National Post (Latest Edition)

Raptors in up and down mode on defence

- Mike Ganter

As far as Fred Vanvleet is concerned, the Toronto Raptors’ quota for giving away games in a season was reached a long time ago.

Sunday night’s 116-112 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolv­es was just another example of how this team, as good as they can look one night, can look absolutely horrible the next.

It all comes down to defensive consistenc­y.

Some games the Raptors have it. Others, like Sunday against a Minnesota team that had lost four in a row coming into Toronto and were without one of their marquee players in point guard D’angelo Russell, there is no sign of it.

The Timberwolv­es, led by No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards, seemed to take turns running into the heart of the Raptors defence and laying in layup after layup for long stretches of the game.

That protecting the paint is one of the primary tenants of the defence illustrate­s just how far out of whack they were.

That this kind of performanc­e came hot on the heels of a promising road trip.

Head coach Nick Nurse tried to explain his team’s lack of pushback until it was too late.

“I don’t know, sometimes back off a road trip sometimes these games are tough,” Nurse said. “I don’t make any excuses for any of that stuff but you gotta play your way out of it and get to some consistenc­y. We didn’t do it until it was really late.”

Even with their consistent defensive failings, the Raptors had a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime with a basket with seven seconds remaining.

The Raptors forced a turnover to set up the play and then out of an in-bounds pass got Pascal Siakam a one-on-one matchup with a lone Minnesota defender between him and the basket. Siakam got all the way to the rim and laid the ball in off glass only to see it rim around the cylinder and pop back out, sealing the loss.

It was devastatin­g in the moment given how perfectly the sequence unfolded until the spill out at the very end, but it’s not what the rank and file were talking about after the game.

Vanvleet and Kyle Lowry, the two-headed leadership train on this team took turns being upset with the inability of their team to play a consistent four quarter defensive effort, something that in the past has just been accepted as the norm.

“We understand that we can’t have those games given away,” Lowry said. “We’re three games under .500 and we could be six games over .500. It’s that small of a difference. You’ve just got to continue to work and continue to just push and push and hopefully roll off some more wins in a row. I think that’s what we’ve missed this year, is just a consecutiv­e win streak, a big five-, six-, seven-game winning streak.”

Vanvleet, normally much more analytical post-game seemed to be somewhat lost for words to explain how different this team can look defensivel­y one night to the next.

“Really frustrated, brother,” Vanvleet said when asked where he was on the frustratio­n meter knowing this team can defend but then can also give up 37 points in a quarter to a Minnesota team that struggles to score at the best of times.

“I don’t have much more of an answer for you than that,” Vanvleet said. “I’m trying to answer your question the best I can, but just to answer it directly: pretty frustrated knowing that we can do it. So here we are. Here we are again.”

There is hope on the horizon in the return of OG Anunoby, but even that seems fuzzy. Initially he was thought to be returning Sunday, but didn’t. Now he’s listed as doubtful for the first game in Milwaukee. When he returns, he will particular­ly be useful on defence against the offensivel­y potent Milwaukee Bucks.

Last week, the Raptors scored enough against potent Brooklyn in a huge road win, holding the Nets under their season average.

The Bucks though defend substantia­lly better the Nets so scoring with them is only going to be harder than it was against the Nets.

“A lot of things have changed,” Lowry said speaking of Toronto’s defence this season. “It’s a different process. You’ve got different guys, different size, different movements, different understand­ings of where to go, where to be and how to do it. That’s something that always takes time. Our offence is pretty simple: move, cut, pass, make some shots, shoot some 3s, get to the paint. That comes a little bit easier. But the defence you’ve got to be more connected.”

Right now the Raptors have shown the ability to look connected on defence but staying there has alluded them to this point.

gotta Play your way out of it and get to some Consistenc­y.

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