10 things: On the whole, Raptors are ahead of schedule despite loss to Nets

James Harden flirted with a triple-double with a 28/10/8 line, and Kevin Durant had a game-high 31 points as the Brooklyn Nets defeated the Toronto Raptors 116-103.

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 116-103 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

One -- The simple story is that the Raptors didn't hit enough outside shots to compete with a juggernaut like the Nets. Of course it didn't help that the Raptors shot 7-for-30 from three, including 2-of-15 from their wings, but that would be too simplistic. The truth is that the Raptors were too lax on defence and weren't as insistent as they have been in the paint.

The Raptors had multiple lapses in the second half that allowed the Nets to quickly flip a seven-point halftime deficit into a commanding double-digit lead. And even though the Raptors cycled through the usual catalogue of Nick Nurse defences, they lacked the execution to string together enough stops to mount any sort of a comeback.

Two -- Nurse didn't help things with his rotations. The part about slotting in a starter while replacing the backup center on short notice is bound to create disruptions, but that's not where Nurse's decisions were confusing. It was how the Raptors lost their way in the second half by trying to prioritize offence over defence.

Yes, it was hard to watch the Raptors struggle to generate clean looks when the Nets shrunk the paint, but keeping Scottie Barnes and Dalano Banton on the bench for the majority of the second half killed the Raptors' ability to defend. Barnes picked up his fourth foul early in the third, and Nurse left Svi Mykhailiuk in way too long.

Three -- It would have been really interesting to see the Raptors lead more into their positionless identity. The Nets play primarily through James Harden, who loves to hunt individual matchups, to make the defence overcompensate for that one weakness, and using that specific advantage to determine how he's going to break down the defence. But the Raptors are the rare team that can put five long rangy defenders all out at once, to switch everything, and that's generally the best way to neutralize the way Harden operates. It felt like a missed opportunity to try out that look in this specific matchup.

Four -- Pascal Siakam played as expected in his return from off-season shoulder surgery. He was held to a minutes restriction, but Nurse was generally pleased with Siakam's conditioning given the long layoff. Siakam was the first player down the floor on several transition opportunities, and he blocked a corner three which are all positive signs.

Where he was behind was the force with which he played. Siakam is at his best going downhill but he couldn't generate much against the Nets' interior defenders, and it looked like he lacked the strength needed to get to his preferred spots. That might speak to his confidence in his newly repaired shoulder than anything else.

Five -- Barnes was great in short flashes, but too quiet overall. His highlights are legitimately impressive, especially the stretch to end the first half where he stripped Harden, then ripped Kevin Durant on the next possession before taking it end-to-end for a dunk. He collected five steals, and was entrusted as the primary defender on Harden and he mostly held his ground, and all of that is encouraging.

But under no circumstances should Barnes finish any game with only seven shot attempts, and this goes beyond any blame on the structure of the team or any specific plans from the coaching staff. Barnes still saw plenty of the ball even with Siakam returning, but he fell into the pattern of trying to play side-to-side rather than forcing the issue going downhill. It comes from a good place, as Barnes is mostly trying to play within Nurse's free-flowing offence, but what makes some players great is knowing when to break the pattern.

Six -- Siakam's return knocked Precious Achiuwa to the second unit, and as usual, the results were mixed. The positives for Achiuwa was his aggressiveness in scoring the ball and he did showcase much of his potential by knocking down a mid-range jumper as well as a corner three, and he capitalized on most of his drives to the basket, although there always seems to be a few easy chances that he squanders for no discernable reason.

Where he was poor was on defence, where a few missed rotations against a team full of shooters proved to be extremely costly. Achiuwa likely remains in the second unit when everyone is healthy, and it can be a spot that benefits him. He will largely match up against smaller frontcourt players who are more similar to Achiuwa's build, and his scoring can be very useful for the Raptors' reserves who are in dire need of offence.

Seven -- But that leaves almost no minutes for Chris Boucher. Even in a game with Siakam was held to a minutes restriction while Khem Birch and Yuta Watanabe were injured, Nurse still only used Boucher for nine minutes as the ninth man. Even those nine minutes were inflated partially by Nurse's strategy of pressing full court at the end of the game, and so he needed a rangy big like Boucher who could cover as much space as possible, but that's hardly an everyday look. Boucher was actually rather productive in his short stint, getting out in transition for two scores while collecting a steal and a block, but it's clear that Nurse doesn't trust him in any important moments.

Eight -- The issue with taking Boucher out of the mix is that it leaves the Raptors without a floor-spacing big. Almost every team that plays the Raptors keeps their center in the lane waiting to neutralize drives, and the Raptors don't have the threat of a pick-and-pop option to pull them out. Instead, the onus falls on players like Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. to consistently make pull-up jumpers, and they're just not at the level where it influences the defence to change their tactics. The only in-season solution would be to trade for a floor-spacing big -- a Marc Gasol type would do wonders for this team.

Nine -- OG Anunoby had a fun stretch where he nailed three consecutive fadeaway jumpers in a row against Harden and Durant. On all three moves, Anunoby was able to back down his defender until he was within 10 feet of the hoop, before using his length to shoot over top of the contest.

Anunoby has learned this season that he's strong enough to get to just about any spot he wants on the floor, and for him it's mostly about finding his space and sorting out his balance. There's no reason for Anunoby to be any less aggressive with Siakam back in the mix. He needs to continue exploring his scoring capabilities because he is looking like the best tough shot-maker on the entire team, and the Raptors will need that specific skill if and when they get to the playoffs.

Ten -- On the whole, the Raptors are very much ahead of schedule. If they don't look like a finished product at times, it's because they're very much a rebuilding team that has started the season punching above their weight. The main positives are that Barnes is much more advanced than advertised, Anunoby is taking the next step as a scorer and everyone has bought into what Nurse is trying to implement.

The biggest struggle with rebuilding teams is that they don't know how to win, so they're constantly shuffling the deck and hoping that the next card will save them. The Raptors have a clear style of play, the front office collected specific players to play this exact style and it's working. How many wins they will finish with is going to come down to how meticulous they are in nailing the details, but the broader strategy works.

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