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NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Waste A 21/21 Night By Jonas Valanciunas

By Frank McLean

Game One of the third annual Toronto Raptors versus the Cleveland Cavaliers playoff series was a big disappointment as the home team wasted a 21 point 21 rebound night by Jonas Valanciunas. It was like waking up Christmas morning and finding a lump of coal in your stocking.

The Raptors lost this game, which by rights they should have won, 113-112 in overtime only because they couldn’t make one stinking field goal in the last 4:19 of regulation time.

They were leading 102-99 thanks to a Kyle Lowry layup, but then they proceeded to miss their last 11-field goal attempts. With the score tied at 105 with five seconds left they missed three easy tip-ins, two of them by Jonas Valanciunas and the other one by DeMar DeRozan.

Even in overtime Fred VanVleet had a shot to win it at the buzzer with a 28 foot jump shot that missed. The Raptors should have walked out of the Air Canada Centre with a one to nothing lead in the series on this night.

What hurts is that they ruined what I consider the second best single game playoff performance by a Raptors player.

Now the best is still Vince Carter scoring 50 points against Philadelphia in a second round series back in 2001. But what Jonas Valanciunas did Tuesday night scoring 21 points and adding 21 boards was an outstanding playoff performance.

Now I know some will argue that Bismack Byombo’s  26 rebounds against the same Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the conference final two years should be up there and I would put it number three. Why?

20 point-20 rebound games are as rare as no hitters by pitchers in baseball.

Valanciunas is the first Raptor to do this in a playoff game and when you include the regular season, he is only the third Raptor to do it period. Popeye Jones did it first in franchise history and Chris Bosh did it twice.

Four times in 23 years shows how rare this happens.

In his postgame scrum with the media Valanciunas was in the mood to talk about his 20-20 night. He agonized over the four minutes of regulation time where they couldn’t make a shot especially since he two cracks at it in the last five seconds.

“We missed some shots, easy shots ,“ Valanciunas said. “They were aggressive, playing real aggressive defense, but it’s on us. What you take away is you got to make shots, know what you are doing, we could have won this game.”

Valanciunas shot just 7-19 from the field in Game One. Meanwhile head coach Dwane Casey was complementary.

“I thought he played well. He had a wide open tip in at the end that I thought he could have finished but I thought Jonas played really well.”

Valanciunas success was based on the Cavaliers using a small line up which he was able to exploit.

“We made them pay for their small lineup, he has to continue to do that,” Casey added. “He’s got the advantage as far as post-ups, his tip-ins, his driving to the baskets and getting to the free throw line and rebounding. He did a heck of a job at the position.”

And that’s where the Raptors had success against the Cavaliers with Valanciunas controlling the paint all night and it’s something they can keep exploiting as long as the series goes.

The Raptors could have, I mean should have, won this game and have a one to nothing lead in this best of seven series. All they had to do is make one shot and as a result they wasted a franchise playoff record braking performance by Jonas Valanciunas.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.


 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors C.J. Miles

Cavs Are Giving Raptors C.J. Miles His Time To Shine

The Toronto Raptors signed the veteran C.J. Miles this past summer to be part of the culture change envisioned by president Masai Ujiri and heading into a second round playoff series against a Cavs team that refuses to defend the three-point line, this is his time to shine.

To make the culture change work, the Raptors needed a player who wasn’t afraid to hoist as many three-point attempts as time allowed and good enough that opposing defenses couldn’t afford to leave him. It must have been music to Miles ears as the veteran reserve fired a career-high 454 threes in the fewest minutes he’s played per game since he was 20, a decade ago.

To put things bluntly, the Cavs don’t defend three-point shooters. They gave up the 29th most three-point attempts in the NBA (31.7) this past season and the 28th most three-point makes (11.7). It’s a free-for-all out there beyond the arc and it almost cost them a first round exit against a fifth-place Pacers team that was 25th in three-pointers made this season. The Pacers took 27.1 (up 2.6 from the regular season), but the fact they could only make 0.7 more threes undoubtedly cost them this very close series.

The Raptors, on the other hand, are the polar opposites to the Pacers when it comes to three-point shooting. Toronto shot the third most threes in the NBA (33) and made the fourth most (11.8), but in three games against the Cavs, those numbers exploded to 14.7 made on 36.7 attempts. Miles hitting on 50 percent of his three-point attempts versus Cleveland. It’s a lot easier to shoot from range when no one is coming out to stop you.

This is redemption time for Miles. A career 36.1 percent three-point shooter on 3,249 regular season attempts, Miles hasn’t performed in the postseason. In prior year’s playoffs, he shot 26.5 percent on 98 three-point attempts and in the past two years with Indiana, he went just 7-36 or 19.4 percent from three. Miles has something to prove and he’s proving it.

Complaining that the Wizards were face-guarding him the entire first round and that it was hard to get open, Miles averaged 5.2 three-point attempts per game and hit on 38.7 percent of them (both represent playoff career bests). He actually shot better than his regular season average of 36.1 percent.

This is Miles time to shine, to run off screens and find no one there to challenge his three-point barrage and the Raptors will need him. Toronto outscored the Wizards by an average 9 points per game from the three-point line in their first round series and to beat the Cavaliers, they’ll need to do it again or better. Buckle up and fire away.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James vs Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Is The Third Time The Charm For The Raptors Facing The Cavs?

By Frank McLean

It’s the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers meeting up in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year and for the third time in a row overall. And everyone knew that if this Raptors team was going to make it to the NBA Finals they would have to hook up with LeBron James for another post season battle.

The Raptors had lost the Conference Final two years ago four games to two and were swept in the second round last year.

Their playoff record is not that great if you only look at the fact the Raptors are two and eight overall against Cleveland and their only two wins were at home. Toronto winless in the post season at Quicken Loans Arena.

But there are some differences this time around.

First the Raptors will have home court advantage for the first time thanks to finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference. Including their three home playoff games with the Washington Wizards the Raptors are 37-7 at home and the Air Canada Centre is as tough a place for any visiting team to play in as any building in the NBA.

