After watching the Toronto Raptors pull off the greatest comeback in franchise history against the Dallas Mavericks, it was easy to believe that Kyle Lowry would continue to find a way to lead this club through the toughest injury bug they’ve faced all season. But after falling short against the Indiana Pacers and losing soundly to the Boston Celtics on Christmas day, it has become evident that Lowry’s heroics simply won’t be enough.
Ever since the Raptors lost Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol indefinitely to injury, Lowry has flourished as the primary scoring option – averaging just under 26 points a game. But taking on the role as both Toronto’s playmaker and premier scorer has limited what head coach Nick Nurse has wanted to see on the offensive side of the ball.
That’s not to say that Lowry isn’t capable of performing in both positions simultaneously, but Nurse has made it clear in his year plus as coach that his offence is predicated on being free flowing. His players are given plenty of freedom on the floor, so long as the ball movement doesn’t become stagnant.
The Celtics made a concerted effort to force the ball out of Lowry’s hands on Wednesday, daring the other Raptors to beat them after two threes from Toronto’s floor general had the home team up 10-0 early in the first quarter. Boston outscored them 28-9 for the remainder of the frame, and Toronto was never able to recover.
Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka made use of their offensive possessions, scoring 27 and 12 points respectively – both shooting over 50 percent from the field. Nurse chose to ride the hot hand of Chris Boucher for a majority of the second half, which led to the Canadian scoring a career-high of 24 points. But getting a combined seven points from starters OG Anunoby and Patrick McCaw significantly hampered the flow of the offence.
Whether the Raptors have had their full compliment of players or not, when Anunoby has been aggressive on offence, Toronto has benefited. In games that Anunoby has averaged double-digit shot attempts, the Raptors are 12-4 this season. The third year pro averages just over 15 points in those contests, something the team desperately needs while they attempt to navigate a short-term that requires replacing over 46 points per game due to injury.
But McCaw’s addition to the starting lineup has yet to pay dividends. The three-time champion hasn’t attempted more than eight shots in a game this season, and this is despite shooting a better percentage from three-point range for the campaign than he’s averaged for his career. And McCaw’s refusal to shoot was a glaring issue in Toronto’s loss to Boston.
So much so, that Nurse made a point after the game to acknowledge something needs to change with how McCaw is deployed going forward. As per TSN’s Josh Lewenberg @JLew1050:
Fortunately for the Raptors, they don’t play until Saturday, but it’ll be another matchup against the division rival Celtics, this time at TD Garden. By that time, if McCaw can’t begin to show an ability to not only facilitate the offence as one of the primary handlers, but also create more shots of his own with the ball in his hands, his time in the starting lineup may be short-lived.
And with the Raptors falling from fourth to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings after back-to-back losses, Toronto can’t afford to drop any further as they search for the ‘quick fix’ to its current plague of injuries.