Each week we bring you the most important part of every Toronto Raptors game. This week’s highlights include Pascal Siakam being shut down, Raptors selling out to stop Harden, and an extended look at dual bigs.
It was a tough week for the Toronto Raptors. Coming off an impressive seven-game winning streak, the defending champs had the script reversed on them, as they went 0-3 in their most recent stretch. The losses all came to opponents with above .500 records, dropping the Raptors record against such opponents to a miserable 3-7.
Despite their recent hardships, the Toronto Raptors still sit just 1.5 games back of the 2-seed, and with a relatively easy stretch of opponents coming up, they are in a solid position to eat up ground on the teams immediately ahead of them.
But what did we learn from a difficult week? There was plenty to gain from the team’s most recent three-game stretch.
Heat game: Bam Adebayo shut down Pascal Siakam
One field goal attempt. Against the Miami Heat, Pascal Siakam attempted just one shot during the fourth quarter and overtime combined, scoring zero points. He wasn’t even participating in the offense down the stretch. Bam Adebayo completely clamped him up.
Over the course of the entire contest, Siakam went 5-14 and scored 15 inefficient points. But even his makes weren’t against Adebayo. Siakam scored his five buckets when he was able to switch onto Jimmy Butler, Kelly Olynyk, and other defenders. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with attacking weaker matchups, it’s at least a little concerning the Raptors number one option wasn’t able to get a single bucket against his primary defender.
Siakam being judged this harshly is truly a sign of the growth he’s experienced. The young power forward averaged fewer than 10 points per game during his first handful of games last season. Now, he’s being criticized for not controlling the offense down the stretch. But if we’re going to mention Spicy-P among the top-10 or so players in the NBA, then this is the new standard. Bad games and cold shooting nights happen. Having your superstar look like a total non-factor shouldn’t.
Rockets game: Raptors went all out to stop James Harden
The Toronto Raptors did an excellent job of limiting James Harden in their contest against the Rockets. Harden scored “just” 23-points, his second-lowest point total of the season. He attempted only 11 field goals and six free throws, both season-lows.
But in order to stop Harden, the Raptors compromised other parts of their defense. They gave up 55 three-point attempts, one of the highest figures of any game this season. Even worse, they gave up an absurd 23 shots from the corner, again one of the highest figures in the NBA this season. The Rockets shot 40-percent from beyond the arc, including 48-percent from the corner, and that was the difference in the game.
If you want to chalk the night up to hot shooting, go ahead. But as the Raptors doubled Harden, they gave up wide-open looks to others. Plays like this are just too easy.
Toronto’s strategy of blitzing primary scoring options has been successful to this point. They shut down Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, LeBron James, and to an extent, Harden. But too much of a good thing can be detrimental, and they may have taken the strategy a step too far against the Rockets. It will be interesting to see how they handle Houston the next time these teams face each other.
76ers game: Go big or go home
The Raptors were struggling against the Philadelphia 76ers late in the third quarter. They were down 19 with just under three minutes remaining in the frame when Nick Nurse decided to play big. The Raptors trotted out a lineup of Terence Davis, Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol. They were playing two centers, and Siakam was at shooting guard.
Although the lineup wasn’t particularly effective to close out the quarter, Nurse played big the rest of the game. At least two of Gasol, Ibaka, or Chris Boucher was on the court at all times. The team’s typical power forwards, Siakam and Hollis-Jefferson, played small forward the rest of the contest.
During their sizeable stretch, Raptors’ most effective lineup was the Lowry, OG Anunoby, Siakam, Ibaka, and Gasol. That group finished +10 in eight minutes, using a zone defense to slow the 76ers for long stretches.
Perhaps Nurse was just trying to shake up the snow globe while his team was getting crushed. However, it’s also possible, that against one the biggest team in the NBA, Nurse thought he needed to counter back with his own gargantuan group. With multiple contests remaining against the 76ers, we could see more of the dual big lineup. The Raptors will want to see if that group can work come playoff time.