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Raptors’ improved communication paying off

TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors are a naturally quiet group off the court. Speaking up, especially on defence, will be an important part of turning around their season.

The normally reserved OG Anunoby said that he has learned how to communicate on the floor from a who’s who of former Raptors including Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, as well as current all-star forward Pascal Siakam. Anunoby, the backbone of Toronto’s defence, said that speaking up is about being a second pair of eyes for his teammates.

“Just being vocal. Saying what they’re seeing,” said Anunoby after practice at the OVO Athletic Centre on Thursday. “If someone else is not seeing what they’re seeing, telling them what they’re seeing so everyone can see it.”

More than just calling for switches or being a teammates’ help on pick and rolls or screens, it’s also breaking down another team’s offensive structure during timeouts or at intermission.

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“Whenever you see something happen, maybe if someone messes up, pull him to the side and talk about it,” said Anunoby. “Not confrontational, just talk about it and just try to be better looking forward.”

Toronto (10-14) snapped a four-game skid with a 135-128 win over Atlanta on Wednesday. The Raptors overtook the Hawks for 10th in the Eastern Conference with the victory and will host Atlanta again on Friday.

“I thought we communicated well, which I feel like that’s something that we’ve got to do better,” said Siakam after the game. “(It’s) the character of our team, we have a lot of just quiet people.

“We’ve got to find a way to energize each other, find a way to communicate to each other. I thought we did that better today.”

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Forward Scottie Barnes, who is often a tandem with Anunoby locking off the best players on opposing teams, agreed with Siakam that better communication helped against the Hawks.

“I feel like we got some good communication on the floor here, especially last game,” he said on Thursday. “Last game was really good, starting off the game with our energy and it sets the pace throughout the game.”

The one person who’s not quiet on the Raptors is head coach Darko Rajakovic.

“I’m on the side yelling a lot, I’m trying to communicate for everybody to help them out, as you can see, I’m very engaged on the sideline,” Rajakovic said with a laugh. “Yes, it comes from a place of players being quiet, but I want to have such a clear game plan and execution and everything that there is no grey area for them, just to make them more comfortable in calling a switch or pick and roll with the five man or whatever it might be.

“There is no good defence without good communication.”

Toronto has three more games in its current homestand. After Atlanta on Friday, the Raptors welcome the Charlotte Hornets (7-15) on Monday and then Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., and the Denver Nuggets (16-9) on Wednesday.

“Every game is important for us right now,” said Barnes. “I think we’re sitting at, what, 10-14? We’ve had some losses. We need to get our record back good, so every game is important for us.”

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2023.

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