The Toronto Raptors snapped their three-game losing streak on Sunday with a 117-105 win against the Portland Trail Blazers. This came in large part due to Scottie Barnes heeding head coach Nick Nurse’s instructions “to be more aggressive from start to finish,” as he was active on both ends of the floor throughout the game.
Barnes finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. He also tallied three steals and two blocks. Most notable about his night, though, was that he hit the ground running offensively.
Barnes has typically struggled in first half
This season has been a tale of two halves for Barnes. Over his last several games, while Barnes has ended the contests with solid performances, he has been lacklustre during the first two frames of action.
Prior to the Raptors' loss to New York on Friday, the reigning Rookie of the Year was averaging 18.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists over his previous six games, but only 5.2 points in the first half.
A reason for Barnes’ inconsistent offensive production between halves is in large part due to his connective nature. Not only is the Florida native a pass-first player but he is an exceptional screener. Whether it is on-ball or off, Barnes is adept at freeing up his teammates and unlocking cutting lanes.
Unfortunately for Toronto and Barnes, though, he finds himself being too unselfish for long periods of time. These passive stretches frequently come in the first half of play, since he tends to "feel" out the game and focus on getting his teammates involved.
The Raptors have one of the worst offences — particularly half-court offences — in the league, so they could use any ounce of scoring they can get. Barnes passing up shots early proves detrimental to the team in the grand scheme of the game.
Fortunately for the Raptors, he showed on Sunday he can be an effective scorer throughout the entirety of a game.
Different story vs. Blazers
While the volume of Barnes’ screens didn’t decrease during the Raptors' win over the Blazers on Sunday, he did an exceptional job of blending in rim attacks off the catch, as well as shooting the perimeter shots the defence was giving him.
Portland’s defensive strategy on Barnes was to sag off him and dare him to shoot from outside the paint. While this was similar to Milwaukee’s strategy two games ago, this time the 21-year-old seized the opportunity to leverage the space they were allotting him much earlier in the game.
Barnes knocked down a handful of mid-range jump shots, as well as a three-pointer, en route to a 12-point first half.
When asked about what it’s like being defended by the opposing team’s bigs and being given an inordinate amount of space to shoot, Barnes said he’s gotten used to the defensive machination.
“Seeing it constantly, over and over, these past five, six games, just trying to adapt to that role,” Barnes said. “I would say I like it, being able to facilitate the offence, move the ball side-to-side, being able to go downhill, attack the rim. I like it, being able to move the ball and start our offence.”
He added it behooves him to shoot the ball with confidence, since he knows teams will be playing him for his ability to dominate the paint.
“It felt good early,” Barnes said of his jump shot. “I’ve been working on it — I just want to step into it with confidence, be able to take that space, shoot some, get to the midrange.”
Nurse also stated postgame that Barnes — as well as Pascal Siakam — did an astute job going with the flow of the game and seizing the opportunities the defence was giving them.
“I thought that, in general, both Scottie and Pascal played much more in rhythm tonight,” Nurse said. “Like stuff would happen and it would get kicked out to them and they would just take the rhythm shot. I kept saying throughout the game and at halftime, I really stressed to them, ‘we generated a kickout three, just take it.’ Once we hit the paint and it comes out and we’ve done some actions, we don’t want to look for another action.
"We’ve already generated probably the best shot we’re going to get that possession. Usually when you turn down catch-and-shoot threes, more often than not you end up with a worse shot than you already had looking for something better, so you take the rhythm good one, even if it’s early in the offence, you take it, and I think that’s what both Scottie and Pascal did.”
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