Raptors don’t have answers for tougher, rougher Grizzlies

It wasn’t the last indignity nor the first or the last, but with about half of the second quarter remaining, Nick Nurse had seen enough.

Steven Adams of the Memphis Grizzlies, a powerful man but not blessed with lightning speed, had simply beaten every Raptor on the court after a missed shot from Toronto, taking a pass from Ja Morant and completing a quick transition opportunity like the flash.

The nurse walked onto the pitch at Scotiabank Arena, angrily called a time-out and quickly made a pair of substitutions.

It doesn’t matter who came out and who came in — it was Chris Boucher and Jeff Dowtin Jr. and Malachi Flynn and Christian Koloko, for the record — because the anger, the soft play, the lack of urgency and intensity in this quick push was emblematic of how the Raptors played all night in another loss.

Not being able to match the physical size and strength of the Grizzlies is a roster issue that needs to be addressed by Vice President Masai Ujiri and General Manager Bobby Webster in due course.

But the competition, trying to at least match toughness with more strength, is up to the players and Nurse and they certainly didn’t make it Thursday night.

The Grizzlies, a tough group like there are in the league this season, brutalized the Raptors in a 119-106 win that continues Toronto’s slide into midseason oblivion.

The Raptors have now lost eight of their last 10 games and they even lost a spot in the play-in portion of the playoffs.

They have a myriad of problems at both ends, many of which have been fully exposed by the Grizzlies, even as Toronto stretched a 23-point deficit to under nine with about five minutes remaining.

Memphis’ size has at times sought to intimidate the Raptors defensively, and their physical nature on offense has devastated Toronto’s defense.

The thing is, the Raptors knew what was coming. And didn’t handle it.

« My concern would be whether you can play through the bumps, » Nurse wondered before the game. « When they’re constantly pushing you around, they’re not going to call all the bumps, they can’t.

“It’s like I always say, if five guys foul you at once, they can’t call them all. You will have to play with a little physics. That would be my message to the team tonight. Let’s not look for the calls. There will probably be some who will be called and others who will not. You have to keep your balance and stay calm when they’re not.

It was more fighting than composure that the Raptors lacked. Morant burned them in transition for 19 points and 17 assists, Adams had 17 rebounds as the Grizzlies dominated the glass and Mississauga’s Dillon Brooks, who takes great pleasure in playing well in Toronto, had 25 points.

Morant’s assists were a career high as the Raptors, minus starter Fred VanVleet and opening the game with no true point guard, had no answer for him.

« Ja is one of those guys that’s super special, » Nurse said. “For that we usually use a number of guys and see how it goes and see if there’s anything we can find that we can do to slow it down.

“It’s not who is matched. He arrives on the ground in transition: Your team must keep him. Your team must be ready to keep it. There are several things that need to happen or he will be on your side in the paint and on the rim.

Nurse rolled the dice by featuring not only the 18th different starting lineup the Raptors have used this season, but a group of five who hadn’t played a single second together.

Unsurprisingly, the group of Scottie Barnes, OG Anunonby, Pascal Siakam, Juancho Hernangomez and Koloko looked disjointed at both ends of the field and it took less than four minutes, with his team in a nine-point hole, for that Nurse goes to The Bench.

It didn’t matter much and even switching to Trent and Khem Birch instead of Koloko and Hernangomez to start the third quarter had minimal impact at best.

Siakam led the Raptors with 23 points and Trent had 20.


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