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Slumping Raptors fall to Grizzlies as homestand continues

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Similar to two nights earlier, the short-handed Raptors grinded and hung around with an opponent, but once again, the end result was a loss.

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The Memphis Grizzlies came to town and found a way to win without providing much offence. Luckily for the visitors, the Raptors couldn’t shoot straight either in the 98-91 loss.

Toronto has now dropped seven of nine.

Pascal Siakam scored 20 points and added six rebounds and five assists in a solid outing and Fred VanVleet had 15. Scottie Barnes had 19, but the team missed 29-of-39 three-point attempts.

“They really packed it in on us, they just stayed off everybody, there wasn’t a whole lot of space and kind of baited us into some early shots and we kept taking them, one after another,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

“Didn’t make many.”

No, they didn’t.

The Raptors trailed 50-39 after the first half, the second-lowest points managed in a half this season, trailing only the opener against Washington.

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A strong third saw Toronto close within three points, and Malachi Flynn nailed a three-pointer with 1:30 to cut the lead to five, but Memphis seemed to always have an answer.

Earlier, after some no-calls that had the Raptors coming up empty, including an elbow to the face of VanVleet, Dillon Brooks sunk a big jumper to stretch the lead to 84-73.

Brooks yelled: “This is my house” afterwards. Brooks finished with 17 points, but on this night it was also Jaren Jackson Jr. (25 points) and Desmond Bane’s (23) house.

Brooks said Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire, a fellow native of Scarborough, was yelling at him earlier “this is our house,” so it was only natural that he responded.

The teams had met only last Wednesday, with the Raptors winning on the road, but both squads had an alternate look Tuesday.

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“It’s a different team for both of us. You know, they’re missing, you know, one of their key forces, we’re missed in a couple of ours,” head coach Nurse had said pre-game.

Memphis is now without its star, former rookie of the year Ja Morant, the league leader in points in the paint. The Raptors continued to be minus starters OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch. That had a lot to do with the wretched offensive displays on both sides.

The Grizzlies paid particular attention to VanVleet.

“Limited his touches for sure. I thought they did a good job of that, Dillon decided to take that on, he’s physical and he works hard, obviously takes pride in that,” Nurse said.

“Made things tough on Freddy for sure.”

Nurse said the absences haven’t only hit the offence hard, they’ve also forced players to play out of position and limited what the Raptors can do against big men.

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It places a heavy burden on Precious Achiuwa, who fouled out.

“Any game where we’ve had both (Birch and Achiuwa) have been good games for us rebounding wise, rim protection wise, and minutes wise because it allows us kind of a rotate the other guys down a position, nobody has to bump up (and guard bigger players),” Nurse said.

Siakam said afterward the team has no choice but to play with what they’ve got until they get healthy.

Another issue for Nurse has been his club’s poor home record. Toronto has now won only two of 10 games here. Only Orlando has fewer home wins.

“Yeah, we gotta fix that. It’s not acceptable,” Siakam said.

“We can’t play like that at home. We have this fan base and all that, but like we have to show up at home. I think we have to make it part of what we do. No excuses and that can’t happen.”

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WATANABE OK WITH SHOTS

With so many Raptors unable to play right now due to injuries other players need to step up. That includes Yuta Watanabe, who only recently was able to join the lineup. Watanabe said at shootaround Tuesday that he has to be more aggressive on offence.

“Last game I did not shoot well, but I was taking the shots I was supposed to take. It didn’t fall, but I think this summer I proved that I got so much better offensively,” Watanabe said.

“I’m not really worried. It’s going to fall. I’m going to help my team.”

Watanabe’s prognosticating proved bang on when he swished his first two three-point attempts and later set a career-high with his third of the game. Considering his teammates had combined for sub-25% outside shooting at the time, Watanabe’s hot streak was much needed.

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He finished with 11 of Toronto’s 25 bench points, along with six rebounds.

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JV HAS COME A LONG WAY

Nurse keeps a close eye on some of the players he worked a lot with when he was an assistant coach in Toronto. That includes Jonas Valanciunas, who stunned the NBA world with a preposterous game on Monday night. Valanciunas hit his first seven three-point attempts and finished with 39 points, 15 rebounds and one missed three.

Valanciunas hit one three-pointer in his first six seasons with the Raptors.

But Nurse and other coaches made him work on his outside shot.

“I texted him this morning. I told him all those threes we shot eight, nine years ago in Lithuania, finally, you’re taking them,” Nurse said.

“Jiminy Christmas. I did send him that. I’ve always said that from day one when we got him, he has really good shooting touch, you guys know that you saw that. He was really feeling it last night. It was really cool.”

Valanciunas actually led all qualified NBA players in three-point accuracy following his Stephen Curry impression.

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On Twitter: @WolstatSun

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