The Eastern Conference’s second-best team has been everything but, and the Toronto Raptors have nose-dived over the last couple of weeks.
It culminated Sunday night after blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead against the Detroit Pistons. All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry said that “something’s gotta change,” when asked what went wrong with the team in the fourth quarter. After that loss, the Raptors are 32-23 on the season but have dropped 10 of their last 15, and that comes after the team won 22 of their initial 30 games.
Lowry’s having his best season yet and has built on the impressive campaign he threw together last year. His 22.8 points per game are a career-high, and he’s doing so on 46.5 percent shooting overall and 41.9 percent from three. Over those last 15 games, Lowry’s scoring is up, but his shooting is down, and he’s also cut back on his assists — 6.3 compared to 7.0.
Not only does Lowry see changes, but Toronto has also been without DeMar DeRozan for seven of those contests, and it’s hard for them to be competitive without him. In the games he’s laced up for, he averages 26.9 points on 45.6 percent from the field, so he’s been pretty consistent over the course of the year.
The other consistency the Raptors have is their defense, meaning the inability to put points on the board is what’s losing them games:
- Toronto’s regular season defense: 104.7 points, 45.5 percent shooting, 15 turnovers
- Toronto’s defense over last 15 games: 105 points, 45.5 percent shooting, 13.3 turnovers
Dwane Casey has coached his team to be defense first, and the offense comes so naturally because of the weapons they put out on the floor. When it comes to getting stops, Lowry is an All-Defensive-caliber point guard who balances gambling with playing one-on-one lockdown defense. DeRozan isn’t a great defender, but the front office has gotten guys who give Casey to go offense-defense when he wants — Norman Powell, DeMarre Carroll are the two most notable.
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On the interior, there’s Jonas Valanciunas, rookie Pascal Siakam and Lucas Nogueira. The latter two are better rim protectors than Valanciunas, with Nogueira being the standout. He’s a tremendous shot-blocker because of his incredible length, and being in foul trouble is what stops him from seeing more minutes. Siakam, the rookie power forward, has very quietly been a reliable defender around the basket despite being undersized. On attempts within six feet, Siakam’s opponents shoot 57.5 percent, a number that’s 3.1 points lower than their average.
Despite being capable defensively, the wheels fell off a bit during this streak, and the Raptors have had issues stopping teams late in games. Opponent scoring is up to 27 points in the fourth compared to 25.6 for the season, and their inept offense only compounds their issues on the other end.
Albeit, when you look at the offense, the defense’s recent drop off is much better. Toronto has been appallingly dreadful on their final period attack. The same team that was third overall in last quarter scoring, 27.2 points, has tanked and they now have the NBA’s worst fourth-period offense at 23.2 points. As expected, their shooting is also in the gutter. Their mark of nearly 46 percent is down to just above 40, and it’s almost impossible to play that poorly on offense and win games without an elite defense.
Teams are now scoring like Toronto used to, and Sunday’s game against Detroit saw the Raptors get outscored 36-19 in the final frame.
Their season hasn’t totally fallen apart. Despite being the fourth seed behind the red-hot Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics, only 3.5 games separate the three. If one team gets cold while the other is heating up, positions will certainly be jostled during the tail end of the season.
If Drake’s Views had taken home a Grammy, maybe Canada gets distracted enough to forget about the Raptors woes as they get hot again. Both Lowry and DeRozan need to find a new way to rally their troops, and even though they’re six games away from dropping out of the playoff race, the last year of sports should tell you that no lead is safe.
All stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com
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