3 key takeaways from Raptors’ tough loss vs. Pistons – ClutchPoints

There’s no sugarcoating it: this was the Toronto Raptors’ worst loss of the season thus far.

On Saturday night, they were outhustled by the Detroit Pistons, and outplayed by themselves. Despite having numerous opportunities to close the deal late against Detroit even after being weighed down by an egregious defensive performance and putrid free-throw shooting (20-31 at the line), Toronto simply wasn’t able to capitalize, dropping another game at home to become 2-6 at Scotiabank Arena.

Now back to .500, the Raptors embark on an important six-game road trip with various members of the roster banged up.

Here are three key takeaways from a difficult night.

Toronto Raptors Takeaways vs. Detroit Pistons

3. Discombobulated Defense

It was a tough watch.

More than anything else that went wrong against the Pistons, the Raptors’ defense looked completely perplexed. True, the effort that Detroit displayed was impressive, but dropping 127 points on a typically solid defensive club as the worst-ranked offensive team in the league (108.2 offensive rating) is something else.

In their last performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pistons were only able to muster a total of 78 points.

And while part of their sudden offensive onslaught was due to the fact that they just got hot late in the game (42.9 percent shooting from distance for a team that is shooting 28.6 percent on the year), the Raptors’ poor decisions helped provide them with wide-open looks that fueled that run.

“We just didn’t come out with enough,” head coach Nick Nurse told reporters postgame. “We weren’t pressuring the ball there enough so they were pretty comfortable. Bunch of missed assignments on things early, going under some shooters and things like that that we aren’t supposed to do.

“We just never really got to a defensive presence at all and when the game was on the line there late they just beat us one-on-one three-straight times and finished them and we didn’t keep them in front well enough there.”

Cade using the Southpaw up north ⬆️@BallySportsDET | @CadeCunningham_ pic.twitter.com/iSQ2C1xLxg

— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) November 14, 2021

Of note, the Raptors couldn’t seem to decide if they were switching or not most of the time while defending on the ball. Two players would either drop back with the roll man or crowd the handler or get caught somewhere in between, providing easy single passes that led to open shots. Their closeouts and rotations were late and slow to boot, as if they were wearing lead sneakers.

Overhelping was also an issue, although it has been a part of Toronto’s game plan all season long. Due to their lack of size on the interior, the Raptors will constantly send help when a player barges his way into the paint to make sure that scoring becomes almost impossible.

At its best, the Raptors’ collective, flailing wingspan forces deflections and steals when the driver realizes he has to kick the ball out somewhere. At its worst, opportunities for wide-open looks in the corners become standard, and opponents can take hold of that advantage and cause significant damage.

Such was the case for the Pistons Saturday, as they repeatedly found corner shooters after penetration, ultimately making the Raptors pay.

“Obviously we need Fred [VanVleet] but it’s no excuse,” Pascal Siakam said. “I think we’ve always been a team that’s kind of like next man up, we gotta go out there and execute. We gotta continue to learn, we gotta take every game under the same approach and I think that comes with experience.

“We gotta continue to get better and pay attention to details because those are important, they’re gonna win you a game every single night so we’ve gotta be really focused on that. I thought today we made a lot of little mistakes that cost us the game but that’s something we have to continue to grow and learn from.”

The reasoning for why the Raptors play the defensive style they do is understandable, but at times there has to be an increased level of trust that some of their defenders, especially guys like OG Anunoby for example, will be able to handle matchups in single coverage. The team is full of talented defenders, after all, and if the opponent is drilling dagger after dagger from the corners, shifting the strategy has to become a true option.

2. The Dragon arrives

For the first time since he arrived in Toronto, Goran Dragic looked something like himself.

Sharing is caring pic.twitter.com/hZYCZaQIfe

— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 14, 2021

Credit where it’s due: the wily veteran, who notoriously wasn’t initially thrilled about the idea of being dealt to the Raptors, hasn’t complained since he arrived–and that includes after he was taken out of the rotation entirely due to the emergence of Dalano Banton.

“It’s part of the business,” Dragic said. “I had to adjust, it is what it is so I’m just going with it and trying to do my job and be professional.”

Dragic has stayed ready, something Nurse has been quick to point out whenever he’s asked about the Dragon’s status, and it showed on Saturday. He got the starting spot with VanVleet on the sidelines due to a groin injury, and he made the most of it.

Over the course of 28 minutes, he posted 16 points, five rebounds and three assists on 62.1 percent true shooting. He didn’t turn the ball over a single time despite the Raptors going to him a fair bit as the pick-and-roll initiator, and he finished the game a plus-six despite the loss–highest on the team.

Showcasing his classic headiness, Dragic was steady in nearly every action he ran, delivered a couple triples, hit some floaters on the move, and topped it all off with a between-the-legs dime to Khem Birch out of a pick-and-roll.

There are numerous reasons Dragic returning to form is a good sign, and it should peak the interest of not only the Raptors, but teams in need of a seasoned scorer/playmaker, too.

1. Pascal Siakam is an All-Star

After some fans were barking that he should be traded following just his second game back post-surgery, Siakam looked like an All-Star against the Pistons.

He did a little bit of everything—he penetrated the paint and kicked out to open teammates for three, made the simple passes and kept the ball moving to find guys along the arc, scored at all three levels, and hammered the glass on both ends.

Scottie Barnes spins in.

Pascal Siakam And-1.@Raptors cut it to 3 with under 2 minutes remaining on League Pass!

WATCH LIVE: https://t.co/5QqkBhf1W0 pic.twitter.com/7tGCgQikv9

— NBA (@NBA) November 14, 2021

“That’s his third game back? It takes time,” Dragic said. “He was saying to me that he’s tired, too, and that’s normal. He was out for quite a while, but he had a good game.”

The result was his best statistical showing in three games, as he put up 25 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and a steal on 69.6 percent true shooting in 35 minutes. 

This is exactly the type of player the Raptors need, and what they know Siakam is at his best. It’s a great intimation that he’s already able to have a game like this after being back for only a few true tests, and despite Toronto’s loss being its worst of the season, his adroit performance is a strong indicator of the eventual good things to come.

“I always thought the first game would be okay,” Siakam shared. “You get excited to be out there, you’ll probably play all right. Second game I thought would be the toughest, I think it’s always the toughest coming back from injury, so I expected it. … Third game I thought I was gonna settle in a little bit more and I think just from there, continuing to go up and continuing to work … I don’t think my wind is where I want it to be but at the same time it’s getting better every game and it’s getting better every day.”

Sixers, Isiah Thomas, Ben Simmons