10 things: Raptors throw away winnable game in frustrating loss to Celtics

Jayson Tatum and Dennis Schroder combine for 42 points as the Celtics defeated the Raptors 104-88.

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 104-88 loss to the Boston Celtics.

One — That was the most frustrating loss of the year. The Celtics played better than they did in their first matchup, mostly because it was almost impossible to be that bad again, but this was very much a winnable game that the Raptors just threw away.

It’s one thing to lose games that are hard-fought like their bitter defeat by the Cavaliers, or to just be ice-cold from the field like the home opener loss to the Wizards, but this was not that. This loss was a product of the Raptors not giving enough effort while also not playing smart. The amount of easy chances the Raptors squandered was embarrassing, and they engineered their own demise.

Two — The most important stat for the Raptors is the possession battle. Over their five-game win streak, the Raptors consistently won the offensive rebounding battle while forcing more turnovers from their opponent. On Wednesday, they failed miserably on both accounts, as the Celtics doubled the Raptors on the offensive glass which led to a 21-8 advantage in second-chance points, while the Raptors also turned it over 18 times which led to 21 points in transition.

Overall, the Celtics attempted 17 more field goals than the Raptors, which was the entire difference in this game. The Raptors need to get back to outworking teams because they’re simply not skilled enough to win any other way.

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Three — The Raptors continue to squander simple transition opportunities. There was a sequence in the second half where Precious Achiuwa stole the ball up top, and all he needed to do was advance it to Svi Mykhailiuk who was streaking ahead for a guaranteed basket. But instead of making the simple play Achiuwa decided to take two extra dribbles which allowed Josh Richardson the opportunity to strip him. A few plays later, the Raptors had a three-on-one with Mykhailiuk running the break while Achiuwa was the obvious pass already waiting at the basket, but one missed pass leads to another and the Raptors missed another opportunity to cash in.

It’s baffling that a professional basketball team routinely fails to execute one of the fundamental plays of the sport. Part of the issue is that the Raptors allow everyone to bring the ball up, and some bigs aren’t as efficient with the ball as a point guard would be, but that can’t be a crutch. Everyone at this level should know how to play with numbers in transition. In all fairness to Achiuwa, he threw two nice lob passes that did end up in layups, so he clearly can make these plays.

Four — The most frustrating stretch of the entire game was Chris Boucher‘s 88-second cameo at the end of the third quarter. In just that short spell, he managed to airball a three, commit a double dribble under very little pressure and leave his feet on a pair of closeouts that both ended up being shot fakes. The second one was so egregious that it eludes rational explanation because Boucher sprinted half the length of the floor before leaping out at Richardson who was at halfcourt while there was still five seconds left on the clock, and that mistake promptly gave Richarson a wide open lane to drive in for a layup at the buzzer.

Needless to say, Boucher was benched for the fourth quarter until the benches cleared.

These are not mistakes due to injuries, or any product of bad luck, they’re simply mistakes in the reading of the game from a player who should be experienced enough to act better, only he doesn’t. Boucher is hardly the biggest problem on this team, but his problems are the obvious types of errors that really stand out.

Five — Pascal Siakam is clearly still reintegrating himself back into the game. It’s awkward from both ends, both from Siakam to his teammates and in how they’re adjusting to him. Siakam got himself caught in the air twice looking for the kickout pass where nobody cut to get open for him. Similarly, Siakam had two sequences where he first tried to get into his spot then gave it up hoping to receive the feed right back, except Gary Trent Jr. hesitated with half a mind to swing it elsewhere instead of going back to Siakam.

It’s going to take time for Siakam to get his touch back, but also it will be an even bigger process for his teammates to learn how to play with him. These are things that will be corrected through experience.

Six — Khem Birch‘s absence is obvious. His physicality would have come in handy against Robert Williams, while the Raptors could have also used his presence on the offensive glass. Truthfully, Birch wouldn’t be relied on that heavily on other teams, except the Raptors have such a weakness in the frontcourt that the presence of Birch can very well represent the difference between winning and losing.

It would really help if the Raptors reinforced the center position, but this is a position they have largely shunned since the championship. Look no further than their starting lineup, which does not feature a center by design. The advantage of that look is that the Raptors can switch almost every action and they have length elsewhere, but it was a massive problem against Williams, and will likely burn them again in their matchup against Andre Drummond.

Seven — Scottie Barnes continues to have his way in the paint. It’s truly impressive to see him operate down low, because even if he’s caught out a step too far, or if he’s not fully balanced, Barnes still manages to get up a good look either by stretching his way there or by muscling his defender out of the way. Barnes continues to play within the flow of the offence for the most part, but recognized in the third quarter that he needed to impose himself on the game, and he confidently waved his teammates out of the way to create space for himself to back his man down.

Barnes didn’t score on that play, but he kicked it out right before a second defender converged which led to an open three. Barnes should look to do that more often, especially in the first quarter where he is more passive as compared to later in games.

Eight — Barnes does have a few lapses defensively. The Raptors initially had Barnes assigned to Williams, but Williams popped free often with putbacks and the occasional lob play where he separated from Barnes to make plays at the rim. It was better in the second half when OG Anunoby took the center position, as Williams was much less effective since Anunoby is more experienced and better at playing the gaps.

Barnes will get there eventually, though, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Anunoby to tackle centers should the Raptors stay with their centerless starting lineup. Barnes is very good as an on-ball defender, but asking him to defend pick-and-roll sequences means asking him to be in perfect position on most trips down, and you’ll find a much higher success rate with Anunoby.

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Nine — Nick Nurse is working with limited options with his underperforming second unit, but some changes are clear as day. First off, pairing Boucher and Achiuwa together is just asking for trouble, as both frontcourt players are unpredictable in their decision making. Second, it made little sense for Nurse to turn towards a tiny backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn when the whole idea of the Raptors is to play big and to be impervious to mismatches. Nurse used both looks in short doses, but on both accounts he was burned.

Ten — Nurse should also look to play through the post more often. It’s hardly the most efficient play in terms of points per possession, but post-ups allow for a different angle in which to set up the attack. The Raptors also have three good choices to play through between Anunoby, Barnes, and Siakam. All three players can score one-on-one due to their length and strength, while they are also willing playmakers who can feed the perimeter or hit the cutter around the rim.

The only thing is that the Raptors need to do a better job of spacing the floor around them because it was too easy at times for the Celtics to swarm the post while nobody on the Raptors was moving to create the outlet.

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