The Cavaliers only made one appearance in Toronto this year but they were thumped 133-99, thanks to the new Raptors style of play of distributing ball until someone has a good look and takes it. As opposed to the isolation style of ball where the focus was on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and all the Cavaliers had to do was shutdown the guard duo and that pretty well did the Raptors in.

They are also a tougher road team, including the Wizards, they are 26-18 overall and let’s not forget how big the game six win was in Washington. Not only did  it clinch the series early for a change, eliminating an anything-can-happen seventh game, but it proved that this team can win pressure-packed road playoff games.

LeBron James talked about the different Raptors team he and the Cavaliers will be facing this time around on Sunday after they eliminated the Indiana Pacers in a first round series.

“Kudos to Dwane Casey. First of all they’ve got like 10-to-12 guys who come in and produce every single night. We know the head of the snake is DeRozan and Lowry, but those guys off the bench they come in with the same attitude and the same confidence as the starters. We don’t have much time to prepare so we’re going to go into Game one and just kind of wing and just go from there.”

The big question about the Cavaliers is how tired is James?

In their series with the Pacers it looked like James was playing all by himself against whoever the five players the Pacers had on the floor. James, single-handed, won this series.

In Sunday’s game seven he scored 45-points nine rebounds and eight assists, but with the Pacers trailing by two, 76-74 after three quarters, James was on the bench with a minor injury. And when James got back into the game they were able to get the lead to nine and they never looked back.

But James admitted after the game that he is tired and that he wanted to go home. He did say that with only one day to get ready for the Raptors they are going to wing it.

They didn’t have an easy first round series, don’t have home court in the second round, and that’s what happens when you finish fourth.

So, is this the year the Raptors take care of the Cavaliers?

Things are different for this third playoff series in three years between these Eastern Conference rivals, but one thing everyone was sure of. These two teams were going to have to meet one more time in the playoffs and maybe the third time is the charm for Toronto.

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Delon Wright

Raptors Win When Delon Wright Scores Says John Wall

The Wizards know who the stars are on the Toronto Raptors and they’ll tell you they are ready for them, but it’s the other guys that they worry about. Role players like backup point guard Delon Wright who play better at home and whose scoring can make the difference between winning and losing.

“Delon Wright came in and made some big shots and big plays for them,” Wizards John Wall said after Game Five. “Whenever he gets over 10 or 15, nine times out of 10 they win the game.”

Well in this first round playoff series, the Raptors are three-for-three when Wright scores in double-digits and that’s not inconsistent with his season. Toronto won 73 percent of their games when Wright scored 10 or more points this year and just like in the postseason, he’s a better shooter and scorer at home than on the road. Wright hit over 40 percent of his threes at home during the regular season and he’s 6-10 from three so far against the Wizards in the playoffs at the Air Canada Centre.

“There is no reason (Wright) should be passing on any open shots,” C.J. Miles said after Game Five.

But it isn’t always easy for Wright to fight against his pass-first nature and it took a significant amount of outside pressure after two lackluster games on the road to somewhat embarrass him to get back to doing what he does well and his team needs from him.

“People were telling me to stop hesitating and just shoot the ball,” Wright said. “People all on my Twitter, Instagram, my family, about 30 people told me.”

Apparently it worked. Now Wright doesn’t tweet or post every day, but he obviously checks his accounts, so now it’s incumbent on his followers to remind him to shoot prior to every game!

 

Coach Casey has given everyone on the Raptors the green light to shoot their shots and hopefully Wright doesn’t need a reminder to let it fly in Washington on Friday. But perhaps it’d be a good idea to remind him?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Toronto Playoff Triple Header At Jurassic Park Tonight

The Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs, and TFC (soccer) are all playing key playoff matches tonight and fans are encouraged to arrive early if they want their spot in the Maple Leaf Square/Jurassic Park tailgate party to watch all the action. Gates open at 5 p.m. and the on stage programming starts at 5:40 p.m., but if past years are any indication, fans wanting to take in the festivities will need to arrive very early indeed.

As Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs continues, the Toronto Raptors will host the Washington Wizards at 7 p.m in a pivotal Game Five inside the Air Canada Centre. As usual, the Jurassic Park tailgate will be jumping.

Fans wishing to watch the Raptors game can enter Jurassic Park off Lakeshore Blvd.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are facing the Bruins on the road in Boston at 7:30 p.m. for a “win or go home” Game Seven. Temporary screens by York St. and Bremner Blvd. will broadcast the game to provide a combined tailgate experience for fans.

Leafs fans should enter Maple Leaf Square from York St./Bremner Blvd.

Once the Raptors game ends, the screens will switch to Leafs vs Bruins.

At about 9:30 p.m. fans will be able to watch Toronto FC face off against Chivas Guadalajara in the away (final) leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final being played in Mexico. It’s a chance to see MLS history in the making.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early as space for this event is limited and a full house is expected.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

The Raptors Magic Number Is 30, 30 Three-Balls That Is

The secret to the Raptors 59 win season isn’t exactly a mystery. They fire up a lot of threes and the threat of the three-ball is what opens up the floor to get to the rim. When they aren’t shooting threes, the Raptors get a lot easier to guard.

“A lot of our three-point shooters had opportunities to shoot the ball and for whatever reason we were hesitating,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after practice. “When you look at the film, they had plenty of time. We got to let it go, got to let it fly.”

As we wrote at the start of this series. These Raptors live or die by the three-ball.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory.

And it wasn’t lost on Wizards head coach Scott Brooks after Game One.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us,” Brooks said.

In those first two games in Toronto, the Raptors hoisted 65 threes and won both games. In the next two in Washington, they turned down shots and only fired up 46 three-balls and that’s a losing formula for Toronto.

As Casey indicated, it wasn’t the Wizards defense that ran the Raptors off the three-point line on the road. It was guys like Delon Wright turning down open shots to make a pass or waiting for defenders to arrive so they could drive. These Raptors have to be willing to let it fly like have been all season.

Now back in the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre it should be easier for the Raptors to get back to the game plan that was so successful for them this season. If Toronto can get up 10 threes in the first quarter of Game Five, make or miss, they should be expected to hold onto their home court advantage. If not, this could be a long night for the home team.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Celtics Raptors Cavaliers coaches

An NBA Must Win Sunday?

