After the Toronto Raptors fell to 1-5 with a demoralizing 126-114 loss to the undermanned Boston Celtics on Monday night, All-Star guard Kyle Lowry said that in order for the Raptors to right themselves, they’ll need to get their swagger back.
“We just need to get a little bit grittier, get a little bit tougher and a little bit nastier, and have a little bit of a swagger to us,” Lowry said. “Right now, we have no swagger to us.
“We have nothing. There’s nothing to us. Teams are looking at us like, ‘All right, let’s go eat’ … That’s not a good feeling.”
There is little to feel good about around the Raptors at this point — particularly after a loss to a Boston team that was missing several players, including starting guards Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart, and was playing the second half of a road back-to-back.
But despite those disadvantages, having to start a two-way player in guard Tremont Waters because of all of their injuries and falling into a quick 18-5 hole four minutes into the game, the Celtics dominated from there. Boston got 40 points from Jayson Tatum as the Celtics led by 15 at halftime and controlled the entire second half in front of a crowd in Tampa, Florida — where the Raptors are playing this season because of COVID-19 restrictions in Toronto — that had more than a few Celtics fans in it.
Toronto has now led by double digits in each of its five losses this season. By comparison, the Raptors were 48-4 all of last season when they had a double-digit lead in a game.
It’s yet another thing that adds salt to the wounds of a team that finished second in the Eastern Conference each of the past two seasons under coach Nick Nurse, and won the title in 2019.
“This is probably uncharted territory for most of us,” said Fred VanVleet, who led Toronto with 35 points and was the team’s only effective offensive player. “Just speaking for myself, I’ve never been a part of something like this. But we can’t hang our heads. No one’s feeling sorry for us.
“There’s no secret recipe. There’s a boatload of problems and we gotta find ways to solve them.”
Most of those problems for Toronto — despite Boston’s offensive explosion in Monday’s game — are a byproduct of the Raptors’ own offensive woes.
The Raptors entered Monday with the league’s lowest free throw attempt rate and the 29th-ranked offense. The loss to Boston highlighted the team’s season-long issues, as the Raptors got to the rim time and again — only to, more often than not, fail to convert the layups those drives created.
“We’re having a tough time,” Nurse said. “Like, we missed so many layups. And we cannot make an and-1, either. Some of those fouls real early, and you’re continuing on to a wide-open layup, and they’re rolling off, so just finishing in general really hurt us.
“We did get there a lot tonight. We got to the free throw line a lot tonight. But we just didn’t make enough. We’ve got to get tougher, man. Got to play through some slaps and hits. Got to play through some bumps. Got to make those when you get that deep in there. That’s it.”
Toronto has also had ongoing issues replacing the lost production from the departures of centers Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol to the LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively, in free agency. Aron Baynes, the player Toronto signed to start in their place, has had a rough start as a Raptor, including missing all five of his shots Monday and being benched in favor of Alex Len to start the second half.
Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam‘s struggles during the NBA’s bubble have carried over to this season. While the All-NBA forward was better Monday, finishing with 22 points in 33 minutes, he still missed several makeable shots inside, and continues to look out of sorts.
“He was a little bit more aggressive and got to the free throw line,” Lowry said. “I think [Siakam] is gonna work himself back into it a little bit more, and I think we don’t worry about it.
“We can’t worry about him too much. We’ve got to figure it out and all of us come together.”
The Raptors will have plenty of time to do that over the next week, as they head west for a four-game slate beginning with the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, before playing the Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers.
Perhaps a change of scenery from the Eastern half of the Sun Belt to the West will do Toronto some good. At this point, the Raptors will take whatever they can get as they try to get back on track after a very unexpected start to their season.
“It’s tough,” VanVleet said of Toronto’s start. “This game will break your heart, man. We get paid a lot of money, and it’s given me the highest highs in my life besides having kids, and the lowest lows. This is a roller coaster … it’s a heartbreaking game.
“When things are going great, it’s great. When they’re going bad, it hurts. So I put my blood, sweat and tears into this and I care. So this stuff keeps me up at night, so it’s tough. It’s tough to be in this position, but we got a long way to go. We got a lot a lot of season in front of us, we’ve got a lot of talent, and we’ve got guys that can figure it out.
“So we’ve got to stay positive and believe in ourselves and find ways to get through this.”