Fred VanVleet eviscerates officials as frustrations run high for Raptors
LOS ANGELES — Another night, another strong effort against a quality opponent and another loss. It’s been a frustrating season and a frustrating 1-3 road trip for the Toronto Raptors and safe to say, emotions are running high.
On Wednesday night Fred VanVleet wanted the world to know he’d had enough — with the way he thinks the Raptors have been officiated at least.
After Toronto’s 108-100 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Raptors point guard paused for moment, and said “I don’t mind, I’ll take a fine, I don’t really care.”
The fine will be substantial as the calm, measured and forthright veteran proceeded to eviscerate referee Ben Taylor in particular and the state of NBA officiating in general in a manner unlike you’ll ever hear again.
“I thought Ben Taylor was f—–g terrible tonight,” he began. “I think that most nights, you know out of the three [referees] there’s one or two that just f–k the game up. It’s been like that a couple of games in a row. Denver was tough, obviously.”
The context matters. Toronto is two nights removed from a last-minute loss to the Denver Nuggets that was decided by a number of coin-flip type calls that went against the Raptors and culminated with a sudden ejection of Scottie Barnes by crew chief Scott Foster after the veteran official claimed that the second-year forward questioned the crew’s integrity, though Barnes is adamant he was speaking to himself.
The frustration with Barnes’ ejection reverberated around the Raptors organization. The pump was primed. The loss to the Clippers tipped things over.
Against the Clippers the Raptors had more field goal attempts (96-71), more offensive rebounds (15-9), fewer turnovers (17-12) and made more threes (13-6) but lost in part because Los Angeles got to the free throw line 31 times to 14 for Toronto.
And for Toronto, every game matters. The loss dropped the ninth-place Raptors a game-and-a-half behind Atlanta for eighth place and leaves them just a half-game up on Washington for 10th.
Why the Clippers had the edge in free throws could be for a number of reasons. The actual discrepancy in fouls called wasn’t all that significant: 23 for Toronto to 18 for Los Angeles. But the Raptors put the Clippers into the bonus with four minutes to go in the second quarter, and again with 5:51 left in the game. As well former Raptor Kawhi Leonard — playing some of the best basketball of his career after recovering from missing all of last season with a knee injury — was his aggressive best and got to the line nine times.
And as Chris Boucher pointed out, a lot of fouls often come as a result of being a hair late defensively.
“Sometimes it’s just a tick-tack foul [and] we could be in better position. At the end of the day, it starts costing us a lot when they’re at the free throw line,” Boucher said.
The Clippers shot 54.9 per cent from the floor.
So there are plausible explanations for the discrepancy, but that’s not where the Raptors — and VanVleet — wanted to go after the game. He was especially vexed by a technical foul Taylor called on him at the 7:02 mark of the third quarter after Barnes was called for a foul on Ivica Zubac.
“You come out tonight, competing pretty hard and I get a bulls–t tech that changes the whole dynamic of the game, changed the whole flow of the game,” said VanVleet.
The Raptors (32-35) started the game well and led 25-17 after the first quarter and were tied 49-49 at half with the Clippers (35-33) who are in as tough a fight for the playoffs as the Raptors find themselves. Toronto was trailing by seven when VanVleet picked up his technical foul which he says was because he said to his teammates: “‘come on, guys, let’s keep playing through the bulls–t.”
Did the game turn at that moment? Toronto actually went on an 8-2 run and cut the Clippers’ lead to two immediately after the call, but the Clippers responded with a 13-2 run over the next three minutes — a stretch in which only the Raptors got to the line, ironically — as Los Angeles took an 83-74 lead into the fourth quarter.
That’s when the free-throw disparity became more pronounced as the Clippers shot 13 freebies to four for Toronto.
But it was also during the fourth that Leonard — who came into the game averaging 28.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 52.6 per cent from the floor, 49.6 per cent from three (on more than five attempts per game) and 91.5 per cent from the line of his last 22 starts — showed he can lift teams over the finish line as the Clippers have been waiting for him to do since he signed with them in the summer of 2019.
“The only probably complaint I had late [about the Raptors defence] is Kawhi got straight on a line downhill a little bit on us late,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “Take those four or five straight line drives out of there, and then I think it looks really good.”
