Shooting woes have sapped the Raptors of the will to do the hard things
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There is a specific pattern to slipping in professional sports.
It goes something like this:
1. Lose a few games in a row, deny it’s anything other than a blip. “We’ll be back tomorrow and better than ever. You reconsider.”
2. Lose a few more and the message goes from “we’ll be back” to “we’re going through something, but we’re in this together.” As long as we don’t break, we’re fine.
3. Another tough loss ensues – perhaps one for a team that has played consecutive nights without one of their leading three-pointers – and finally concrete answers are beginning to emerge as to why they are struggling.
That’s where the Raptors are currently located. They’ve lost six out of eight, including stinkers to New Orleans (no life), Brooklyn (no effort), Boston (a tough team but on a back-to-back and dejected key personnel) and the second of two Orlando losses in Orlando (none ran correctly).
The only teams that have had a harder time winning games down this stretch are the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards.
Unfortunately, the Raptors don’t see either of those teams on schedule for nearly another month.
But now some true truth about what caused this fall from grace for the once feared Raptors.
As anyone paying even the slightest attention to the team these days knows, they’ve collectively lost the ability to score past the three-point line.
They’ve been shooting under 30% from outside the arc as a team for more than a month.
And that’s a big part of the problem, no question.
But good teams can overcome shooting difficulties by finding other ways to win. Unless, of course, that inability to shoot straight has weakened her from her will to do the other things that make her special. Then you’re in a real bind and that’s where the Raptors find themselves.
They can’t shoot at the moment — at least not enough from three-point range to remain competitive — and that lack of success has left them uninspired on the other end of the floor, where it’s always been their calling card, things tougher than that opponent to do.
“We definitely looked like we lost some confidence in shooting, shooting, etc.,” Nurse said. “And it affects a lot of what we do. My message is that we can’t let it affect our identity and do the things that our philosophy demands, but we allow it (it happens).
“We don’t protect the ball well enough, we don’t block well enough, we don’t execute plans well enough,” Nurse said.
“What is the reason, you ask me. There’s a lot of things and part of that is offense… just the ball coming in affects a lot in general. We need to get that out of our minds and rearrange it a bit, and I think everyone needs to collectively do the philosophical, fundamental things better and longer.”
The nurse then used an example from Wednesday’s loss.
“Like last night we have this game, we’re playing really well and we’re just making some stupid decisions on offense and suddenly the game changes,” he said. “They were pretty easy to play, and we don’t have the space to say, ‘We’re 16, let’s do a little bit of side here.'”
The one constant about the Raptors, and opposing coaches mention it every time they come to Toronto, is how physically the Raptors play.
Well, that physicality was, according to the Nurse at least, a victim of the Raptors’ shooting spree.
“We just can’t get close enough to the ball early in the drives,” Nurse said, speaking specifically about his team’s inability to keep everything out of his paint. “There’s just too much freedom. There’s a lot of athleticism that we’re trying to balance – speed and things like that – so the way of doing that is a bit more physical and we’re just not doing it well enough at the moment.
“We need to get more physical,” Nurse said. “We have to get into the ball, that’s it. You can’t beat ball screens unless you’re in the ball, unless you want to switch everything, unless you want to play coverage on anything. One of our big themes is getting into the ball and beating the screen alone without having to execute a plan. We’ve got percentages we’re trying to do this, what percentage of ball sieves can we defeat by the man just guarding his man and that number is low.
This is a new development for the Raptors and explains why a team like the Sacramento Kings, hung on the ropes and ripe for a hit, suddenly come together in the last quarter with 63.2% shooting and 66.7% shooting from three may lead to erasing what had been a 16-point.
The ball lands in the paint with no pushback, Toronto’s defense collapses to prevent an easy goal, and the ball is thrown to open shooters who have all day to line up their feet, line up their shot and pull it off .
With no three-point game of their own to answer with, the Raptors’ fate is sealed.
Well, part 4 of this lost slip pattern is for a team to recognize what they put into their funk and make the necessary adjustments to get out of it.
That would be the hope for Friday night when they host a Brooklyn team that has won six of their last seven while the Raptors were in free fall.
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