The Toronto Raptors have had the same message for months now: Just wait until we’re healthy.
That’s an excuse they try not to use too often, but that’s there. Pascal Siakam mentioned it back on December 18 after losing to the Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins-less Golden State Warriors. More recently, Fred VanVleet mentioned it Sunday, saying the team should get better as it gets healthier.
On one hand, it’s true, Toronto has battled a slew of injuries all season and came into Monday night having played just two games with it’s top seven players fully healthy. On the other hand, counting on health is never a good idea.
“You can’t sit and say yep, that’s the answer, wait until our roster is healthy,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said last month.
But Monday was supposed to provide an opportunity to finally see this team at nearly full strength. Precious Achiuwa was back after almost two months and VanVleet returned from back spasms. How’d it go? Not much better. Toronto’s inability to defend the paint and get out to shooters coupled with pivotal misses from VanVleet proved decisive in a 122-114 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
VanVleet was off all night. Whether it was a lingering injury or not, the 28-year-old guard couldn’t seem to buy a bucket from deep. He missed a pair of wide-open three-pointers in the fourth quarter and by the end of the game, Indiana wasn’t even sprinting to close out on the slumping point guard who finished the night just 3-for-15 from the field .
Even with Achiuwa back, Toronto couldn’t seem to protect the paint. The 23-year-old looked OK in his 12 minutes of action. He fumbled a point-blank pass under the bucket from Thad Young and then miscommunicated with OG Anunoby on a drive, creating a Raptors turnover. He did help Toronto’s defense a little bit, blocking an inside shot attempt from Canadian Bennedict Mathurin, but it wasn’t much.
The biggest problem for the Raptors continued to be its disappointing transition defense. Toronto had almost no answer for Indiana’s lightning-quick pace. Even after the Raptors made it, the Pacers created fastbreak chances where there should never have been any. Considering the emphasis Toronto has put on its transition defense of late, a 23-10 differential in fastbreak scoring isn’t going to cut it.
If there was good news, it was Gary Trent Jr.’s continued hot streak. Even with Achiuwa and VanVleet back, Trent remained in the starting lineup and looked every bit the starter he didn’t appear to be early in the season. He dropped a pair of three-pointers in the second quarter then repeatedly nailed tough twos down the stretch, hooking up Pascal Siakam for a driving floater to pull within three late in the fourth and finishing the night with a game-high 32 points.
The bench, though, couldn’t step up to seal the deal. Even with a deeper rotation, nobody could get going, tallying just eight points in 44 minutes combined, and failed to have a single player with a positive plus-minus. The Pacers, meanwhile, had 54 off the bench led by 21 from Mathurin and 15 from TJ McConnell.
Up Next: Milwaukee Bucks
Toronto will welcome Serge Ibaka, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Milwaukee Bucks to town on Wednesday night for a 7:30 pm ET tipoff at Scotiabank Arena.