Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 109-97 loss to the Boston Celtics.
One -- The mediocre Celtics led for almost the entire game while giving half effort. The Raptors don't have enough reliable players on most nights to stay competitive, and that was the case again Sunday night. Injuries to OG Anunoby, Khem Birch, and Gary Trent Jr. forced head coach Nick Nurse to reach deep into his bench and almost none of them delivered for him. It's shocking to watch completely average players like Josh Richardson or Kelan Martin single-handedly outscore the reserves, but that's just how it is until the Raptors get some bodies back. The results will remain losses so long as Nurse has to use any of his bench, which is giving him league-worst levels of production.
Two -- The player you feel the most for is Fred VanVleet. He's being asked to play above his talent, to be a go-to scorer while also running the offence and having to help on every play, and to do it for 40 minutes a night. Incredibly, VanVleet is actually meeting the challenge night after night. Whenever he sits, the Raptors get torn apart and most of the mistakes are self-inflicted, as the backup guards can't even set up the play. VanVleet has been the team's best player this season, but even with him being as productive as he is, the reality is no team with VanVleet as its best player will be all that competitive. He needs more help, not just from the main rotation players, but from the bench players who can't even buy him 10 minutes of rest without giving up the entire game.
Three -- Pascal Siakam has settled in as the number two option. He's not forcing his looks except for when he is asked to lead the second unit, which rarely goes well but someone has to lead that hopeless bunch. Siakam's mid-range game has been sharp since his return from shoulder surgery, and he's even starting to expand his comfort zone with banging in the paint. Defensively, there is still another gear to be unlocked, but it's nice to see Siakam look comfortable in his role. He's shown a willingness to defer and when his defence is eventually up to speed, there should be few complaints as to what he's delivering as the second option. Siakam was just as effective as either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum on Sunday night.
Four -- The lack of shooting in the frontcourt really hurts the Raptors. The Celtics sat back in a zone for most of the game, cutting off driving lanes at the top with an extra defender waiting in the lane because they weren't afraid of either Scottie Barnes or Precious Achiuwa on the perimeter. Normally, the Raptors could remedy this by going small, or at least go with four shooters with Anunoby but that wasn't an option. The best the spacing looked was with Yuta Watanabe playing the four, but he was evidently on a minutes restriction at 14 minutes and he also missed three of his corner triples. Achiuwa turned down numerous open looks while his man was sagged back, although he was 0-for-3 so perhaps the measured approach was the right one.
Five -- Svi Mykhailiuk was overextended as a starter. His shot has not been sharp enough to justify his porous defence, yet Nurse had little choice but to promote him into the starting five just to maintain some semblance of shooting. Mykhailiuk's assignment was to check Grant Williams, who is not a scorer by any measure, yet Williams scored 15 points on only seven field-goal attempts. That would be more acceptable if Mykhailiuk delivered on offence, except he was 5-for-14 from the field and was misfiring on open jumpers that the Raptors badly needed. Per Chris Black of Sportsnet, Myhailiuk is shooting 38 per cent from the field, 29 per cent from three, and is a minus-58 in 12 games this month. But then again, without literally any other shooting guards on the roster, Nurse's hands are tied and he just needs to ride it out.
Six -- This was a really subpar showing from Achiuwa. His focus just looked to be lacking as there were unforced errors that dotted his performance. There was a play where he didn't know what his role was, failed to screen for Mykhailiuk curling around for a shot, VanVleet had to literally direct him on where to go and the possession died on the vine. There was another key sequence in the fourth quarter where the Raptors were chasing the game only for Achiuwa to play a step off Richardson in the corner, and he promptly took the invitation to knock in the three. Offensively, even though the Celtics helped off him all night, Achiuwa failed to consistently find the open gaps to make himself available. He had been positive in each of his last three games since the injury, so hopefully he returns to focusing on the basics.
Seven -- Malachi Flynn is hustling for everything. The shot still isn't consistent enough, and that is his path to more minutes, but at least his mentality is good. He won offensive rebounds against much taller players and blocked Tatum on a drive in transition, which was one of the most impressive plays of the game defensively. Flynn also got to the cup off an aggressive drive, completed a four-point play, and pushed the pace in transition off a stop to find Watanabe for three in the corner. With Goran Dragic excused from the team to tend to personal matters, Flynn should have more chances to build on his promising rookie campaign. Essentially, the Raptors are asking him to play like VanVleet and that starts with his persistence on the defensive end.
Eight -- Chris Boucher was outright benched and the only available player who didn't see the floor. Even Isaac Bonga and Justin Champagnie got a turn ahead of him, which is a clear sign Nurse has lost his patience. Boucher would probably be more productive than either Bonga and Champagnie, who finished with two points combined, but this is about the defence. Bonga is 21, and Champagnie is a rookie, yet they don't make the mistakes Boucher does on that end. While this is secondary to his performance on the floor, it was discouraging to see Boucher sitting at the very end of the bench, motionless and emotionless, as he was undoubtedly stewing about the decision. He would have a right to be mad about it had he not squandered the first 20 chances Nurse gave him this season.
Nine -- Barnes continues to wait until the third quarter to impact the game. It's exhilarating to see him in full stride, whether that's knocking down threes or outmuscling centres down low, but it needs to be consistent. The urge to attack needs to be there from start to finish and not just in five-minute spurts. His mindset is always to make the right play but with the talent on the floor, the right play is for him to score. On one play in the third quarter, Barnes had it on the wing and looked to Siakam to come over to receive the ball. Siakam waved it off and told him to go, and Barnes promptly nailed a pull-up three over Brown.
Ten -- Nurse subtly benched Barnes for a ridiculous mistake to start the game. Barnes threw a no-look inbound pass around his back in the first minute of the game straight to a Celtics player under the basket. While Barnes recovered nicely to block the layup at the rim, that type of foolishness is not permissible at any level of basketball. Nurse subbed in Watanabe to replace Barnes just 90 seconds into the match and the intensity of the game picked up immediately. Barnes is simply too important to not see the floor and finished with 37 minutes played despite the early punishment, but it was good of Nurse to put his foot down.