Except for the Spurs, every other NBA team playing this Sunday will live to play another day, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t must win games and the teams that need to win might surprise you.

Celtics (2-1) at Bucks

The Bucks finally won a game when they got back home, but it shouldn’t matter. Even a depleted Celtics roster should take this team of under-performers out in five, so the pressure is on, on the Celtics that is.

Celtics were full value for their 55 win season and losing in the first round would be a major embarrassment, even missing some key players. This is a must win game to put the Bucks in their place and wrap this series up at home on Tuesday.

Warriors (3-0) at Spurs

Not a must win for either team, but it’d be nice if the Dubs could end the Spurs suffering quickly.

Raptors (2-1) at Wizards

The Wizards “talent” showed up in Game Three just the way it does for any team that still has some element of pride left, but the 59 win Raptors weren’t just the NBA’s best team at home this season, they also had the East’s second best road record.

The Wizards might feel bad about their season if they lose Game Four, but the first-place Raptors, who have a history of going seven games deep against lesser competition, are the team that will feel all the pressure if they can’t pull this one out.

Cavs at Pacers (2-1)

Is there a more fragile team in the playoffs than the Cavs? The Pacers have an opportunity to break Cleveland’s spirit and put the most feared team (okay player) in the East out in the first round. All the Pacers have to do is win Game Four at home. There’s no way Indiana can afford to give a LeBron James led team hope.

The “must win” teams on Sunday are the Celtics, Raptors and Pacers and they should all be favored.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Reward For Missing Raptors Bench: Best To Worst

Maybe it’s time for Toronto to offer a reward to anyone that can find their missing bench? Touted as the best bench in the NBA during the regular season, they’ve become the worst bench in the playoffs. The eye test backs up the numbers, it’s the Raptors starting unit that has been carrying the load against Washington.

This season the Raptors reserves led the league’s benches (per NBA.com) with  a net rating of +8.3 points and in the more straightforward plus/minus at +3.6. They weren’t just good, this bench turned more than a few games around for Toronto with their hustle and efficient play, but in the postseason, it’s been a different story.

With backup point guard Fred VanVleet on the shelf to start the playoffs, the Raptors second unit has had an embarrassingly bad -20.4 points net rating and a plus/minus of -7.3 points, both good for dead last among the playoff teams.

However, it hasn’t been VanVleet’s missing offense that’s the problem. The bench is scoring just 3.1 fewer points in 2.9 fewer minutes and they’ve been shooting the lights out from three-point range at 43.6 percent. The offensive production is fine, it’s the defense, rebounding, and a surprising drop off in sharing the ball that’s causing the problems.

In the playoffs the bench is garnering 6.8 fewer rebounds, 4.3 fewer assists and 1.2 fewer steals. Their defensive rating has shot up from a respectable 101.6 in the regular season to a terrible 120.1 in their three postseason games. The bench is only garnering 42.8 percent of the available rebounds which translates into lots of extra possessions for the Wizards.

With the numbers in full view, it’s easy to understand why the bench has looked so bad during the recent games.

It’s probably not fair to lay the blame at the feet of two second year players with a total of 36 minutes of playoffs experience between them prior to this season, but they kind of stand out and, even if they didn’t score, the hope would be Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl would hang onto their regular season chemistry and provide energy, defense and rebounding.

“We are letting them come to us and we are trying to react afterwards,” Poeltl said after the Game Three loss. “Me as a center, when I am guarding a guy like Scott or Morris, I have to find a good balance between being out for the shooters at the three and still being there to help at the rim for a guy like John Wall that’s coming down the lane. That’s really the difficult part for us to figure out.”

The Raptors big men off the bench simply aren’t finding that balance between guarding the three-point line and getting back to defend the rim and in today’s NBA where everybody shoots threes, that’s a big problem.

Between Poeltl and Siakam, their rebounds are down 2.3 per game, assists off 1.4 and steals have dropped to zero from 1.3. They are getting taken advantage off by a far more veteran group of Wizards big men that they haven’t been able to out-hustle or run into the ground. Those looks of “what did I do” as Poeltl picks up another foul or Siakam’s surprising lack of decisiveness (or confidence?) are not what Toronto has been used to seeing from these two all season.

Both Poeltl and Siakam exceeded expectations this year and they are going to get better, but the playoffs demand more than the regular season and these two are having to learn that on the job. Without the Raptors reserve big men playing up to expectations, Toronto’s bench will remaining “missing,” so they had better adapt fast.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Dance Pak

The NBA Playoffs Are Going Exactly As They Should

After the first two games of the NBA playoffs, the results are lining up (almost) exactly as they should. Apparently, your team has earned their record over an 82 game regular season and the 2-0 leads and 1-1 splits are right where they should be – except for you Portland.

Eastern Conference

Raptors (59-23) 2-0 vs Wizards (43-39)

The 59 win Toronto Raptors were a dominant at home this season and were 23-3 against the rest of the East in their own building. The inconsistent Wizards backed into the final playoff spot and were under .500 on the road. The only people that were surprised by Toronto winning the first two games at home were the ones insisting Washington was better than their record. They’re not.

Celtics (55-27) 2-0 vs Bucks (44-38)

Just toss out all those “problems” the Celtics were supposedly facing this season. Boston was who the were regardless of the players coach Brad Stevens put on the court and are full value for their 55 wins. The Bucks have a star and have under-performed expectations all season. Why would anyone think things were going to change in the playoffs?

76ers (52-30) 1-1 vs Heat (44-38)

The 76ers raced up the standings at the end of the season with a 16-0 streak that has masked some of the growing pains that should be expected from a young team in their first playoff appearance in half a decade. Add in the loss of All-Star Joel Embiid to a fractured orbital bone and the more talented 76ers will have to overcome some adversity. The Heat won the Southeast Division and have veteran players and a playoff tested head coach that makes them better than the sum of their parts.

Cavaliers (50-32) 1-1 vs Pacers (48-34)

The four-five match-up is supposed to be this tight. It is not an upset for the five seed to advance. On February 6th the Cavs lead the Pacers by two games in the standings and LeBron James had to average a near triple-double of 29.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 10 assists over his team’s final 30 games just to maintain that lead and hold onto fourth place in the East. There isn’t the width of a piece of paper difference between these two teams unless James puts up monster numbers and even then it’s tight.

