The Toronto Raptors were the second seed – it wasn’t snug, but it was fitting. Everything was going according to plan until the New Year.
The Raptors started the season hot – a record of 22-10 heading into the New Year is nothing to sneeze at. They were the second seed and everything was going according to plan.
However, following Sunday night’s fourth quarter collapse to the Detroit Pistons, the Raptors are 10-13 in 2017 and have lost 10 of their last 14. The calendar year has been laden with injuries, but the recent losses have been lessons on snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.
What was once a team that was able to beat any team and compete with the top tiers, is starting to crumble in the most crucial minutes of the game:
These close losses are frustrating. Frustrating for the fans and frustrating for the players who are starting to show signs of dissident. When asked what went wrong down the stretch Kyle Lowry was candid with his responde.
“Everything. Everything,” said Lowry. “Keep putting in the same situations over and over and not being successful, something gotta give, something gotta change.”
When pushed on what needs to change he elected to “keep it professional.”
Even DeMarre Carroll is growing in discontent.
When players start to hiss about adjustments publicly, that means problems were festering in the past. This is just the breaking point.
Both a role player and a star are making comments about the same thing, that something needs to change at the end of games. It’s not a player issue in so much as it is a coaching issue.
The last two minutes of the game is where the coach reigns supreme. The players become chess pieces and when played properly in their defined roles it should lead to success.
Late game execution is the hallmark of a well-coached team. However, the coaching needs a closer look when late game possessions start looking like this:
Off the inbound, The Raptors walk the ball up the court and go for a questionable DeMar DeRozan-Caroll pick-and-pop, which is supposed to stick Ish Smith on DeRozan but fails miserably. Smith is able to hedge and recover fast enough that he challenges DeRozan’s dribble above the arc and within it, giving Marcus Morris enough time to get over the Carroll screen.
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Lack of penetration and a trouble dribble leaves it down to Carroll to create with seven seconds on the clock. That’s the price paid when the ball is walked up the floor without a play or a plan, unless your name is Kevin Durant or LeBron James.
The initial action doesn’t work, so there isn’t enough time for a second action or a chance to reverse the ball. If that’s even possible in this situation, the offense has ground to a standstill, with three of the five Raptors not even moving.
So, the Raptors not scoring isn’t an unexpected result – it’s unappealing. Most teams devolve into a one versus one or two versus two machine when the clock shifts from minutes into sheer seconds, but that’s why you have a coach and timeouts right?
Check the play the Raptors run out of a timeout for the last possession of the game:
DeRozan is a lethal isolation player and with the Raptors down one point, an isolation shot from him is an option. It just shouldn’t be the first and only option.
DeRozan whirls around for an open look, but is stonewalled by Morris. The three-time All-Star goes for his patented pump fake to draw a foul, but the contact is borderline at best and the end of the game is notorious for whistleless referees.
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This play right here separates the Steve Kerr‘s and Brad Stevens’ of the world from the Dwane Casey’s. This is where a coach should reach into their bag of quick two plays and be able to make sure their team gets a guaranteed good look.
Instead, it’s an isolation play with nobody but DeRozan moving until the shot goes up. The ball is getting sticky in the fourth especially in those crucial possessions at the end of games and that stickiness hurts the role players just as much as the stars.
The others don’t get to touch the ball, so the defense can load up on one player. The stars get to figure out it’s harder to get a sticky ball out of their hands and into basket than a leather one.
Isolation play at the end of games plagued the raptors in years past – they were just capable of making the shots more frequently. When those iso struggle shots go in they look heroic, when they miss they look pathetic – it’s a low percentage shot.
When you keep taking low percentage shots at the end of the game you’ll lose by the sheer power of math; the coach should know that. Casey, should know that.
Casey’s constant defiance to ball movement at the end of the game is a habit that needs to change. It’s costing the Raptors games and starting to cost him the locker room.