The missed Raptors shots are like a hard smack across the face, glaring proof of momentary struggles and the obvious culprit for three consecutive losses.
But as apparent as they have been — and it has been shocking and disappointing to watch for the past three games — they create other problems besides the lack of scoring.
“We haven’t been playing good defence in transition,” Toronto’s Chris Boucher said Sunday night. “It’s really hard for us right now to just figure out how to stop it. If you don’t run back, they’re going to score eventually.”
The two, the shooting and the transition defensive problems, do go hand-in-hand and it’s hard to separate one from the other.
In a struggling half-court offence, without the steady hand of Fred VanVleet at the helm, shots come from odd places on the court, from players not used to taking them and at odd times in the shot clock.
It’s a bit confusing and not at all what the team’s used to and it leads to everyone being a step slow and a beat behind the action when the Raptors need to be alert and reactive.
“We’re a transition team, so we know what it does when somebody else does what we’re doing as a team, so we need to do the same,” Boucher said.
It’s certainly fixable and it’s not like the season is in the toilet after losses to Detroit, Orlando and Cleveland in a four-night span. If the Raptors have shown anything this season, it’s the ability to snap out of funks —think what they did after blowout losses in Charlotte and Atlanta for proof — so there’s no reason to think things can’t turn quickly.
Some of that will come when VanVleet’s back and the offence is working a bit more like it has and he should return sometime during the five-game road trip that continues Wednesday in San Antonio.
But it will also come when this group — missing two starters and a backup point guard in Malachi Flynn whose game has taken off in the last week but who is out indefinitely with a left hamstring sprain — returns.
It’s the mixing and matching and gaining familiarity that the Raptors have done all season that needs to happen now.
“It (the lineup) kind of keeps changing, who’s going where and in basketball when it’s two guys, it could be a domino effect (where) three or four guys are moving positions,” coach Nick Nurse said. ”So I think it looked a little clunky the last couple of games on top of not a ton of energy.
“We’re cleaning it up slowly here with this group.”
There are signs that the defence is being active and disruptive enough to keep the Raptors in games despite bad offence.
They forced 19 turnovers and turned them into 20 points in the loss to the Cavs on Sunday and it was the main reason they were in the game down the stretch.
The third quarter was tremendous, Toronto held Cleveland to just 14 points in their best defensive quarter in weeks.
“The past three games, it seems like everybody is just going into the paint at will,” Boucher said. “I think one thing that we changed in the second half is that we made it a lot harder for them to score in the paint. Just make them (make) a second decision, get up in the air and pass it to the corner and then rotate.
“I feel like we did a better job in the second half, but we need to be doing that for all the time. We’ve done that for a streak of games, and we were playing our best basketball, so we need to go back to that.”
But the Raptors also gave up 20 fast-break points in the game which proves the transition aspect of defending was lacking. Some of it was purely effort, some it arose from mistimed and ineffective offence.
All of it is correctable.
“There’s a lot of things that we have to do better and we’ve done it before, so it’s not like it’s not possible to be done,” Boucher said. “But we’ve got to focus more on those emphases on that defensive scheme. And get back on defence.”
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