Western Conference

Rockets (65-17) 2-0 vs Timberwolves (47-35)

The Rockets were the class of the NBA this season and were tied with Toronto for the best home record in the NBA. The T-wolves snuck into the postseason for the first time since 2004 (not a typo) and are a poor road team. It’s good experience for the young stars in Minnesota and that’s about it.

Warriors (58-24) 2-0 vs Spurs (47-35)

The defending NBA Champions seemed disinterested in the regular season as they coped with untimely injuries while racking up the third most wins in the Association. Even down a recent MVP in Stephen Curry, they still got one in Kevin Durant. The Spurs didn’t win 50 games for the first time this century and look ready for a rebuild. No disrespect, but without Kawhi Leonard (right quadriceps) for most of this season, they just don’t have enough scoring to be competitive with the Warriors.

Trail Blazers (49-33) 0-2 vs Pelicans (48-34)

The regular season records of these two teams says it all. This is a three seed vs a six seed, but they were only one game apart. This should be a toss up, but the stars having been saying differently. As Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said, “You can’t win if good players play bad.”

In Portland, Anthony Davis (28.5 ppg) and Jrue Holiday (27 ppg) are playing great while Damian Lillard (17.5 ppg) and C.J. McCollum (20.5 ppg) are shooting terribly, so the Pelicans left town up two games. This situation shouldn’t last, but it’s probably too late for the Blazers to pull this series out of the fire.

Thunder (48-34) 1-1 vs Jazz (48-34)

It doesn’t matter if your team has Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, they still only won 48 games and only got the four seed on a tie-breaker. The Jazz aren’t scared of those “big names” and they shouldn’t be. They have their own up-and-coming bright star in rookie Donovan Mitchell and so far OKC can’t stop him.

Predictions:

East: Raptors, Celtics, 76ers, Pacers

West: Rockets, Warriors, Pelicans, Jazz

But I wouldn’t be counting on any series currently tied at 1-1.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Are Wizards Still Using Last Year’s Raptors Scouting Report?

After a couple of games being shelled from deep in Toronto you’d think the Washington Wizards would have noticed that this isn’t last year’s Raptors team? But you could be mistaken, they still seem to be clinging to last year’s scouting report. From the postgame comments, the Wizards aren’t ready to accept that giving up a 122 points per game in their first round playoff series has been on them.

“There were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes,”Wizards guard Bradley Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. 

“There’s a lot of guys, we went over the scouting report, there’s guys making threes that’s not really their M.O. coming into the series,” Beal said after Game Two. 

“I really feel like it’s nothing crazy that’s beating us in terms of their sets and the offensive stuff that they’re running. I think we are just shooting ourselves in the foot coming out to slow starts, allowing guys to get open threes, allowing guys to get those shots, allowing guys to get layups. It has to be one or the other.”

The Raptors were the highest scoring team in the East this season doing exactly what Beal has described on a nightly basis.

So, are the Wizards actually looking at this year’s scouting report on the Raptors? Toronto was third in the NBA in three-point attempts and fourth in three-point makes this season. Almost everyone on the roster shoots threes. This team has nine players that attempted over 130 three-pointers during the regular season and outside of backup center Jakob Poeltl, everyone on the roster has the green light to shoot a three when open.

Even the Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas will shoot the three if he isn’t guarded. He was 30-74 from three during the regular season and is already 1-2 in this series.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.”

The only players on the Raptors averaging more than two midrange shots a game are are DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka and they both average over 3.5 three-point attempts per game. Toronto has shifted away from being a top 12 team in scoring from the midrange last season to a bottom six team this year. These guys score over 75 percent of their points in the paint or from three.

NBA Toronto Raptors

“They play really well together,” Beal admitted. “You got to respect what coach Casey is doing and how he meshed and gelled that team together.

“We just got to go back to the drawing board.”

The drawing should probably include guarding the three-point line or this fan in Washington might not survive his next rant.

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors C.J. Miles

These Raptors Live Or Die By The Three-Ball

The Toronto Raptors have been firing away from deep since before the season began. It was all part of the “culture change” promised by president Masai Ujiri and delivered by head coach Dwane Casey. These Raptors were going to live or die by the three-ball this season and they rode that change all the way to first place in the East.

“They are a good team,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said after losing Game One of their first round series with Toronto. “They are the number one seed for a reason.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us. They’ve been doing it all year, not 16 in a game, they averaged nearly 12 (three-pointers a game).”

From 8.8 made threes per game in 2016-17 to an NBA fourth best 11.8 made threes this year, the Raptors have embraced the three-ball and everyone shoots them. Even the guys teams aren’t prepared to guard outside like the high-energy forward Pascal Siakam, the historically paint-bound Jonas Valanciunas and the mid-range king DeMar DeRozan. It a volume approach as Toronto is just an average three-point percentage shooting team.

“DeMar even made some threes in the fourth,” Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “They were 16-for-30 from three, so that hurts you when you’re competing, and on the road too. And there were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes. They made them.”

That Toronto fired up 30 three-balls in Game One really should not have come as a surprise to the Wizards. Over their four meetings this past season, the Raptors averaged 31.3 three-point attempts and as a team, they see no reason to change what got them to this point.

“We’ve been playing that style since training camp,” DeMar DeRozan responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “We’ve been pounding and pounding every single day, every single practice, every single shoot-a-round, every time we get on the court, we pound this style of play. Guys know where their shots are going to come from. (We) understand where to get shots from, where to get our guys shots from, it’s just second nature now. You have to go thru that training camp, preseason and early-on-season of doing it and now it’s just repetition and it’s second nature to us.”

The Raptors use the three-ball to stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Siakam and versatile guard Delon Wright, who had a big impact in Game One.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.

“I’m a driver, so teams try to pack the paint on me, so I have to be willing to take that open (three-point) shot. It will free up the guys that are driving. I have to be willing to take that three-pointer.”

The same mindset applies to everyone on the Raptors and it makes the Eastern Conference’s highest scoring team very difficult to guard. About the only way to stop them is to hope they miss shots.

