10 things: Raptors' flaws exposed in loss to Celtics

William LouNBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 112-106 loss to the Boston Celtics.

One — Lessons learned:

Not that it’s ever good to lose a completely winnable game, but losses have a way of revealing the truth. Toronto beat itself Friday with its sloppy execution and piss-poor rebounding. The Celtics shot under 40 percent from the field, but they still managed 112 points simply because they attempted 31 more field goals than the Raptors. Chalk that up to two areas of weakness: Turnovers and offensive rebounds.

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Two — Bullied inside:

Rebounding is a glaring issue. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are hardly dominant, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby don’t prioritize it enough, and the rest of the wings are small. It also doesn’t help that Nick Nurse is running an eight-man rotation so early in the season when the players aren’t yet in peak fitness. The immediate fix would be to burden Siakam, but that takes away from his lethal transition game. Either way, it’s not a good sign that teams like the Celtics — who ranked just 24th in offensive rebounding percentage last season — have already identified this as an area of weakness.

Three — Elephant in the room:

Gasol put up another clunker, and he’s now at six points on 2-of-17 shooting for the season. Nurse showed faith in the Spaniard by putting him in the game after a long breather, but the results were disastrous. Gasol missed two bunnies, committed a charge on a Celtics rookie, and got swatted by Jaylen Brown at the basket while also being absolutely statuesque on defence. Nurse yanked Gasol after four minutes, but that short stint was enough to get the Celtics back into the lead. The 34-year-old is obviously fatigued after his championship summer, but it’s concerning just how poor he’s looked through two games. Nurse is in a difficult spot between riding it out with the veteran, or putting his trust in two wholly unreliable bigs in Chris Boucher or Dewan Hernandez.

Four — Short-term thinking:

If Gasol continues to struggle, Nurse should give some consideration to starting Ibaka. It’s too early in the season for any overreactions, but it’s also a trend worth monitoring. Gasol is a prideful player who will respond, but he’s also a professional that will accept his role. At the moment, Ibaka is the superior player on both ends of the floor, and he looked great with the starters in preseason. Ibaka is a game-changer at the basket on defence, and he’s automatic when he gets an open shot.

Five — Throwback:

In the end, the Raptors wasted a prime performance from Kyle Lowry, who did everything he could to keep the Raptors in the game. Lowry found the rhythm on his 3-pointer, and he cut the Celtics apart with his daredevil drives to the basket. He couldn’t generate much offence late in the game, but you could hardly ask for anything more than 29 points and seven assists from the veteran guard. Hopefully he maintains this form, but Lowry hasn’t quite been able to sustain his hot starts over the past few seasons.

Six — Mental toughness:

Nurse had plenty of gripes with the officials tonight, starting with his star player in Siakam getting called for two soft fouls in the first quarter. Siakam was forced to sit, but he caught fire once the referees let him play. Siakam was not only undeniable on the interior, but he also splashed a career-high five triples as part of his 33 points on the night. Siakam has been working tirelessly on extending his range, and it’s notable that all five of his makes came from above the break, where he shot less than 30 percent last season. If he can stretch his game out to the perimeter, then it’s not just more difficult for defences to contain him, but it opens Siakam’s ability to run pick-and-rolls instead of always having to operate from the post.

Seven — Keep improving:

However, this was hardly a perfect game from Siakam, as he did tally five turnovers — to go along with four in Game 1. Defences are sending hard double teams to Siakam in the post to prevent his spin move, and he isn’t handling it well at the moment. The desire to pass is there, but he keeps getting caught in the air without a clear target, and it’s something that he must learn to cut out. His teammates can also help by making timely cuts, or by simply making open shots. Again, this is where Gasol’s struggles hurt, because the second defender usually comes from the opposing centre, and Gasol should be making them pay.

Eight — Noticeably hobbled:

Fred VanVleet was a shell of the player that we saw on opening night, and it’s likely due to the ankle injury that he sustained after banging into a baseline cameraman. The quick first step that allowed VanVleet to carve apart the Pelicans was completely lacking against the Celtics, and that effectively neutralized him as a scoring threat. He should recover in due time, but this only puts a bigger strain on the offence. The Raptors don’t have enough scorers to cover for VanVleet.

Nine — Cautious approach:

Nurse reluctantly dipped his toe into Stanley Johnson’s waters, only to cut bait after five minutes. Johnson made a three and came down with a rebound, but it was downhill from there. More than anything else, Johnson looks like a player that lacks confidence, and tonight’s short stint couldn’t have helped him in that regard. Nurse’s reluctance to trust the newcomers is understandable, but something has to give. It’s just not sustainable to ride his top-seven players this hard for extended stretches.

Ten — Reinforcements:

Although they are hardly game-changers, the Raptors will benefit from the returns of Pat McCaw and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Both players participated in practice on Thursday, and Nurse said they’re close to returning from injury. McCaw is allergic to scoring but he’s unselfish and pesky on defence, while Hollis-Jefferson is a ball of energy that can make things happen. Hopefully both players will be available for Saturday’s clash against the Bulls. Hollis-Jefferson in particular could be a saviour on the glass and as a reserve power forward.

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