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Anunoby injury latest frustration for short-handed Raptors


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With scoring leader OG Anunoby out of the lineup Thursday night in Utah, the Raptors badly needed a big effort from Pascal Siakam.

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It wasn’t to be. Siakam’s fifth game back from off-season shoulder surgery was easily his worst. His shot wouldn’t fall, but worse, he lacked his usual energy in the 119-103 win by the Utah Jazz.

Siakam shot 2-for-14 and had as many turnovers (four as points) in a game he’d be best to flush down the toilet.

With Scottie Barnes quiet as well and the bench mostly invisible there wasn’t enough offence to go around, though Fred VanVleet (24 points), Gary Trent (a season-best 31) and Khem Birch (14) had it going. Even more troubling for a team that wants to build an identity as a defensive juggernaut was the complete lack of defence played in both the first and third quarters.

The Jazz racked up 32 points on 65% shooting in the opening quarter and Utah shot 67% in the third, though mercifully only four of the 12 buckets scored in the third came from three-point range, allowing the Raptors to trail by only 12. Toronto missed 11-of-12 three-point attempts in the third after finishing the first half on fire with three straight VanVleet triples.

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The Raptors had actually led 63-61 at the break before things fell apart.

“They got a lot of buckets at the rim tonight,” head coach Nick Nurse said afterward.

“Obviously that was tough to handle. And they also just shot it really well from three. That’s a good shooting team, a really tough team to defend. But we just didn’t cover up enough at the rim or at least wrap them up and make them shoot free throws or things like that.”

The Jazz entered the game boasting the NBA’s most efficient offence and true to form, managed 34 assists, nailed 19 threes (compared to 10 on 26% shooting by the Raptors), got an expected 20 points from star Donovan Mitchell and an unexpected 20 from Rudy Gay, the former Raptor who was making his Jazz debut. Gay nailed five three-pointers in 18 minutes, missing only a single shot. Jazz all-star centre Rudy Gobert hit all seven of his shot attempts for 14 points and added 11 rebounds.

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The Raptors dropped to 7-9, including 5-3 on the road.

INJURY ISSUES A THORN IN THE SIDE

Nurse, like most Raptors fans, just wants to see what the team’s front office has assembled.

The bad news that Anunoby will miss a period of time due to a hip pointer suffered in practice was the latest blow to a group that has yet to be at full strength more than a month into the season.

Anunoby had been in the midst of a breakout campaign, averaging career-bests in points (20.1 per game), assists (2.7) three-point makes, minutes and free throw percentage, while also getting many of the toughest defensive assignments.

“He wants to play. He’s obviously disappointed he can’t play,” Nurse said via Zoom from Utah before Thursday’s game.

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“He’s anxious to know when he can get back and I’m not sure we know that right now.”

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Toronto had only recently returned former All-NBA forward Siakam to the lineup and has also missed star rookie Barnes, potential all-star VanVleet and big men Precious Achiuwa, Birch and Chris Boucher at times, as well as Yuta Watanabe, who has yet to play.

“It seems like we’ve had a minimum of three or four guys out for every game this year,” Nurse said

“It’s a little frustrating but what do you do? We’ve had to take some steps back and reconfigure but that’s part of it,” Nurse continued.

“But gosh, I’d love to see the team whole at some point.”

As would Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and the rest of Toronto’s executives. The franchise is in the midst of a retool and needs to know how the players fit together and what they might be capable of as a unit.

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That’s hard to glean when every other night the rotation is different due to injury absences.

Nurse inserted Birch for Anunoby on Thursday night, restoring a traditional centre to the first group against Utah behemoth Gobert. Anunoby will be replaced by committee for as long as he’s out. That likely would mean more time for a shooter like Svi Mykhailiuk, as well as Birch and Dalano Banton.

MORE THREES, PLEASE

Nurse wants certain Raptors to start launching more three-pointers. He mentioned Barnes and Birch specifically pre-game. Birch was letting outside shots fly like never before when he joined Toronto for 19 games last season, putting up 1.9 attempts a game. This year he’s back down to 0.4, what he was averaging in his final year with Orlando.

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But it’s Barnes who really needs to start expanding his game, Nurse said.

“What are we waiting for,” Nurse asked, mentioning his strong work from the free throw line (79%) and excellent mid-range shooting.

“I’m disappointed that Scottie isn’t taking three or four threes a game.”

Barnes had only attempted 11 three-pointers in 13 games before Thursday, making only two of the shots. He’d only attempted one over his previous four games and two over his previous six.

Barnes attempted two in the game. Birch did not attempt any.

AROUND THE RIM

The Raptors get no time to rest, with a date at Sacramento looming Friday night. The Kings will be looking to turn things around, having lost 5-of-6. The poor start to the season has put head coach Luke Walton back on the hot seat. Sacramento ranked seventh in offensive efficiency before Thursday’s games, but just 23rd on defence … Nurse said Watanabe “is getting pissed” about how long it’s taking to get healthy. Watanabe badly wants to play and would be in line for some minutes with Anunoby out.

@WolstatSun

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