“It’s definitely a pick your poison,” coach Scott said. “We just have to do it better.

“VanVleet did not play, but Wright came in and had a terrific game. That’s why they are hard to guard.”

“I think their bench was great, especially C.J. Miles, ” John Wall said. “I think they played well, made some big shots and that’s what they are going to do every game.”

Three-point specialist C.J. Miles was acquired during the summer to help make the transition to a three-point shooting roster happen and he’s been living up to his end of the bargain. Miles hit an NBA second most threes off the bench at 155 on the season and he hoisted the League’s second most attempts while on the court at over one three-point field goal attempt every three minutes. He’s been prolific and, taken in context, very effective.

“That’s been the main focus of what they have asked me to do since I’ve been signed, to be that threat, to carry that threat, but it’s a testament to guys looking for me, guys screening for me and the coaches believing in what I do,” Miles told Pro Bball Report. “I work at it extremely hard to be that threat. Obviously it can get a little crazy sometimes, but it is what it is. That’s what I am put out there to do.

“I understand you are not going to make them all and you you think about the fact that shooting 40 percent from three is elite, so that’s four out of 10, so if I miss three, the numbers are bound to balance out. That’s the way I look at it. As long as they are good looks, that’s the biggest thing.

“If it comes to me putting (the ball) down on the floor, it’s got to be because they made me, not because I passed up a shot to do it.”

Miles has been critical in getting the Raptors young players to buy into the “new culture” and not turn down shots just because they missed a couple and the proof is in the results. This style of play has worked for Toronto.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory. Both teams won a game in the other team’s building.

The concern about the Raptors since those early preseason games when it seemed every prospect knew their only chance of making this roster was to shoot threes at every opportunity was if the team’s All-Stars Lowry and DeRozan would stay on board at the first signs of adversity or an impact to their own personal stats. Now we know they’re on board.

Ujiri’s culture change is in full effect and these Raptors will live or die by the three-ball. As of now, it looks like they could ride this change all the way to the NBA Finals.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors OG Anunoby

Rookie OG Anunoby Is The Raptors Version Of Otto Porter

It was just plain lucky that a college injury allowed OG Anunoby to fall to Toronto at 23rd in last year’s draft. The 6’8 combo forward came back months ahead of schedule and ready to play at the start of this season where he has shown all the potential to become the Raptors version of the Wizards Otto Porter or more.

The Wizards signed Porter to a $106 million extension last summer, but the third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft didn’t exactly have a rookie season to remember. A hip flexor injury cost him three months at the beginning of the season and when he returned, he barely played. It wasn’t until his second season in 2014-15 that he got minutes almost worthy of his draft status and as a second year player, those numbers weren’t as impressive as Anunoby put up this year.

Anunoby (2017-18): 74 g, 20.2 min, 5.9 pts, 2.5 rbs, 0.7 asts, 47.1% FG, 37.1% 3FG

Porter (2014-15):       74g, 19.4 min, 6.0 pts, 3.0 rbs, 0.9 asts, 45% FG, 33.7% 3FG

Although both players are legit 6’8 and are elite athletes, Anunoby has the advantage in physical tools across the board. (Based on NBA predraft measurements)

OG                          Otto

Weight                        232 lbs                    198 lbs

Reach                          8′ 11.5″                    8′ 9.5″

Wingspan                   7′ 2.25″                    7′ 1.5″

Hand length                 9.25″                      8.75″

Physical attributes aren’t the be-all and end-all in the NBA and heading into this year’s playoffs, Porter has a distinct advantage in experience. His length and athleticism made him a natural defender and in his fourth season he became one of the NBA’s elite three-point shooters earning him that massive four-year extension. While Anunoby performed well from the three-point line for a rookie and his defensive game is showing a lot of promise, he’s got a lot of development ahead of him to match what Porter has gone thru during 343 regular season games and 26 more in the postseason .

Through Anunoby’s rookie’s rookie season he’s been hot from three, then cold and finally recovering to shoot 46.7 percent from three over his last 14 games since returning from a mid-season injury on March 16th. The Raptors are hoping Anunoby can stay hot throughout the playoffs.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has given Anunoby a lot of latitude because of his defensive potential and flexibility summed up by his postgame comments after a recent game against Indiana.

“(Anunoby) did an excellent job,” Casey said. “I thought he did a heck of a job. He did a tremendous job of getting into (Victor Oladipo), being physical, using his length and size and we need that. That’s the OG that we need defensively. He made it hard on Oladipo.”

It wouldn’t be fair to put all the onus on Anunoby to offset what Porter will bring to the Wizards on offense and defense in their first round playoff match-up and fortunately the Raptors don’t have to. Casey can call on the more experienced and playoff standout (in first round series) Norman Powell or the 13-year veteran C.J. Miles who will make Porter work hard to defend the volume of three-point shots he can put up. Casey could even match up the fast and versatile Pascal Siakam on Porter if he becomes a problem from the outside.

Anunoby vs Porter is an interesting playoff match-up between a developing rookie and a young veteran with similar games and physical attributes. The Raptors are hoping Anunoby can grow up fast playing against a guy the team hopes he can surpass in the future.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Show Unprecedented Improvement Under Coach Dwane Casey

Quietly north of the border over the past seven NBA seasons head coach Dwane Casey has led the Toronto Raptors out of the lottery wilderness to the top of the Eastern Conference in a show of unprecedented steady improvement in the modern game. It’s a feat that hasn’t been seen in over 35 years and has only been done twice before in NBA history.

Casey is the third coach in NBA history to improve his team’s win total in six of seven seasons. The others were Boston’s Red Auerbach (1955-56 to 1961-62) and Phoenix’s John MacLeod (1974-75 to 1980-81). – The New York Times

Inheriting a team that won just 22 times the year before he got there, Casey has won 23, 34, 48, 49, 56, 51, and 59 games in successive seasons. His win total in Toronto of 320 and winning percentage (57.3%) dwarfs any previous coach in Raptors history.

An unwavering coaching philosophy based on defense-first earned Casey the trust of his team’s star player (on arrival his only star) DeMar DeRozan because of his consistency. There never has been a reason to second guess Casey’s motives and his players appreciate it. It is the primary reason his players accepted the dramatic changes to how he wanted them to play this season with nary a complaint. 

