Article Written by Jacob Pacheco (@JacobPacheco6)
The Raptors’ slow struggles continue in Friday night’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets in their attempts to win their second game in a row. After a tough loss to the Denver Nuggets earlier in the week, Toronto was looking to bounce back and keep the winning momentum going forward after a statement win on Wednesday against Philadelphia. But that wasn’t the case.
The Raptors continue to have slow starts out of the gate in the first quarter of games and having trouble shooting the three ball. Friday was a case of both of those issues. A slow start to the game against Brooklyn saw the Nets extend their lead to 14 in the second quarter. After that, Toronto slowly clawed their way back into the game, ultimately tying it up at halftime and keeping it that way until the very end. It came down to a nail-biting finish, but the Nets came out on top to defeat the NBA leading Toronto Raptors in overtime.
It was a game where Kawhi Leonard shined once again and had to put the Raptors on his back late in the 4th quarter and in overtime. Although Jonas Valanciunas put up 24 points and eight rebound in his 26 minutes of playing time, he managed to find his way on the bench for the whole 4th quarter. This meant Leonard had to take over, which he did. Leonard put up 32 points on 10-of-21 shooting in 38 minutes including game tying and go ahead buckets, along with an emphatic eye-opening dunk that surprised many. Despite their efforts, Toronto couldn’t get the job done.
But a few fingers are being pointed to head coach Nick Nurse, indicating that this may be one of his worst coached game of the season. As mentioned, he didn’t play Valanciunas until the overtime period where JV didn’t see playing time for a whole 15 minutes until starting the overtime frame. Fingers are also being pointed at All-Star point guard, “the Bulldog,” Kyle Lowry, and he knows it. After Nurse had rested Kyle Lowry on December 1st against the Cavaliers, Lowry hasn’t been the same. Over the stretch of four games, Lowry has played an average of 35 minutes and only averages 6.3 points, shooting 21.6 percent and 18.5 percent from three, also averaging 3.3 turnovers throughout this four-game stretch. Over the span of three games, Lowry has put up a total of 15 points, 4-of-23 field goals and 3-of-20 from beyond the arc. Lowry is a veteran player in this league, someone who will bounce back. When asked about why he hasn’t been playing up to par lately post-game after the loss to Nets, Lowry said, “no excuses, I just have to play better. I know I’m better.”
Although the Raptors maintain the best record in the NBA still to date, their schedule doesn’t get any easier. After taking tough defeats to the Nuggets, and now the Nets this week, Toronto could be handed their 3rd loss of the week in four games and could be handed more later in the week and coming days. It starts on today as the Raptors travel back to Toronto to take on the Milwaukee Bucks at home; the team who handed Toronto their first loss of the season when both teams were undefeated. It gets worse from there. Toronto then heads out on the road for a grueling four game road trip against the Los Angeles Clippers, and then the Golden State Warriors the day after on a back-to-back.
Back-to-backs only mean one thing: Rest. Raptors fans are now used to seeing Kawhi Leonard’s name not shown in the lineup on a second night of back-to-backs, but maybe we don’t have to worry about that much longer. After a strong week’s performance from Leonard where he has averaged 32 points in four games, I would say he is close or possibly even feeling at 100 percent again. After the match-up with the Clippers, the Raptors once again face-off with the defending NBA Champions, The Golden State Warriors. Their previous meeting against the Warriors saw Golden State without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Well, they’re back, and you bet they’ll be in the lineup looking for revenge when these two teams meet again in less than a week. Only time will tell if Leonard is fit as he once was to take on back-to-back games again.
But the road trip doesn’t end there. After those two grueling games with the Clippers and Warriors, the Raptors face-off against the Portland Trailblazers and the Denver Nuggets once again. After this stretch of games are complete, the Raptors will have only 16 games out of their remaining 55 regular season games against Western Conference opponents, including two match-ups with former Raptor, DeMar DeRozan.
Being the top team in the NBA isn’t easy. Every night you go out onto that court with a target on your back, knowing that every game won’t be easy, that you have to dig in and get the job done. It’s obvious the Raptors have been struggling, that is no secret. But for Nick Nurse and his team, they all need to better than what they have shown over this past week. These few losses Toronto has been handed to recently can go from bad to worse in just a week’s time.
Things need to turn around, and quick.
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