Toronto Raptors: Three takeaways after failed comeback to Rockets

Toronto Raptors - OG Anunoby (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - OG Anunoby (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors were getting blown out by the Houston Rockets before nearly coming all the way back. What did we learn from the loss?

That was tough. The Toronto Raptors came out absolutely flat, and early on, it looked as if the Houston Rockets would handle them without much problem. Toronto fell behind early in the first quarter and trailed the rest of the game.

With 1:14 remaining, the game was all but locked up. James Harden knocked down a pair of free throws to take an 11 point lead. Again, with 1:14 remaining it was a four-possession game. Then, Kawhi Leonard hit a three. Eight points. Houston turnover. Danny Green hit a three. Six points. Houston turnover. Pascal Siakam hit a three. TWO POINTS.

Toronto had the ball for a final possession. It was….. bad. A contested 26-foot heave that didn’t go in. What did we learn from the loss? Here are my three big takeaways.

Kyle Lowry isn’t the same player with Kawhi Leonard on the court

It’s beyond an understatement to say that your best two players need to play well together in order to succeed in the NBA. Right now, that’s not the case for the Toronto Raptors. Kyle Lowry is a demonstrably different player when sharing the floor with Kawhi Leonard.

Lowry is roughly 1/3rd fewer shots, is averaging fewer assists, and is shooting significantly worse when sharing the court with Leonard. A slight regression in usage is natural. This drastic of a change is not.

The two have shared almost no time on the floor together so far this season. With more time, perhaps Lowry will become more assertive. Right now, it’s a problem.

Good strategy on James Harden

James Harden was the number one, two, and three priority for the Raptors defensively. He finished with 35 & 7 so it’s not like he was shut down, but in the grand scheme of things, Toronto did a decent job. He finished 9-25 from the field and 2-13 from three, and when you have the ball as much as he did, you’re going to “get yours” to some extent.

Toronto pressured Harden at the three-point line and forced him into the lane. Once he was in the lane, the bigs stayed back at the rim, forcing Harden into floaters from the middle of the paint. Stopping Harden worked. The part about not letting PJ Tucker and Kenneth Faried go off didn’t.

Umm what was that?

The final play of the game was horrendous, atrocious, pathetic, and whatever else you want to call it. A fadeaway contested 26-footer is not an acceptable look. It’s easy to look at Kawhi Leonard, who also did not execute. However, the lions share of the blame should go to Nick Nurse.

The final play was a Norman Powell screen for Leonard. The idea was to bring James Harden into the action by making him defend the pick. A couple of problems:

  1. Norman Powell has set how many ball screens all year? Why did you think that he would be a solid enough screener to free-up Leonard?
  2. James Harden isn’t a terrible athlete who can’t defend or a small-body player who can’t switch. You’re not attacking Dirk Nowitzki or Isiah Thomas. His defensive problems are largely effort based. He’s going to at least attempt to lock-up at the end of the game.
  3. There was enough time for Powell to screen for Lowry, causing a switch. You could have had Harden involved in the play with a more capable screener setting the pick.

It ended disastrously, and once again, Toronto blew a late game situation. A disturbing trend for a team that wants to compete at the highest levels this season.

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