Article Written by Hudson Stewart (@hudson_stewart6)
Before I say anything, I just want to preface that I know the series isn’t over yet. The Raptors could very well win on Sunday and go back to Toronto tied 2-2. However, with the way most of the team is playing right now, that looks unlikely. The Raptors got blown out Thursday night in Game 3, but my main point of frustration comes at the fact that they lost game 2 at home. They had all of the momentum going in, Embiid had “the shits” as he said, and other than Jimmy Butler, most of Philly’s best players had quiet nights.
But the Raptors lost that game, and in doing so they blew a big opportunity to take a stranglehold on the series. They then went into Philadelphia and laid a massive egg. Kawhi Leonard was incredible Thursday, as usual per usual. But also per usual, no one else showed up to help him. Siakam was alright, and Danny Green was a bit better, but Lowry and Gasol were both complete no-shows; and that’s just the starters! The bench was awful again, especially Fred VanVleet, who once again looked lost out there (the bench scored 15 points tonight, which was actually a huge improvement from game 2).
Speaking of Lowry though, he had another brutal shooting game Thursday (2/10 from the field, 0/4 from 3) and I’m pretty much done defending him. I love Kyle Lowry, and he’s one of my favourite Raptors ever. He’s been such a driving force of the last 6 years, and the Raptors don’t make any of this happen without him. However, there comes a point when you just need more from your $30 million point guard. Him consistently putting up poor playoff performances gets forgiven by a lot of Raptors fans because of his “intangibles.” Yes, Lowry does a lot of great things for the team. He takes a ton of charges, is a great passer, and can make some pretty gutsy plays. But you don’t pay $30 million for intangibles; you pay $30 million for someone that can actually score every once in a while.
It’s so frustrating to watch Kawhi continue to carry this team so much because it shows how much they’re wasting his efforts. We could potentially be watching the end of Kawhi’s tenure in Toronto, and with the way his teammates are playing, can anyone really blame him if he wants to leave? Almost every possession that the Raptors score involves him making some ridiculous shot, and the ones where the Raptors don’t score either involve a forced shot or a missed open shot from a teammate. Kawhi has put forth some super-human efforts in this series, and yet the Raptors only have 1 win.
Another frustrating part of this series has been Nick Nurse getting thoroughly out-coached by Brett Brown - of all people. I understand Nurse is a rookie head coach, but this is a team in win-now mode, and he knew what he was signing up for. The fact that he’s still tinkering with rotations right now is crazy, considering he’s had 82 games to figure that out. Also, why has Jodie Meeks seen any playing time in this series?
Another thing on Nurse - and this might be the most frustrating thing for me - is how much he seems to trust the bench unit. Obviously the starters can’t play the entire game, but Nurse has to do a better job of resting guys at appropriate times. For example, the Raptors made a run at the end of the 3rd quarter to cut the 76ers’ lead to 8. That run was lead by - guess who - Kawhi Leonard. He was making plays on both ends of the court and carrying the team as per usual. So obviously the Raptors kept in there to start the 4th, right?
Nurse put the bench in and Philly ran away with the game. By the time Kawhi came back into the game it was too late. I was fine with the whole load management thing in the regular season because it meant that Kawhi would be ready to play more in the playoffs, and play at a high level. And he’s playing at a world-class level right now, but he’s not being played enough in my opinion. The Raptors may only have this guy for a few more games, so why not use him to the max?
I think my main point of frustration is that it’s happening again. We convinced ourselves that this year would be different (for like the 5th time) and it’s happening again. I’ll always be a Raptors fan through thick and thin, but this may be the best chance we’ve ever had to watch them play in the Finals, and they’re currently blowing it to a team that gives Greg Monroe meaningful minutes.
I haven’t given up on this series, and I hope other fans don’t either. But the way the last 2 games have gone, I’m beginning to question this team’s mental toughness (minus Kawhi).
Just win on Sunday guys.
Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)