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Sports Playoff deficit not fazing Toronto’s laser-focused Raptors

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots over Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (1) during second half NBA basketball playoff action in Toronto, on Saturday, April 13, 2019.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The Toronto Raptors find themselves in familiar territory – trailing 0-1 in a series they’re supposed to win. But the team is hardly hanging its head.

After Saturday’s 104-101 loss to the Orlando Magic, the Raptors have a 1-5 record in the opening game of the playoffs dating to the 2013-14 season. Yet a day later, the Raps could list more things they did well than those they need to fix. They will make adjustments before Tuesday’s Game 2, but nothing crazy.

Reporters packed into a media room on Sunday to probe the Raptors about the loss, but it seemed not to bristle the team this time. Maybe that impression was shaped by Kawhi Leonard’s poker-faced manner, or that same casual laughter we’ve seen from coach Nick Nurse all season. Maybe it was Fred VanVleet raving about the effectiveness of his high-scoring teammate Pascal Siakam: “as long as P is making those good, strong moves, and getting to the rim, there’s not much you can do from a defensive standpoint.”

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The team isn’t blind to the things that led to Saturday’s loss. The players shot just 33.3 per cent from beyond the arc (they shot 37 per cent during the regular season, and an NBA-best 41.5 per cent after the all-star break). Orlando shot 48.3 per cent from deep on Saturday.

“When we lose, everyone counts [the mistakes] up and you say, well if we did this, we did that, we probably could have skated out of there with a win,” VanVleet said. “But we didn’t and we’ve got to look in the mirror and see where you messed up and fix it going forward, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed. It’s nothing that is astronomical. It’s just simple stuff.”

Toronto coughed up leads, and made just nine free throws to Orlando’s 18. The Raptors let Magic point guard DJ Augustin get loose for 25 points. As for the defensive miscommunication between Leonard and Marc Gasol, which allowed Augustin to the hit the game-winning three-pointer, Nurse said it’s unlikely that would be repeated by two of his most experienced defenders.

“It was a one-off,” Nurse said.

Toronto’s own all-star point guard, Kyle Lowry, shot 0-for-7 from the field, six of them from deep. Nurse thought most of Lowry’s shots were well-created – ones he’s not likely to miss next time.

“Of the six threes, five of them were wide open,” Nurse said. “Those are shots he is going to have to take and he is going to continue to take them.”

But the Raps were also quick to rhyme off the long list of things they believe they did well.

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They clamped down on Orlando all-star centre Nikola Vucevic and held him to 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting. They limited Terrence Ross to 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting (he had averaged 27.5 points over his past four games). Evan Fournier scored 16 points for Orlando, but Nurse said “he was fighting like hell to get good looks.”

Toronto held Orlando to 40-per-cent shooting, while shooting 45.5 per cent themselves, and had 23 assists to Orlando’s 19.

Siakam’s play on Saturday suggested an exciting post-season will unfold for him as a very dangerous scoring option. He had a career playoff-high 24 points, coming up in the final minutes on both ends, scoring, rebounding and blocking two big shots on defence.

Leonard – the man with NBA final MVP experience brought to town to change Toronto’s playoff chances – was stellar in long stretches of his 25-point game. His two late dramatic buckets tied the game and then delivered the Raps the lead. He and Gasol each got in position and took well-created game-winning threes – but neither shot fell. So the Raptors feel as if they had some good plans in place.

“I think we did a good job with the game plan as far as most of their players were concerned. We let DJ hurt us a little bit,” Leonard said. “It’s just minor adjustments – playing a little bit harder, locking in on key situations and knowing what we want to do.”

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