Moments that Mattered: Gasol's half-court offense, Raptors in transition

Aaron Rose

The Toronto Raptors' 122-100 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday night was a burn the tape kind of game.

It started out rough with a season-low 37 points in the first half and never got better.

After the game Raptors coach Nick Nurse said there wasn't much to take away from the game.

"I hate to say it, there's nothing really I learned, or I don't really see anything," Nurse said. "The only thing I probably did learn is we've got to get a couple of our guys playing a little better, I'm not really concerned about some of the main guys, but there's a couple guys that need to play a little better since the restart and I'm glad we still have four games to get them going and give them that chance."

Writing a "Moments that Mattered" after the head coach says he didn't really learn anything from the game is a little challenging, but there are a few things worth looking into.

For the purposes of analyzing this game, I'm going to largely overlook the Raptors' defense.

Toronto started the game with Kyle Lowry defending Jayson Tatum and OG Anunoby defending Gordon Hayward and I'm very skeptical this is the defensive alignment Nurse will go with in a playoff series. Considering Anunoby is the Raptors' best wing defender, I'd expect him to spend the bulk of his time defending Tatum, Boston's best offensive player. So far this year, Anunoby has guarded Tatum in an estimated 20 possessions and held him to just 1-for-5 shooting with two turnovers, according to NBA Stats. In a relatively meaningless game Friday, I think Nurse was saving that matchup for when he really needs it.

The Celtics also took 12 corner 3-pointers in the first three quarters of Friday's game and made eight of them. While the Raptors do give up plenty of corner 3s, they don't usually give up that many, and more importantly, opposing teams usually don't make that many of them. Put simply, the Celtics got hot from the corners and when that happens, the Raptors are in trouble.

I'm also going to focus primarily on the first three quarters of the game because Cleaning the Glass does a great job of collecting stats excluding garbage time and considering the bench came in to start the fourth quarter, there's not much use including their stats when discussing moments that mattered.

Without further ado:

1: Half-court Struggles

Prior to the game, I wrote about how the Raptors' half-court offense would be something to watch for against Boston's defense. Toronto's offense has struggled against top-ranked defenses this year, especially in the half-court, where they rank 18th in the NBA in half-court scoring against top 10 defenses, according to Cleaning the Glass.

If you watched for it Friday, you would have been mortified. Toronto scored just 61.5 points per 100 halfcourt possessions, their worst performance of the season. That's over 49 points worse than their season average of 110.9 points per 100 halfcourt possessions, which is already just league-average.

A lot of that had to do with missing shots, but some of it had to do with the way the Celtics treated Marc Gasol.

I've written repeatedly about how Gasol is the key to the Raptors' half-court offense. His ability to space the floor with his 3-point shooting and superb passing ability opens up so many options for Toronto. The problem, however, is Gasol hasn't shown an ability to make shots outside of the paint lately. He's just 3-for-11 outside the paint over Toronto's four games inside the bubble.

Last night, that allowed Boston's Daniel Theis to help off of Gasol, complicating things for the rest of the Raptors' offense.

Here, Theis is standing in the lane, away from Gasol, waiting for Pascal Siakam to drive.

If Gasol can begin making 3-point shots again, the way he did earlier in the year when he was healthy and last year, when he made 44% of his 3-pointers with the Raptors, teams will have to think twice before abandoning Gasol.

2: Fast Break Scoring

The Raptors have made a name for themselves this season by getting out in transition and scoring when teams aren't ready. They run in transition on 21.6% of their offensive possessions, the highest percentage in the NBA. Scoring wise, they do it effectively, scoring on 1.16 points per transition possession, the third-most in the NBA.

The problem for the Raptors last night was Boston held Toronto to just 13 fast-break points and zero from Siakam. If the Raptors are going to hang with teams like the Celtics, they can't have their transition offense held in check while their half-court offense struggles.