Leonard’s knack for making game-determining plays almost at will remains intact.
As examples: midway through the fourth quarter the Raptors were hopeful of making a run and they had their starters back in, down 10. But after a missed VanVleet three Leonard was able to snatch an offensive rebound from the grip of Jakob Poeltl and fire it up the floor to Paul George (23 points, four assists), who lobbed a perfect alley-oop to Terance Mann (14 points, four assists off the bench) for an eventual three-point play.
Next possession Leonard blew past O.G. Anunoby, rose up and smashed a dunk over Poeltl, proof that all-NBA calibre defence and quality rim protection are no match for him. On the Clippers’ next possession, Leonard won a race to a loose ball with VanVleet, batted it to Mann before falling into the front row of seats and went to the line again. The mini-surge put the Clippers up by 14 and the game was mostly in their control.
And VanVleet acknowledged that for all his frustration, the officials didn’t decide the game.
“That’s not why we lost tonight, we got outplayed, but it definitely makes it tougher to overcome,” he said.
Toronto got 13 points and nine assists from VanVleet; 20 points, five rebounds and four assists from Barnes (although he was 6-of-21 from the floor); and 20 points and five assists from Pascal Siakam, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Leonard, the Clippers, or the referees, to hear VanVleet tell it.
But his comments were compelling not only because it was him making them — speaking in anger or without weighing his words is simply not his habit — but because he touched on a broader context than being on the wrong end of a bad call.
He spoke about the nature of the role officials play in the game itself and their relationship with players — or at least with him. He cast his net widely.
“Most of the refs are trying hard, I like a lot of the refs, they’re trying hard, they’re pretty fair, and communicate well,” he said. “And then you got the other ones who just want to be d–s and just kind of f–k up the game. And no one’s coming to see that s–t. They come to see the players. And I think we’re losing a little bit of the fabric of what the NBA is and was and it’s been disappointing this season. You can look it up: Most of my techs this year have been with Ben Taylor officiating. So at a certain point as a player you feel it’s personal and it’s never a good place to be.”
VanVleet’s technical against the Clippers was his eighth of the season — his previous career-high was five in 2020-21. For what it’s worth Taylor was refereeing the Raptors’ Nov. 30 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, the only time VanVleet has ever been ejected. Taylor — a 10-year veteran — gave him his first tech that night, but not his second.
“There’s been certain times this year where I feel our team is getting consumed with the way the whistle is going, especially after the night we just had in Denver the way that finished so there was a couple calls earlier that we all disagreed with,” said VanVleet.
“And if I say to my team, ‘come on, guys, let’s keep playing through the bulls–t’ and that warrants a tech I think that’s a little bit crazy. Like what are we doing, know what I mean? And there’s a fine line obviously, I understand that. But I think the jurisdiction and the power trip that we’ve been on this year with some of our officials in this league is getting out of hand and I’ll take my fine for speaking on it but it’s just this is f–king ridiculous.”
VanVleet said his piece, and he’ll pay for it by way of a fine. It will be interesting how it affects the way he and the Raptors are officiated the rest of this season and beyond.
Maple Leafs clinch playoff berth with Panthers loss to Senators
The Toronto Maple Leafs clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday.
The Maple Leafs (44-20-9), who clinched when the Florida Panthers lost 5-2 to the Ottawa Senators, are second in the Atlantic Division, 22 points behind the Boston Bruins and seven ahead of the third-place Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s the seventh straight season Toronto has clinched a playoff berth. It hasn’t won a postseason series since 2004.
The Maple Leafs are led by forwards Mitchell Marner (94 points), William Nylander (81), Auston Matthews (77), and John Tavares (75). Ilya Samsonov is 24-9-3 with a 2.46 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and three shutouts in 36 games (35 starts). Matt Murray is 14-8-2 with a 2.97 GAA, .905 save percentage and one shutout in 25 games.
Toronto made several moves prior to the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline on March 3, acquiring forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 17, defenseman Jake McCabe and forward Sam Lafferty from the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 27, defenseman Erik Gustafsson from the Washington Capitals on Feb. 28 and defenseman Luke Schenn from the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 28.
