Toronto Raptors should avoid hero ball at end of games

Toronto Rpators - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Rpators - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors have played down to their opponents recently, yet continue to sneak away with wins. The last shots have been taken by surprising players.

Loyal readers know I’ve several times deplored the Toronto Raptors’ habit of letting the usual suspects take the final shot in end-of-game situations. DeMar DeRozan was The Man time and again during his tenure with the team. Most painfully, Kyle Lowry had his shot blocked by Paul Pierce of the Brooklyn Nets to lose Game 7 of the 2014 quarter-finals.

Dwane Casey was the coach during all these predictable situations. Masai Ujiri decided he couldn’t stomach any more post-season pain, and dumped Casey last summer following the disastrous semi-finals wipeout against the Cleveland LeBrons.

Nick Nurse, for years Casey’s offensive wizard, is now the top man. He’s never been afraid of trying stuff, to the point of being occasionally described as a mad scientist. I suspect Nick would be happy with that sobriquet.

On November 20, the Raptors avoided overtime in Orlando when Danny Green flipped in a short jumper off an inbounds play. Kawhi Leonard was on the floor, but Lowry passed directly to Danny. I like it – get the ball to someone the opponents aren’t expecting.

Next we find ourselves in Brooklyn on December 7, losing by one point in overtime. Who took the last shot? Fred VanVleet, just as he did in Game 1 of the Cleveland series. Both shots missed, which doesn’t make them mistakes. [20-second timeout: It’s so strange how life can turn on the smallest things. After a fine pass from DeMar, Fred had an open look with 3 seconds left in that OT playoff game, and the shot rimmed out. If we win, do the Raptors take the series instead of being wrong-footed at home? Is Casey still our coach…does Leonard remain in San Antonio? Chaos theory, meet basketball.]

Keep them guessing

On Thursday night against the Phoenix Suns, the Raptors (or a collection of imposters) allowed a 16-point lead to slip away until the game was tied. With 13 seconds to play, the ball was in-bounded to Lowry, who handed off to Pascal Siakam. He didn’t look for a receiver; instead he challenged gifted rookie center DeAndre Ayton, and executed a left-handed finger-roll a split-second before time expired.

Pascal was clearly Prime on this play, one which had Nick’s fingerprints all over it. The other Raptors cleared space for our remarkably advanced power forward/Swiss Army knife, and he took full advantage. The Raptors grabbed a victory from a miserable game. If you subtract C.J. Miles 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc, you find the rest of the squad was a pitiful 4-of-23. Yet we won.

Now how do Toronto’s opponents game-plan our team? The old rules don’t apply. First Danny Green, now Pascal Siakam, were chosen to successfully close out tie games. Our newest master of isolation ball, Kawhi Leonard, was dressed for roster-rules reasons, but didn’t play. I look forward to the next time we’re in this situation, and Kawhi is out there. What do you want to wager he’ll be the decoy?

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If the Raptors are going to prevail in tight games, of which there will be many in the post-season (there’s been a bunch lately, against inferior teams, so it seems to be the new normal), misdirection will be critical. The more we can put the ball in the hands of unlikely heroes like Fred, Danny and Pascal in the end-game, the better. There’s no better way to build their confidence. Keep doin’ what you’re doin’, Nick.