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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Raptors undone by defence in road loss to Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS—The Raptors offence has become unstuck. The defence remains unglued.

Despite an impressive night up and down the roster with shotmaking and scoring, another below-average defensive performance cost them a winnable game here Thursday night. And the words of Fred VanVleet from Tuesday in Milwaukee rang true.

“We’re scoring enough most of these games, but I think it’s gonna be hard to win giving up 130,” he said that night.

Truer words have seldom been spoken. Once again undone by bad fourth-quarter defence, the Raptors dropped a 128-126 decision to the Timberwolves in a game that was theirs for the taking.

D’Angelo Russell made two free throws with 9.9 seconds left — part of a 16-point fourth quarter and 25-point game for the Minnesota guard — and O.G. Anunoby missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.

It dropped Toronto to 20-26 on the season — 2-11 in games decided by four points or fewer — and was a difficult loss to swallow given the circumstances.

The Raptors had every reason to push the pace as much as they could. The Timberwolves were missing injured big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, and were finishing up a difficult back-to-back that began Wednesday in Denver. One team staffer said they didn’t get home until 6 a.m. Thursday, long after the Raptors had enjoyed a night off in Minneapolis.

“You’d love to read into back-to-backs and all that kind of stuff, and I think in theory and on paper it should matter,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game. “I just always think that each game really hasn’t had a lot to read into it at any time this year. It seems like we’ve played some of our best games under (non-rest) circumstances.”

The Raptors did try to quicken the tempo for most of the night, although Minnesota’s penchant for fouling slowed the proceedings for stretches.

Precious Achiuwa gave the Raptors a solid jolt of energy in the first quarter, and Joe Wieskamp, making his Raptors debut as his second 10-day contract began, was a surprise addition to the second-quarter rotation. He handled himself well, making a pair of open corner three-pointers and providing six good minutes. He and Thad Young, who had been out of the rotation for a handful of games, played in the second quarter ahead of Chris Boucher and Christian Koloko.

But that energy and an offensive performance that included 29 points from Scottie Barnes, 25 from VanVleet and 18 from Gary Trent Jr. went for naught.

“I think it’s getting much better,” Nurse had said this week. “I think there’s a lot more pace, a lot more transition, a lot more pace in the halfcourt. The ball’s moving a lot better. I think we’re creating a lot of good shots.”

But the defence keeps giving them up.

For Trent, the ball went up for the opening tip with nothing untoward, which meant he was already ahead of where he was the last time he played in his hometown.

A year ago, Trent made his return to the Twin Cities with his father, younger brothers and various other friends and family very obviously in attendance at the Target Center — and was hit with a technical foul before the game began, for jostling with then Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley.

“I didn’t even do nothing,” Trent laughed here Thursday morning. “I was just standing there. I can’t react to nothing because they love to tech me up.”

Trent, who scored 30 points in that game, had 10 after a big first quarter. Home cooking, indeed.

“It’s always good to come home, see my little brothers, spend time with them and they can watch me play,” he said. “It’s not too (often) they can get to Canada. They’re kinda young, eight and nine. They’re in elementary school, so it’s a lot for them to get up there. But whenever I can come here and they can see me, it’s always fun.

“Spent the night at home, stay with my family, get a good cooked meal. It was cool.”

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