5 things: Raptors’ level of focus simply isn’t good enough

Here are five takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 114-105 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

One — The Raptors have conceded 81 points in their last two first quarters. Toronto struggled to finish on offence and puked all over themselves defensively to trail by 24 points as Brooklyn set their season-high in scoring for any quarter with 41. The Raptors’ game plan was to force the ball out of Kevin Durant‘s hands, yet he was able to pop free for two drives in the first two minutes due to miscommunication and a lack of physicality to start. The Raptors then shifted into zone coverage less than three minutes in, but a total lack of execution allowed the Nets to walk into wide open threes. On the very first possession of zone coverage, the Raptors completely fell asleep as Joe Harris knocked in a triple with one basic pass on the perimeter. This continued for the rest of the quarter, with the most egregious play coming just under the minute mark, where Markieff Morris inbounded to the top, then walked onto the court without anyone in his vicinity for another open three. Nick Nurse can run all the strategies he wants, but not if his players aren’t prepared to execute the most basic of plays with full intensity and focus from the start of the game.

Two — Nurse shuffled his starting lineup for the 10th straight game, and by the looks of it, he will need to keep searching. Christian Koloko got the start against Brooklyn for the third-straight time this season, coming in for Thad Young who only played four minutes, but Koloko was one of the main reasons for the poor start. Offensively, Koloko went 0-for-4 from the field with a turnover in the opening frame, which includes a missed tip-in, being blocked twice on the same drive, shanking an open corner three, and shuffling his feet trying to gain better position for a layup. The commonality with the four plays is that they were all excellent chances created off double teams from Pascal Siakam, as the Nets eagerly doubled up on him in the lane, yet Koloko was unable to capitalize. This is hardly a surprise since Koloko’s finishing has been poor in every area except for when Fred VanVleet or Scottie Barnes serves him lob dunks, and it’s rather obvious that Koloko needs to add more strength and skill in the paint. What was disappointing was his missed rotations on defence, where he wasn’t able to make the right reads to at least contribute on that end. Even though the lineup has been in constant flux, Nurse needs to keep searching for the right starting group.

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Three — The Raptors should try to maintain their size against Orlando’s comically outsized frontcourt. If Koloko is given a second chance, he will need to be much sharper defensively and stay composed on his finishes because Siakam will need an outlet once he is doubled. If Nurse wants to go another way, Chris Boucher could be useful in this matchup. Boucher hasn’t finished well of late either, but his track record over three years is that he can score reliably, and he brings energy in every shift. Boucher is prone to mistakes, especially on the perimeter, but he was one of the main contributors in the fourth quarter while the Raptors were literally scrambling to get back into the game.

Four — All three of Toronto’s three main playmakers were lacking in this game. Siakam was good offensively, but he undercut his own efforts by picking up four fouls in the first half, two of which came on push-off fouls against Royce O’Neale on rebounds that were entirely unforced. VanVleet continues to misfire from three, including shots that are in rhythm and within his skillset, which is leaving Siakam to carry the scoring for the starting group. To make things worse, VanVleet lost his composure in the third quarter, throwing away passes on back-to-back possessions then being overly aggressive pressuring the ball against Seth Curry for a foul. Barnes was too loose with the ball, losing his handle three times, while also chucking away a handful of bad passes for a career-high seven turnovers. Barnes competed and made a push in the second quarter, but also made untimely plays in the third and fourth which swung momentum back in Brooklyn’s favour. Thankfully, it looks like his knee is alright as he was able to throw down an explosive dunk in the final minute after having checked out briefly.

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Five — Above all else, the Raptors just haven’t been able to remain focused. They have way too many stretches where they don’t play to their pillars of tough defence, capitalizing in transition, attacking the paint, and crashing the glass. VanVleet characterized their performances as needing to be more “professional”, but he’s also a part of the problem. The Raptors are constantly embroiled in complaints to the officials, starting with VanVleet, Siakam, and Nurse, with the later two earning technicals, while Barnes committed a flagrant-one after having his pocket picked. Even when they made their comeback pushes to trim a 36-point deficit down to seven, the Raptors lost composure after the occasional mistake, which allowed Brooklyn to rebuff their advantage each time. The challenge for the leaders of this team is to get them on track to start, and to keep their focus for the entire game. Right now, their mistakes are compounding and it’s leading to lopsided losses that are so far below their level as a team.

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