O’Reilly is expected back before the playoffs begin April 17. He hasn’t played since getting hit in the hand by Matthews’ shot in the second period of a 4-1 loss at the Vancouver Canucks on March 4 and was projected to be out four weeks.
The Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup 11 times, once each as the Toronto Arenas (1917-18) and the Toronto St. Patricks (1921-22). They are without an NHL championship since 1967.
Canadian Bianca Andreescu retires from Miami Open match after suffering injury
Canadian Bianca Andreescu suffered an apparent leg injury during the second set of her match against Ekaterina Alexandrova at the Miami Open on Monday.
Andreescu was injured in the third game of the second set of the Round of 16 match while trying to run down a ball in the back court. She remained down on the court, before receiving medical attention and leaving the court in a wheelchair.
Alexandrova won the first set of the match 7-6, Andreescu was up 2-0 in the second set when she retired from the match due to the injury.
The match was delayed for an hour by rain in the middle of the opening set.
The 22-year-old Canadian was playing well at the Miami tournament, entering play on Monday with victories over Emma Raducanu, No. 7 Maria Sakkari and Sofia Kenin earlier in the competition.
Quick Reaction: Wizards 104, Raptors 114
|O. Anunoby37 MIN, 29 PTS, 8 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 11-21 FG, 4-10 3FG, 3-4 FT, 3 BLK, 1 TO, 18 +/-
From the opening tip OG was a force offensively and continued to flash the self creation signs that everyone wants to see, he had a career high 18 in the first quarter and hit a lot of tough jumpers off the bounce, as well as spaced the floor with catch and shoot triples.
|P. Siakam34 MIN, 19 PTS, 11 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 7-17 FG, 1-3 3FG, 4-4 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -3 +/-
Pretty poor game from Pascal by his standards, a lot of shots seemed forced and he couldn’t finish through contact, very well, his playmaking also was muted because he seemed to be hunting his own shot.
|J. Poeltl26 MIN, 12 PTS, 12 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 6-9 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 7 +/-
Jakob’s floaters and push shots worked wonderfully tonight and he did a great job not rushing it like he does most games, offensive rebounding was also key as well, Jakob had 6 in this game which led to countless second chance points.
|S. Barnes32 MIN, 13 PTS, 5 REB, 6 AST, 3 STL, 5-14 FG, 0-2 3FG, 3-3 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-
Solid game in his first game back from injury, hit some tough looks in the paint, passing looked good tonight as well, efficiency was a bit off but we can chalk that up to being rusty.
|F. VanVleet36 MIN, 28 PTS, 4 REB, 7 AST, 3 STL, 10-21 FG, 5-9 3FG, 3-3 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 11 +/-
Offensive masterclass from Fred VanVleet, he was zooming all over the floor and he was really burning Washington with his outside shooting, but his playmaking shined really bright tonight as well.
|W. Barton04 MIN, 2 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 1-1 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-
Left the game early with an injury.
|C. Boucher22 MIN, 6 PTS, 7 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 10 +/-
Boucher was battling on the class yet again and often gave Toronto an extra look tonight, he also was solid as a rim protector as well.
|J. Dowtin Jr.19 MIN, 3 PTS, 2 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 14 +/-
Didn’t add a whole lot offensively but he was harassing guys on ball as a defender, and moving the rock well as well, would like to see Dowtin look for his own a bit more often
|C. Koloko15 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 3 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 7 +/-
Koloko entered the game by recording a steal and then a block on back to back possessions, and then he continued to play solid defense in drop coverage, really strong game for the rook.
|M. Flynn07 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-3 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -10 +/-
Didn’t take advantage of his looks on the floor tonight.
|P. Achiuwa06 MIN, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -10 +/-
Another rough night for Precious as he tries to regain his footing, just couldn’t find it defensively, ran the floor in transition just fine during limited time.
Although Toronto was healthier, Nurse didn’t force anyone into minutes that were going to damage the team.
Things We Saw
- OG Anunoby flashed creation skills once again, in the face up game he burned Washington many times and he even hit a pull up three.
- Christian Koloko played some pretty nice defense, his technique in drop was really good tonight.
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