Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 121-111 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
One — Nightmare: The Raptors were going steady for three quarters and then they completely fell apart — stop me if you've heard that one before. It's part of why this season has been so frustrating, because it's not that the Raptors can't compete, it's that they can't ever sustain it, and that makes the result all the more frustrating. It's a waste of time and energy to invest anything into these results. Sure, they're still technically in the
hunt for a play-in spot, but those hopes will be gone by the end of this road trip.
Two — Collapse: The second unit completely dropped the ball to start the fourth quarter. Nick Nurse tried to buy some rest for his starters but it completely backfired, and even though the starters did return early, the damage was already done as the Nuggets were rolling. It wasn't completely surprising since the bench unit struggled in the first half as well, but the bottom just completely fell out. Nurse's instruction to begin the quarter was to prevent second-chance basket above all else, and on the very first play, Paul Millsap collected an offensive rebound and got himself to the line.
Three — Decent: The game plan itself from Nurse was strong, and it really did keep the Nuggets away from playing their usual game. The Raptors mixed up their coverages on Nikola Jokic, sometimes sending hard traps at him, or sometimes electing to play straight up, and the Raptors did a decent job of rotating out to their shooters to close the gap. Michael Porter Jr. was also impressive, but he did most of his damage from outside and it wasn't a hugely efficient game. Where the Raptors got burned was on the offensive glass, with the Nuggets capitalizing on their size, but everything was still even before the bench came in.
Four — Electric: Khem Birch continues to impress in his short time as a Raptor, and was able to notch a career-high 20 points to go along with four assists. Birch was assigned to cover Aaron Gordon, which is an unusual primary assignment for the 6-foot-10 center, but Birch played him well and showed impressive quickness to stay with his former Magic teammate. Offensively, Birch just keeps getting behind the defense and always makes himself available for the pass, which becomes especially useful since his teammates typically draw help. Birch even showed his touch from the corners, knocking down two threes with ease. He is absolutely a keeper for next season, if the Raptors can get him under contract.
Five — Absent: This was another performance where Pascal Siakam ghosted through the game. He clearly didn't look right physically, and he was dragging on both ends. Siakam was inattentive on defense at times, allowing Porter Jr. to flash open for threes or slice backdoor for layups. Offensively, Siakam saw a clogged paint for the entire game as Denver elected to shade him with a center waiting at all times around the basket, so Siakam couldn't post up or drive which is about the only thing he does at a consistent level. Siakam got a few push shots to fall after offensive rebounds, but mostly he stayed in the background and made little impact on the game. He's clearly not at 100 percent physically.
Six — Emphatic: Siakam's tentativeness made OG Anunoby the de facto go-to scorer, and while it's a role that he is clearly not ready for, Anunoby did his best to create. He took a career-high 21 attempts, and made a point to attack the defense every time he touched the ball. Anunoby had some success at times driving to the basket, using his spin move to create separation or finding Birch on cuts, but there were also moments of tunnel vision where Anunoby showed a lack of preparation. In any case, it wasn't an inefficient game and the matchup didn't really do Anunoby any favors, so try it more often. The rest of the season should be about development, and Anunoby is demanding chances with the way he's competing.
Seven — Fun: The final statline isn't flattering to Malachi Flynn because he was on the floor with the bench as the team was imploding, and he also lost his own way in getting trapped by the defense which explains his six turnovers. Having said that, Flynn was great in the first three quarters, especially in the third where he took Jokic to the basket, isolated and nailed another three on Jokic and hit another open look from the corner before finishing through contact with his left hand on a drive. Flynn is so much better compared to the start of the campaign, and his play is one of the only refreshing aspects of the season.
Eight — Regression: On the other hand, it was very much a rookie performance from Freddie Gillespie, who has hit a cold stretch since his standout five-block performance against the Nets. Gillespie looked lost on both ends, clogging the paint with his positioning offensively, while getting absolutely schooled by Millsap on the other end. It's not particularly surprising for a rookie and it was never going to be a linear rise, but Gillespie is very much a prospect who will require patience.
Nine — Confused: It's been an awkward season for DeAndre' Bembry and Stanley Johnson. At times they have been useful bench pieces, guys who can defend with intensity while providing a bit of ball handling on offense, but they have been in and out of the rotation so many times that it's unclear what their roles are. Bembry was solid in the first half, sneaking inside for layups and dunks, but was invisible in the second half. Johnson gave them a shot in the arm, but nowhere close to changing the game. Are they here for the future or just passing through?
Ten — Milestone: Kyle Lowry played his 600th game as a Raptor, and as was the case in at least half of those contests, Lowry was the best player on the team. It's been an incredible blessing to have Lowry lead this franchise to unprecedented heights, and through an extended run of success. The Raptors haven't finished with fewer than 48 wins since 2014, and this is the first season since Lowry's first year where he was injured and wearing the number 3 (because he wouldn't dare take No. 7 from Andrea Bargnani, wow) that the team will have a losing season. Whatever Lowry does this offseason, Raptors fans can treat it with nothing but gratitude, because he earned it. Nobody has ever played harder in a Raptors uniform than Lowry.
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