Raptors need to improve home performance to contend in the East

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 25:Fred VanVleet #23 talks with Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 25:Fred VanVleet #23 talks with Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors made their long-awaited return to Scotiabank Arena after an entire season spent in Tampa. Unfortunately, not only did the Raptors lose their home opener, but they’ve struggled to recapture the same home magic that they had during their dominant postseason runs.

It’s now been 14 games into the season and the Raptors have had eight home dates. They have won only two of those eight games, yet have gone 5-1 away from Toronto. The trend of poor performances at home continued Saturday night against the Detroit Pistons in a 127-121 loss.

Scotiabank Arena has become a difficult place for the Raptors to perform. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Raptors had built a fortress at home for years. They lost their first three at home this season, snapping that stretch with a 118-100 victory over Indiana on October 27.

Overall the start to the season has been decent by the Raptors. In head coach Nick Nurse’s eyes:

"“It’s effort…They play really hard, man. It takes a lot of effort to get on the glass and then if you’re getting on the glass to still get back,” Nurse said. “Some of the stats are showing you the effort: the turnovers, the offensive rebounding, the defensive transition, they’re showing a lot of effort and that’s as simple as that.”"

Why are the Toronto Raptors struggling at home?

The effort hasn’t translated to wins during home dates. Toronto had previously been an impregnable wall between 2013 and 2020. Not including last season, the Raptors had won 58 home games combined over the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Last year, they lost more games in Tampa than they did in the prior 2 years in Toronto.

In their first seven home contests, the Raptors had averaged 102.5 points per game while their season average was 104.2 per game. The Raptors did score 121 points on Saturday, well above their average, but it still was not enough to win.

In their first seven home dates, their opponents amassed a scoring average of 105.6 points per game. In contrast, the Raptors are allowing opponents 99 points per game in their first six road contests. It is a dramatic difference being that much better defensively on the road than at home.

Pascal Siakam, who played his third game Saturday night contributed a double-double effort after returning from shoulder surgery. His return may help elevate the offense’s production once he’s up to speed. However, it may not be enough o completely reverse their fortunes at home.

The defense has been stingy overall. However, they need to duplicate their road successes at home and become more consistent no matter where they play. Saturday night they failed in this effort allowing the Pistons a season-high points allowed of 127.

What will turn the Toronto Raptors around?

Only OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Chris Boucher remain from that pre-pandemic roster. With all the turmoil over the last two seasons and plenty of new team members in an unfamiliar place, time and patience might be all that’s needed.

The plethora of youth on the roster needs time to gel, build chemistry and find its identity as a team. The younger stars may be playing with nervous energy to endear themselves to the home crowd while trying to figure out the pace and tempo of the NBA game.

As a team, they are moving in the right direction overall. They have already earned a five-game winning streak and are dominating teams on the offensive glass.

It’s early in the season with 68 games still to come. These stats may be temporary blips that will be forgotten or corrected. They also pose the potential of being the initial formation of trends otherwise known as bad habits if not broken soon.

Hovering around .500 is probably better than some expected of the Raptors to this point of the season. Whether it’s better defensive rebounding, more shot attempts, and more consistent scoring at home, this team could find itself as a playoff contender rather than barely fighting to secure a play-in playoff spot in April.

Saturday night’s effort is hopefully just a temporary setback.

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