Recognition of his achievements south of the border hasn’t come easily and, somewhat surprisingly, during his tenure there have even been calls for his head coming out of Toronto. Coaches may be hired to be fired, but the complaints about Casey have been beyond ridiculous.

Now with his fifth NBA Coach of the Month award in the past five seasons and a team exceeding everyone’s expectations, Casey has been getting some significant applause for what he has accomplished. ESPN’s Jeremias Engelmann puts this season in perspective.

Vegas bookmakers had the Raptors pegged at 47 wins, a drop of four wins from last season.

Cut to eight months later, and the Raptors’ bench is regularly mopping the floor with opponents.

the Raptors’ starting unit also outscores opponents by a healthy margin of around six points per 100 possessions. However, it’s the bench that comes in and usually puts the game out of reach.

the majority of the credit has to go to Casey and his staff for pushing all the right buttons, and ultimately creating the sixth-strongest bench since 1997 with an average age of just 25.

And as ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes,

They have surged past Boston and Cleveland, and by any metric, they are closer peers to the Western Conference superteams than to anyone in the East. They are the only team ranked in the top five in both points scored and allowed per possession.

They are unpredictable, harder to grasp. Casey has mothballed a lot of set plays. … Everyone is free to launch 3s and drive.

“We’ve been through the heartaches and the letdowns,” DeRozan says. “This time, with this new approach, we feel comfortable.”

To be blunt, DeRozan looked pretty comfortable in the previous two seasons as the second best scorer in the East. So it came as a surprise that he stayed comfortable giving up his own points to record a career best in assists this season.

The Raptors rode this new approach to a franchise record 59 wins and it’s an accomplishment deserving of recognition. However, Casey convinced his players to do it for a chance to go further in the postseason than ever before. If they have success in the playoffs, look for another franchise record for wins next season.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors

For The First Time Raptors Are Favorites In The East

It’s time to put those bizarre misleading thoughts about the Raptors fading in the playoffs to bed. Toronto has never been favorites to get out of the NBA’s Eastern Conference previously and just maybe that’s because they’ve never finished first in their conference before – ever.

Also this is the first time Kyle Lowry isn’t heading into the postseason with a nagging injury and DeMar DeRozan, who gets lots of flak for not living up to playoff expectations despite averaging over 20 points per game  in each of the past four postseason runs, has undeniably gotten better this year.

As Jackie MacMullan says in  ESPN’s playoff preview,

Having spent time in Toronto last weekend, the unease surrounding the Raptors’ fan base is palpable. They are worried about losing Game 1 (again).

Enough already. DeRozan has submitted an All-NBA season, becoming a more efficient player, expanding his range to the 3-point line, and finally — finally! — tuning out the naysayers.

Fans in Toronto need to remember it’s the Maple Leafs who have disappointed them for over 50 years and it was the Raptors that got to the Conference Finals two years ago.

The goal this season, however, is to finally get out of the East and they’ve dominated Eastern Conference teams during the regular season by a margin of 40 wins to just 12 losses and outscored those teams by an impressive +10.2 points.

The next best team in the East against their own conference has been the Cavs with 35 wins, but they’ve been just getting by with a points differential of +2.6. Arguably the 76ers have looked better in their 34 wins against the East at +4.7 points and should be the favored team to advance to the Conference Finals against Toronto.

More impressive and perhaps more important is Toronto has been absolutely dominant at home this season with an NBA best 34-7 record at the Air Canada Centre where they’ve rolled over Eastern Conference rivals, winning 23 and losing just 3 times. In the process, they’ve outscored teams from the East by a confidence-destroying average of 13.3 points.

The other Eastern Conference teams with a home court advantage this season have been the 76ers (21-5, +9.0) and, wait for it, the Heat (20-6, +5.0). The Cavs were 19-7  and +1.6 vs the East at home. (A cynic might say the Raptors didn’t mind losing the last game of the regular season in overtime to Miami.)

If those fans still having doubts can’t remember, Toronto has crushed the teams in the East most likely to challenge a Raptors run to the NBA Finals at home.

The surging 76ers lost 128-94 and 102-86 in Toronto,

The fourth place Cavaliers were destroyed 133-99 at the ACC, and

The currently injured Celtics lost 111-91 and 96-78 when they came visiting.

The Raptors were not as good on the road as at home, but they still set a franchise record for wins away from the ACC at 25-16  and were 17-9 vs the East.

Those other contending Eastern Conference teams looked a lot better in their own buildings vs the Raptors. The 76ers earned a split, the Cavs held on for a couple of hotly contested wins and the Celtics took two in their own building.

Fortunately for the Raptors, by finishing first in the East and second overall in the NBA, the only team they won’t have home court advantage over is the Rockets out West.

In the team’s last two playoff runs they ran headlong into the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The fact the Raptors lost to those Cavs teams wasn’t a surprise to anyone and those who claim Toronto underachieved are simply being disingenuous. However, those days are past.

This is the Raptors year. They finished second overall in the NBA and were a dominant team all season, especially on home court and even more so against the East. If they lose to an Eastern Conference team this time, they’ll deserve the criticism. They are the deserving  favorites and anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be a huge disappointment in Toronto.

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz concurs,

After several seasons of residing in the league’s upper-middle class, the Raptors asserted themselves in 2017-18 as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have tasted the conference finals, so anything short of an NBA Finals appearance would qualify as a disappointment, especially as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA G-League Toronto Raptors 905 Lorenzo Brown

G League MVP Lorenzo Brown Joins Toronto Raptors For The Playoffs

Last night at the Hersey Centre just before Game Two of the NBA G League Finals, Toronto Raptors two-way contract player Lorenzo Brown found out he was this year’s G League MVP and soon after the Raptors converted his status to a standard NBA contract just in time for the first place Toronto Raptors playoffs.

 

 

 

Brown is now eligible to participate for the Raptors in the postseason.

The big point guard has appeared in 14 games with the Raptors this season, averaging 2.3 points, 1.1 rebounds and 9.8 minutes and hasn’t looked out of place because of his defensive presence. He scored a season-high 11 points on April 9th at Detroit and recorded a season-best five assists on January 11th vs Cleveland.

