Rested Raptors squander opportunity with close loss to Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS — At least they’re not alone.

That the Toronto Raptors have had a challenging confounding season is hardly news, but they’re not the only team to be going through something.

Take the Minnesota Timberwolves, who haven’t won a playoff series in 20 years and so on the strength of an encouraging 2021-22 season when they exceeded expectations and made the playoffs, only to lose in the first round, decided to go all in this past summer and trade for … Rudy Gobert.

Which is where the two teams diverge. The Raptors stood pat after their own surprisingly successful season last year and so can at least take comfort in knowing they still have moves they can make, big and small.

The Timberwolves? Not so much, as they have the 30-year-old Gobert on the books for $131 million and three years after this one and traded four unprotected first-round picks, a pick swap and their 2022 pick, Walker Kessler, a fine-looking rookie, for the privilege.

Being under .500 and hanging on to a spot in the play-in tournament wasn’t supposed to be part of the program. The T-Wolves thought they’d be making a run at the Western Conference Finals.

The Raptors have their own problems, however, and are running out of time to fix them. On Thursday night they dutifully did their best to kick the Wolves when they were down, but couldn’t capitalize on the rest advantage losing 128-126.

.acf-block-preview .br-snippet { display: grid; grid-template-columns: 200px 1fr; gap: 20px; width: 100%; margin: 0 auto; padding: 16px; border: 1px solid #CECECE; background color: #FFF; border-radius: 4px; } .acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info a { text-decoration: none; } .acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info .br-snippet-title { color: #343434; font-family: ‘roboto’; font-size: 20px; font weight: 600; line-height: 22px; margin-bottom: 10px; top: -3px; } .acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info .br-snippet-body { color: #343434; font-family: ‘urw-din’; font-size: 16px; line-height: 20px; margin-bottom: 12px; } .acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info .br-snippet-link-title { display: inline-block; font-family: ‘urw-din’; font-size: 16px; list-style-type: none; width: auto; } .acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info .br-snippet-link-title:not(:last-child):after { content: ‘ | ‘; color: #343434; }

The game turned in the fourth quarter when Minnesota guard DeAngelo Russell exploded for 16 fourth-quarter points. He made his first of three consecutive triples with the Raptors leading by 12 with nine minutes to play and then won the game at the free throw line with a pair after drawing a shooting foul on Fred VanVleet with 9.9 seconds to play. The Raptors had an excellent chance to win it, but OG Anunoby couldn’t convert a good look from three at the buzzer.

The Raptors had the game in control for most of the night and enjoyed a strong night offensively. Scottie Barnes led all scorers with 29 points on 15 shots while adding eight rebounds and five assists. VanVleet had 25 points and 10 assists, and Siakam just missed a triple-double with 13 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, although he was just 6-of-15 from the floor. The Raptors shot 14-of-28 from three and 52.9 percent from the floor overall, but their only score down the stretch was a dunk by Barnes with 68 seconds left that tied the score, setting the stage for Russell winning at the line.

Minnesota was led by Russell’s 25 and improved to 23-24 for the season.

Defense was the issue again for Toronto as Minnesota shot 50.6 per cent from the floor and 17-of-40 from deep after a slow start.

The Raptors drop to 20-25 with the loss and 1-2 on their three-game road trip and 6-15 on the road overall.

Minnesota was without Gobert (groin soreness) and has been without Karl-Anthony Towns since Dec. 1 (calf strain). They had lost their last two and were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost in Denver Wednesday while the Raptors were resting comfortably at the Four Seasons in downtown Minneapolis.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse and T-Wolves head coach Chris Finch are old friends, but there is no room for sympathy in these types of situations.

“We don’t call to commiserate, no,” joked Nurse.

“All I know, I think they’re playing very well. It was really unfortunate they didn’t win [on the road against Denver]. I think they play really hard, physical defence. There are no moral victories, but they are playing well at what they do.”

The Raptors did what they do as well as they’ve done in quite some time, at least in the first half. The Raptors led 76-66 with some gaudy shooting numbers for the NBA’s worst shooting team: Toronto shot 9-of-14 from three and 64 percent from the floor overall.

VanVleet has played some of the best basketball of his season on the Raptors’ three-game road trip and got Toronto going by seemingly getting into the paint anytime he wanted. He converted at the rim and spit the ball out to an open three-point shooter as appropriate and knocked down both of his three-point attempts also.

The Raptors also got some nice minutes from Joe Wieskamp, who made his first appearance while playing on his second 10-day contract. The 6-foot-6 wing did his job, knocking down a pair of corner threes set up by Siakam as the Raptors pushed their 37-31 first-quarter lead to 18 when Wieskamp drilled his second three in front of the Raptors bench midway through the second quarter to cap at 21-9 runs. In all, it was an impressive debut for the second-year pro who finished with nine points in 12 minutes and justified Nurse’s decision to play him ahead of regular rotation pieces Chris Boucher and Christian Koloko.

The Raptors played long stretches of zone, sticking to it as the T-Wolves started off shooting 2-of-12 from three and finished the half at 5-of-18.

But Minnesota began to warm up from deep. After their slow start, Minnesota banged in 10 of its next 23 from distance, including 7-of-13 in the third quarter. A pull-up three by Anthony Edwards with 31 seconds left pulled the Timberwolves within five before Minnesota’s own Gary Trent Jr. answered with a three of his own to keep the Raptors’ lead at eight to start the fourth.

Edwards also spent his fair share of time at the free throw line, bulling his way to the rim and drawing fouls at will. He had 10 free throw attempts through three quarters and finished 11-of-12.

The Raptors head home for a brief respite before their longest road trip of the year. They host the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks Saturday and Sunday before heading west for a seven-game swing.

Whatever direction their season ultimately takes will reveal itself soon enough.

.acf-block-preview .br-related-links-wrapper { display: grid; grid-template-columns: repeat(2, 1fr); gap: 20px; }

.acf-block-preview .br-related-links-wrapper a { pointer-events: none; cursor:default; text-decoration: none; colour: black; }

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *