounds, and knocked down an open three when he got the chance. He was also sharp on defence and his mobility earned him the majority of the time at centre, which had been going to Birch of late. Since returning, there hasn’t been many instances of Achiuwa overdribbling, whether that’s bringing the ball up or trying to set up his move in the halfcourt, and that’s a very promising sign. The more he stays within himself, the more effective he will be.

8. The second unit as a whole has looked stronger with Achiuwa back. The synergy between Achiuwa and Dalano Banton was on full display with the Canadian feeding him for two dunks cutting to the basket, while Svi Myhailiuk also set up Achiuwa off two drives which led to a layup and a corner three. Nurse even went with an all-bench lineup to start the fourth, which was short-lived as VanVleet checked in after three minutes, but it’s also a sharp diversion from earlier in the road trip when the coach ran with a six-man rotation with only Birch off the bench. Achiuwa gives them more stability on defence, more of a physical presence on both ends, and a finisher in transition.

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9. More help is on the way as OG Anunoby and Yuta Watanabe were both listed as questionable before being ruled out. Nurse initially intimated that Anunoby would be out “for a while” with a hip pointer, which usually sidelines players for weeks, but he seems to be closer than expected. Watanabe had suffered a setback in his return from a calf injury, but he also posted on Instagram that he is finally close to making his debut. Having both players available gives Nurse two more two-way players who fit the Raptors’ positionless identity, and once again Nurse will have to redraw his rotations. It’s a good problem to have.

10. The two biggest questions are the starting lineup and the centre position. They are connected, as Nurse has opted to go without a centre with the starters when all thee of Anunoby, Siakam, and Barnes are healthy, but that would leave an awkward fit since Birch and Achiuwa cannot both play together off the bench. A case could be made that one of the centre should start (probably Birch) but who do you take out? Gary Trent Jr. struggled in this game but he has been a bright spot all year, while demoting Barnes just feels like the wrong message to be sending to such a bright rookie.

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