Short-handed Raptors can’t keep up with talented Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY — Hey, sometimes you’re going to get outclassed.

The Toronto Raptors certainly were undermanned when they rolled into Vivint Arena for the second-game of their six-game road trip and a date with the Utah Jazz.

Missing were OG Anunoby (hip) and Precious Achiuwa (shoulder). It’s the kind of situation where you’d love to see if Yuta Watanabe could lend a spark, but his strained calf has kept him out all season.

Despite a commendable effort from a number of corners, the Raptors (7-9) fell 119-103 to the Jazz (10-5) on Thursday, stretching their losing streak to three games as they lost for the sixth time in seven starts.

That Utah shot 55 per cent from the floor likely won’t do much to improve the Raptors’ defensive metrics, which have been the worst in the NBA over that seven-game stretch.

Toronto led early in the second half after an impressive first half — offensively at least — but Utah put on the jets after that. The Jazz turned a 12-point lead to start the fourth quarter into a 19-point edge midway through the period and the Raptors couldn’t push back.

The Raptors’ lack of lineup continuity is and was a factor.

“It seems like we’ve had a minimum of three or four guys out for every game this year,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, over-stating it not by much. “…It’s a little frustrating. What do you do? I’m just more anxious to see us be able to build on some stuff. It seems like we had to take some steps back and reconfigure and then we take some forward.”

But the opponent has to be recognized, too. The Jazz shot a comfortable 19-of-46 from three, with seven different players making at least one, led by former Raptor Rudy Gay, who came off the bench and knocked down 5-of-6. They had 34 assists on 46 made field goals, with six different players with at least two helpers, led by Joe Ingles, who came off the bench and sliced Toronto up for eight in 24 minutes. And when it was time for a kill shot, the Jazz simply looked to the rim where Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside were a combined 11-of-12 from the floor, almost all on dunks.

The Raptors got some inspired performances. Gary Trent Jr. was never contained as he put up a season-high 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting and Fred VanVleet grinded his way to 24 points. Khem Birch had a season-high 14 points — all in the first half — while Malachi Flynn was decent in his season-high 22 minutes.

Absent was Pascal Siakam, who never seemed right as he struggled to find his way in the paint with Gobert looming and couldn’t get on track on the perimeter either. He finished 2-of-14 from the floor, didn’t grab a rebound until his 29th minute and had his five assists off-set by four turnovers.

As a team, the Raptors shot just 10-of-28 from three. The did manage a 14-9 edge in offensive rebounding and 12 fewer turnovers than Utah, but couldn’t do enough with all the extra possessions they generated.

It’s no exaggeration to suggest the Raptors were in a tough situation before the ball even went up. The Jazz are on the short-list of NBA title contenders and even though their 8-5 record doesn’t jump off the page, they came into the game with the NBA’s top-ranked offence, 10th-ranked defence and second-best net rating.

In Gobert, they have one of the league’s best rim threats — both ends — and they surround him with multiple three-point threats and wings that can attack the rim. They might not have the league’s best talent, but they could well be the most balanced roster in in the league.

The Jazz also were playing a Raptors team without Anunoby as the team announced earlier he’d be missing time with a hip pointer.

“Listen, they do just about everything you can do. They score in transition, they throw it ahead really well, they’ll hurt you both off the bounce and from the three in transition,” said Nurse.

“Once they get into half court they move and pass, share the ball. They put pressure on rim with Gobert’s lobs and Whiteside’s lobs and they’ve got a ton of playmakers and shooters.

“And if I haven’t mentioned it, they’ve been together for a long time on top of all that.”

All of that said, the Raptors played a spirited first quarter. They got off to a quick start, leading 9-2 after a steal by Trent Jr. led to a Scottie Barnes dunk in transition and a VanVleet three-point play after he was fouled on a jumper. A pair of Birch floaters and a triple by Trent Jr. gave Toronto a 23-17 lead, but Utah’s class began to show. They finished the quarter on a 15-4 run that featured baskets from six different players, five them assisted as they took a 32-27 lead into the second quarter.

The run continued with former Gay heating up from three, helping push the Jazz up by 11 with 9:18 to play in the half.

But the Raptors weren’t having it. Birch is not a likely candidate for to lead a comeback, but the Raptors kept finding him on the short roll, isolated against either of Utah’s giants, Gobert or Whiteside. Normally, Birch will look to pass out to the corners in that situation, but with Utah staying home on shooters, Birch lofted up his gentle floater from the paint and helped the Raptors get unstuck. He ended up with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

Yes, that earned him first half MVTree honours.

VanVleet took over from there, banging in three triples in less than a minute to give the Raptors a 53-51 lead.

At that point Trent Jr. jumped in, putting together his own 8-0 run — mostly on mid-range twos — Pascal Siakam made a nice play on Toronto’s last possession to drive and find Barnes for a lay-up, giving the Raptors a 63-61 lead to start the third quarter.

That was a high point and they were few and far between after that, which has been the pattern of late.

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