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10 things: Raptors keep playing for lottery position with another loss to Clippers

·NBA reporter
·6 min read
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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 115-96 loss to the LA Clippers.

One — Ugly: This game bordered on unwatchable. The Raptors had nine players available, but all of their featured players sat out, and they had absolutely nothing for the Clippers. It was almost a waste of time to see such a lopsided fight, with the Clippers effortlessly keeping the Raptors at a distance, picking them apart with one or two simple passes until their starters went to the bench looking thoroughly disinterested. Throw in some overeager officiating in the second half, and the entire viewing performance was a drag.

Two — Unproductive: The toughest part of these games is that there's so little developmental value to be gained. With the exception of the centers, every single Raptors player was playing above their usual position, and they looked predictably overwhelmed. Offensively, the Raptors struggled to generate anything other than blind drives to the basket, and defensively, the Raptors were often a step slow or just flat-out blowing their coverages. You could say that all experience is valuable, but these players won't be in this position again any time soon unless something has seriously gone wrong, again. 

Three — Teaching: Nick Nurse's role in these games is to teach on the fly. In truth, there's little more than he can do since his hands are tied. Take their vets away, and no coach will look any good. Nurse prepared a similar game plan as the Raptors' meeting against the Clippers last week, but the execution is lacking. Nurse had his staff prepare 10 clips for halftime, five of which were mistakes, and the other five being positives. Did it improve their performance in the second half? Not at all. But the hope is some of these experiences stick moving forward.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) passes the ball over Toronto Raptors center Khem Birch (24) and forward Chris Boucher (25) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Kawhi Leonard once again got the best of his former mates as his Clippers handed the severely shorthanded Raptors another L. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Four — Inefficient: It's becoming an unfortunate trend to see a lopsided fraction on Gary Trent Jr.'s stat sheet at the end of the game. Trent Jr. followed his 5-of-20 performance with a 3-of-16 effort, and it's not all that surprising when you watch the games. Without playmakers like Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam on the floor, Trent Jr. is mostly left to create for himself and the results haven't been pretty. Nurse got on him after the game, calling for Trent Jr. to make better decisions because it's simply impossible for all but the greatest players in the game to be efficient on a diet of contested jumpers, which is the majority of looks that Trent Jr. creates. The difference between his efficiency on catch-and-shoot plays (60 percent effective shooting), versus when he even takes one dribble (47 percent), is stark. 

Five — Perspective: That being said, it's still a fair bet that the Raptors will re-sign Trent Jr. as their shooting guard of the future. Trent Jr. is clearly skilled and he is an accurate and aggressive shooter which is what the starting lineup needs. In his first dozen starts, Trent Jr. averaged 18 points on 40 percent shooting from deep, and this was largely without him knowing the playbook. However, any hopes of playing him in a Sixth Man role have been dashed pending any major improvements in his playmaking. In 17 games since the trade deadline, Trent Jr. has posted either zero or just one assist in 12 games. 

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Six — Rusty: Chris Boucher made his return after missing the last two weeks with a knee injury. Boucher was predictably out of rhythm, which was made clear by the flat arc on his signature looping jumper. Boucher started strong, blocking Patrick Beverley on a three and taking it the other way for the Raptors' first basket, but there were lapses on defense as the game went on. In any case, it's been a stellar breakout season for Boucher, as he was the Raptors' only reliably contributor off the bench. He has nothing to prove in the last few games of the season, other than perhaps getting a few extra reps at power forward. 

Seven — Spurts: Malachi Flynn had moments of brilliance, but was mostly quiet. Flynn tried to jumpstart the Raptors early on, finding Khem Birch for a layup, nailing a pull-up three, and then surprising DeMarcus Cousins in the post with a quick double leading to a steal and a fast break. But there were also quiet stretches where Flynn was unable to consistently generate efficient offense for his teammates. One point of emphasis is that Flynn needs to keep attacking the paint. Even though he is undersized, it's a bad look to see all 10 of Flynn's shot attempts being jumpers. He's quick and he can get a step on most centers and even some bigger wings (Flynn got Paul George off-balance, twice) and he needs to use that to his advantage. Even if the shot isn't there for him, it generally creates room for his teammates to score. 

Eight — Shift: It was also an up-and-down performance for Jalen Harris. Nurse got on Harris for his five turnovers in 25 minutes, which were regrettable, but there was also plenty to like about his game. For one, it's becoming clear just how shifty Harris can be on his drives to the rim. Harris repeatedly got downhill against the defense which is how he got the majority of his 10 points and four assists. Defensively, Harris isn't offering much, but that's how he was billed coming out of the draft. He's always been a scorer by trade, and so far, it's carrying over to the professional level.

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Nine — Courageous: Freddie Gillespie continues to impress with his all-around effort. Gillespie's work on the offensive glass is consistently strong and he frustrated Cousins with his effort. Defensively, Gillespie shows no fear at the basket, rising up twice to deny Cousins, then Ivica Zubac, who both tried to cram with two hands only for Gillespie to meet them at the top. He showed the same bravery in the loss to the Grizzlies, when Gillespie rose to deny Ja Morant. Playing defense is the surest way into Nurse's rotation, and even if he didn't get the stops, the willingness of Gillespie to challenge those plays is a quality the Raptors admire.

Ten — Welcome: Serge Ibaka lingered after the final whistle to meet with everybody on his former team. Ibaka greeted Nurse, Lowry, and VanVleet, but he even stuck around to greet trainers, assistant coaches, and the security team. Ibaka was a gregarious figure who knew how to unite and connect with people, and that is a crucial element of any great team. Nurse retold the story of how Ibaka motivated the Raptors after falling down 0-2 to Milwaukee in the conference finals, citing OKC's comeback against Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green's Spurs as the example of what the Raptors could achieve. The rest was history.

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