Brown earned his NBA G League MVP by averaging team highs of 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 1.8 steals in 32 games (all starts) for Raptors 905.

The 2017 defending Champion Raptors 905 had the third best record in the G League at 31-19 this season and went 25-7 with Brown in the lineup. They were the only team in the G League to hold opponents to under 100 points per game on average over the regular season.

The Raptors 905 advanced to this year’s Finals by defeating the Grand Rapids Drive, Westchester Knicks and Erie BayHawks in single-game elimination contests. Brown averaged a team-high 20.2 points and 8 assists in five G League playoff games.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Khem Birch

Montreal’s Khem Birch Is Finishing His NBA Rookie Season Strong

It hasn’t been easy for Montreal’s Khem Birch to find minutes as an NBA rookie on an Orlando Magic team that features Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic at center, but as the season winds down, he has been getting his opportunities and he has looked especially strong over the past five games.

“He’s been playing great,” Magic head coach Frank Vogel said prior to the team’s game in Toronto. “Every opportunity that he’s gotten to play this year he’s nailed it, just with great energy, great feel for the game offensively even though he’s not a big shooter.

“A post player, he has a little bit limited offensive game, but he hasn’t been a liability because of how well he plays with the pass. He’s very good in a short roll making a target pass, extra pass to the weak side, good decisions. Our bigs become quarterbacks and decision-makers when they get the ball in the pocket like that and he’s done a great job with that.

“He is active all over the court defensively with his hands, deflections, blocked shots and offensively keeping balls alive.

“Him playing overseas the last couple of years was invaluable to his development.”

Birch put up a line of 12 points and 12 rebounds in front of his friends and family in Toronto and has averaged 11 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 22.4 minutes over his last five games. His Mom was in the crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

“My Mom, my Dad, his wife, my brothers, my aunts, uncles, 11, 15 probably,” Birch said would be in Toronto to support him.

“(My Mom) already told me to make matching shirts and stuff.  I’m not really a fan of that, but what can you do. You can’t get mad people trying to support you. In the future I’ll look back and just be like wow, people really supported me. Now I’m just going to be embarrassed.”

He had nothing to be embarrassed about on that night.

Birch was in Toronto a couple of years ago for a predraft workout with the Raptors, but even after averaging a double-double at UNLV and blocking 124 shots that season, he wasn’t ready to make the jump to the NBA.

“I was kind of immature back then,” Birch explained. “Now I’m more mature. I’ve been thru a lot since then. These past two years I’ve been thru so much. If I had the same mindset now back then, I probably would have made it (to the NBA).

“A lot of guys take this for granted. I’ve been thru so much, now I know what it takes to make it. Not to take it for granted and to go hard.

“It’s a great experience, it’s a lifelong dream and it’s something on my bucket list (to play) in the NBA. Unfortunately we didn’t get a lot of wins this year, but I’m blessed to be here.”

If Orlando can figure out their mess of a roster, Birch should be back with the Magic again next season. The 25-year-old rookie has shown himself to be a prospect worth developing.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA G League Raptors 905 East Champs

Spurs Take Game One From Raptors 905 (with Highlights)

Derrick White scored a game-high 35 points for the Spurs in Austin on Sunday night to take Game One of the best-of-three NBA G League Finals from the defending champion Mississauga Raptors 905. The final score was 105-93.

 

 

The Spurs also got big nights from guard Darrun Hilliard who had 23 points and 17 points from Nick Johnson.

905 guard Lorenzo Brown led his team once again with 20 points while center Kennedy Meeks chipped in with a double-double of 13 points and 10 boards.

 

 

The Spurs were able to capitalize on strong three point shooting in the opening quarter, hitting on 60 percent from beyond the arc to take an early 30-23 advantage. Hilliard recorded 10 points in the quarter to pace Austin. Raptors 905 pushed back in the second frame, spearheaded by Brown’s 12 point effort in the quarter. After the opening 24 minutes of play, Austin went into the break up 54-49.

After a 27-27 draw in the third quarter, the two teams headed into the final frame with Austin ahead 81-76. In the fourth quarter, Austin converted at a 53.3 percent clip from the field to edge the 905 24-17 in the frame and earn the Game One victory.

Both teams now head to Mississauga for Game Two on Tuesday, April 10 with tip-off scheduled for 8 p.m.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Raptors Have An Old Fashioned Enforcer In Serge Ibaka

Basketball might look like a non-contact sport to the uninitiated and basketball fights more often resemble rough horse-play than anything else, but intimidation can be very real in the NBA and toughness is still a valuable and necessary commodity. While the Raptors have toughness in players like Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Jonas Valanciunas, they have an old fashioned enforcer in Serge Ibaka.

“It is very important when you are a team where you think you want a championship one day or you are a team with an opportunity to go far in the playoffs, you have to have toughness,” Ibaka told Pro Bball Report. “You have to because in the playoffs things get ugly, things get tough, that’s why you need toughness.”

Ibaka has only been with the Raptors since last year’s trade deadline, but he’s already been in two fights where, gasp, real punches have been thrown in anger. Ibaka was ejected last season in March for exchanging blows with the Bulls Robin Lopez and this season in January for throwing punches with James Johnson of the Heat.

“It’s good,” Fred VanVleet explained to Pro Bball Report. “You want to have a tough guy quote en quote or enforcer and Serge has kind of taken that on himself to do that. Obviously we’d like him to save his money sometimes, but sometimes it’s needed and he kind of walks that line of when it’s needed and when it’s not.”

“It’s important in the league where we are now, people oughta to know, because people like to attack the weak(er) people,” Ibaka said. “If they know this guy’s nice or he’s weak, they are always going to come (after) you. (You need) a guy out there who if you go after (a teammate), he’s going to respond and that gives you a better chance for people to respect you out there.

“On a team you always need someone like that who is going to be there for his teammates, stand up for his teammates.”

The three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player from 2011-2014 who led the NBA in blocks from 2010-2014 has seen his game evolve under the pressure for big men to hit the three-ball, but he still likes to mix things up in the paint.

