The Raptors received players returning in their customary places and roles. Everything appeared to be in order. The other Raptors couldn’t handle their tasks despite of that.
Despite a strong performance from a starting lineup boosted by Fred VanVleet’s return from injury and Precious Achiuwa’s return to the bench, the Raptors were defeated by the Indiana Pacers’ reserves in a 122-114 road loss Monday night.
The Raptors offense, led by VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., O.G. Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam, looked fluid at times, which was one of the evening’s more encouraging parts.
They had a team field goal percentage of 45%, assisted on 23 of the 38 made goals, and frequently identified favorable mismatches. When they were on the floor, they crushed the Pacers, but things began to go south when they could not play the entire game.
Bennedict Mathurin of Montreal, who scored 21 points, and T.J. McConnell, who played like an all-star by easily outracing the Raptors off the bounce, led Indiana to a startling 54-7 bench scoring edge, which ultimately caused Toronto to suffer its ninth defeat in the previous 12 games.
On the lowest bench output night of the season, the only Raptors’ reserves to score were Achiuwa (three points), Thad Young (two points), and Christian Koloko (two points).
In their longest homestand of the year, the Raptors begin a six-game set against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. The NBA trade deadline is five weeks away, and Toronto is entrenched in 12th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference with a 16-21 record. The following two weeks could make or break the season.
On Monday, the Raptors’ defense wasn’t nearly as effective as it needed to be, which added to the burden on the starters to outscore the Pacers. They could not cause enough turnovers, keep the ball in the paint, or make an effective transition from offense to defense for the whole game.
Trent had a 32-point performance, Siakam added 26 points, Barnes threw in 23, but they needed to guard better for long enough.
For their fourth straight victory, the Pacers outrebounded Toronto 50-36, shot nearly 50% from the field, and scored 62 points in the paint.
Achiuwa’s load-handling capacity was a concern when he missed more than seven weeks, or more significant than a quarter (24 games), of the standard season due to ankle ligament problems. It would be unusual to expect him to return to his usual game speed or effect immediately because it was the most extended idle period of his three-year career.
The 23-year-effort old has primarily concentrated on conditioning and getting over any reluctance to go too hard or too quickly.
We’re just attempting to get him sprinting and playing hard, running hard, playing fearless, and things of that nature said coach Nick Nurse on Sunday. “You’ve got to develop conditioning, and you’ve got to establish some kind of rhythm,” Nurse added. That’s all. It’s conditioning: confidence and physical fitness.
Given how long he had been out of the game, Achiuwa undoubtedly appeared slightly off. However, his usage was also restricted. He participated for four minutes at the start of the second quarter, a brief period as a defensive replacement near the end of the first half, and eight minutes in the second half. He had three points and no rebounds in the future.
After missing two games due to back problems that he said have occasionally occurred this season, VanVleet returned.
He stated, “I’ve got two early in the year. “Both injuries were caused through contact, which has been the norm for most of my career. Just a few minor movements that I need to tighten up—nothing huge or that I’m concerned about.
VanVleet finished the game with just three three-pointers out of twelve attempts, finishing with nine points, three assists, and 37 minutes of playing time.