Gasol Raptors’ iconic brief run could end soon after playoff struggles

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The nature of the beast is as follows:

When a good team is underperforming, someone on the team has to wear it, or at least a part of it.

The Toronto Raptors are struggling to score against the Boston Celtics. That’s the main reason they’re dragging their second-round streak 3-2, and it’s very likely going to cost them their season – unless they can survive a pair of knockout games starting with Game 6 on Wednesday. evening.

So it’s time for Marc Gasol to wear it, or at least part of it.

Understand: The Raptors don’t sag offensively, they crate.

They are the worst offensive team left in the NBA after the season and against the Celtics, they are averaging just 99.4 points per 100 possessions – a rate that would make them lag the worst offensive team in the regular season by five points per 100. possessions.

Defensively, the Raptors remain “good”. They limit the Celtics to 106.8 points per 100 possessions, which exceeds the Raptors’ 104.7 mark in the regular season, but would still be good for 4th place in the NBA.

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But their offensive woes are so pronounced that their net score is -7.4 – the same as the Atlanta Hawks at 20 wins this season.

And how much better their defense would be if the Raptors could force Boston to get the ball out of their own net a bit more, rather than pushing the ball before the misfires and attacking while the Raptors scrambled to prepare. ?

Things could also get worse, as the other Raptors central tandem member Serge Ibaka – you know, the one who can score a bit – had a walking boot on his left ankle on Tuesday and is questionable for Game 6.

Ibaka was a bright spot for the Raptors on offense, scoring 11.8 points per game on 51.2% of total shots and 50% of three, continuing a streak of mostly positive games since the ranking games began on the 1st. August. .

Failure to this degree obviously has many parents, and the Celtics are a defensive team good enough to bury all but the deadliest attacks – a category the Raptors don’t fall into.

But so far the only Raptors performing at or above regular season levels against Boston have been Ibaka and OG Anunoby. To varying degrees, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell have been held accountable after matches they’ve struggled with and to their credit each has had corresponding strengths – Powell perhaps the exception so far. now, but at least the leading Raptors regular season bench scorer is still looking to score.

Maybe in Game 6 he will.

But Gasol’s inability or offensive indifference deserves its own special category. It’s almost as if Raptors head coach Nick Nurse – and even segments of the Raptors fan base – have lowered their expectations for the $ 26million player to the point that even he watching the basket deserves a enthusiastic nudge, as if in trouble. 10 years in a house league team.

It’s as if his intangibles make up for the fact that Toronto is playing 4-5 against one of the best defenses in the NBA.

But even though Nurse – like any coach – defends her players in public, sometimes the shortcomings are just too obvious to ignore.

“We don’t need a ton [of offence from him]The nurse said on Tuesday. “It’s not like we need 25 of him. But we need him to play with some, just because there are opportunities for him… that’s when we’re at our best, and we have to be at our best to win a game here. .

It’s very strange considering that Gasol averaged 15.7 points per game before being traded from Memphis to Toronto last season and this time last year led Spain to a world championship, a race underlined by an explosion of 33 points by Gasol in a semi-final victory against Australia.

Meanwhile, Gasol has scored 27 points in five games against Boston and has yet to score three points in 10 attempts, even though virtually all of his three-point attempts have been widely open and undisputed.

He managed only one offensive rebound.

It’s a model.

In nine playoff starts – including four against the over-tied Brooklyn Nets in the first round – Gasol is shooting 40 percent off the ground and is 3 of 21 of three; in seven ranking games before that, he shot 6 of 21, or 28.6%. Gasol shot 9 of 42 from the depths of Florida, while being largely ignored by opposing defenses.

The Celtics use their fat to hunt down the ball handler – typically Lowry and VanVleet – after most of the pick-and-roll action. By default, this leaves Gasol open, and Gasol does not pull or convert shots to wide open at such an insignificant percentage that it almost doesn’t matter.

“Yeah, we definitely point them out, talk about them, we show him the movie,” Nurse said. ” [We] just got out of the movie show – and keep cheering him on and telling him these are plans he needs to take.

The why is a bit of a mystery. Gasol shot 40.2% from deep before the 2019-20 season break, even inside and outside the roster due to recurring hamstring issues. He shot 38.2 percent from three in the playoffs last year and 44.2 percent with Toronto after arriving from Memphis.

When Gasol came back from the break after losing a lot of weight – do you remember “Skinny Marc Gasol? – he clearly indicated his intentions:

“What is important [is] We’ll all be measured by winning games and getting another ring, ”he said when the Raptors arrived in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in July. “That’s what we’re all for. We all try to be personally in the best position to achieve this.

It did not work.

When the Raptors rolled – they won 11 of their first 12 games in Florida – it didn’t matter and Gasol’s lack of offensive production could be offset by less obvious but no less important contributions, his defense and his game in particular.

But here’s the problem: it wasn’t just Gasol’s offense that fell.

Sportsnet producer Chris Black has unearthed some of Gasol’s advanced year-over-year stats and even in those areas it falls short of its standards.

In last season’s championship race, Gasol was second among the Raptors regulars in WinShares by 48 at .151; this season, he’s the last of their seven-man rotation at 0.36.

Its deviations are reduced by almost half (2.1 last year to 1.2 this year); he contests fewer shots (from 9.5 to per game at 6.6) and opponents are more successful against him at the rim, converting 68% of their plays from 60% a year ago. His game is his offensive calling card, but even there his assists are down and his turnover is up.

The Raptors remain a better defensive team with him on the floor, a tribute to his intelligence and willpower. But at what cost?

Gasol will forever be part of the Raptors’ lore as a veteran stabilizer who was the final piece of a championship puzzle; knocking out seven-foot-one, 300-pound Sixers center Joel Embiid will be his most famous trick, though his parade performance alone makes him worthy of a statue.

But barring a sudden reversal, the usefulness of the 35-year-old waiting free agent for the Raptors has largely run its course, and it will remain as a brief relationship that produced huge highs but ended with a groan.



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