“He does way more than just try to be an enforcer out there and you saw that tonight with his shooting, spacing the floor and obviously his defense that we depend on him for,” VanVleet said.

With three games remaining in the regular season, Ibaka is second on the Raptors in blocks with 94, rebounds with 469, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, in personal fouls with 203. But as VanVleet wants us to remember, Ibaka is third on the Raptors in scoring at 12.8 points per game, fourth with 106 made threes while shooting a respectable 35.9 percent and fourth with 372 made field goals shooting a solid 48.4 percent.

Ibaka has evolved to become more than just a paint-bound player, defensive specialist and sometime enforcer and the media adverse big man would like people to know he’s not the same guy off the court that you see treading line between toughness and hot head on the court.

“It’s hard because people really don’t know (me). They think this is how you are,” Ibaka said. “Sometimes people off the court they can’t look at (me) differently. That’s the hard part. You don’t want people to think about you off the court like that.”

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors win no 57

Raptors Crush Pacers To Secure First Place In The East

The Toronto Raptors built an 18-4 lead before the visiting Pacers knew what hit them as they held visitors to 5 points below their previous worst this season of 38 at the half and 10 points below their prior low of 83 for a game this year as Toronto cruised to a new franchise record for wins in a season at 57 and secured first place in the Eastern Conference with the 92-73 win.

The Pacers couldn’t buy a bucket all game as no one in the starting lineup made more than two field goals and Indiana shot a season low 29.9 percent as a team.

“(The Raptors) defense has been solid, there offense has picked up. They have put together a bench that is playing very well,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan prior to the game. “They have put themselves into a position to have this kind of success.”

The Raptors defensive-minded power forward Serge Ibaka was red hot from the start, scoring 10 first quarter points and finishing with a season-high 25 points on 10-13 shooting while matching his career best of five made three-pointers. No one else scored more than 12 points on either team.

“(Ibaka) is a weapon,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “He has developed that like a lot of players that go through the league. They develop the offensive end. He is a definite three-point shooter.”

The victory also established a new franchise record for wins at home (33) with one home game remaining against Orlando on Sunday.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry played 28 minutes each and finished 12/5/8 and 9/5/9 respectively as Casey didn’t have to rely on his All-Stars to get the job done on this night.

“There is a sense of gratification of watching the growth of the program,” Casey said. “(The) development of the program from scratch and building it to the number one seed in our conference.”

However, Casey is thinking about the start of the playoffs a week from now and, unlike some other coaches, is more worried about keeping his guys ready to play than giving them any significant time off.

“That’s bull crap,” Casey said about resting guys. “We may give a guy some time, but we can’t think rest, we got to think rhythm. If you’ve been around the last couple of years, you’ve seen what shutting guys down a few games does to your body. We may rest a guy maybe a few minutes or a game, but there won’t be anybody who is going to take the rest of these next three games off because we just now in these last couple of games got a sense of rhythm.”

The Raptors don’t want to face another slow start in the first round of the playoffs.

On another note, the Raptors affiliate, Raptors 905, defeated the Erie BayHawks in the G League Eastern Conference Final 118-106 led by two-way contract player Lorenzo Brown with a game-high 28 points. The 905 will head to Austin, Texas to defend their G League Title on Sunday April 8th at 7:00 p.m. Game Two will be at the Hersey Centre in Mississauga on April 10th with Game Three, if necessary, back in Austin on April 13th.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Nogueira

Is The Raptors Secret Weapon Lucas Nogueira?

With the Toronto Raptors on the verge of finishing atop the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history as they set a new franchise record for wins in a season, there shouldn’t be much that isn’t known about this roster. Two four-time All-Stars and the best bench in the NBA, but maybe this team has a secret weapon in third string center Lucas Nogueira that could be a difference-maker when the Raptors are in trouble.

“When Lucas is locked in, I think Lucas is one of the best centers, shot blockers, shot changers in the league,” Kyle Lowry said after the Raptors recent win over the Celtics in Toronto. “It’s unfortunate sometimes his rotations haven’t been good for him all year.

“He’s a true professional. He’s been coming in and getting his extra work in and when he’s playing, he’s been good.”

It’s fair to say Nogueira has been a true professional this season, unfortunately that statement would have been a lot harder to make in the past. The fun-loving big Brazilian center has come across as entitled, unfocused, and soft in past seasons, but his natural gifts made everyone around him hope he could put it together and this year, there’s a case to be made that he’s doing it.

In his 47 games this season Nogueira has put together a team best defensive rating of 96.7. Steady reliable Fred VanVleet comes in second at 99.6 in his 73 games.

When it comes to blocking shots, Nogueira’s been swatting away an insane career best 8.3 percent of the two-point shots while he’s been on the court. To put that in context, the Knicks Kristaps Porzingis is the official leader in that stat this season at 6.4 percent. Jakob Poeltl is next best on the Raptors at 5.4 percent and Serge Ibaka swats 3.7 percent. (Toronto has the second most blocks per game in the NBA this season.)

But it’s Nogueira’s defensive play since the end of February as his teammates started taking their collective efforts off the defensive end that really stands out. In his last 12 games, Nogueira has a defensive rating of 76.4. Over the same time period Delon Wright has been the Raptors best regular rotation player on “D” with a defensive rating of 102.9.

“He gives us a presence at the rim,” Fred VanVleet said. “He makes those intangible plays in the game that are rare for a big.”

And he does make those intangible plays that are rare for a big man, but Nogueira still has to fight the perception that he’ll lose his focus the longer he’s on the court, so coach Casey remains reluctant to use him unless Poeltl and Jonas Valanciunas aren’t getting the job done.

This year Nogueira has been ready to play when Casey calls and he’s been seen so little by the Raptors opponents that he really is like a secret weapon. It is almost impossible to prepare for the impact of a focused Nogueira as his game is completely different from Poeltl or Valanciunas as was readily evident when Casey subbed him in against the Celtics on Wednesday night. (Nogueira had a plus/minus of +19 in 17.8 minutes.)

It’s worth noting Nogueira will be a free agent at the end of this season. He’s talented, motivated, and needs to prove he deserves a new contract next year. History has shown that can be a dangerous combination if you’re on the other team.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.