It almost feels weird to write up a full post-game breakdown on this one, mainly due to the fact that the Raptors essentially gave the game to Golden State with defence that became increasingly lackadaisical as the game went on. On top of that, our leading scorer and rebounder was Aaron Gray, who finished with 22 and 10 – I mean, is this real life?
That all being said, let’s do our best to pinpoint exactly where what seemed to be a winnable game for the first 3 quarters (heard that one before?) got away. As for the Quick Reaction and player grades, click here if you missed them last night.
My first impression as the game began was that we were in for a shootout, and to some extent, that was what we ended up with, save for spurts (the 102 points is the 3rd highest total the Raps have had this year in a regulation loss). The Raptors’ defensive woes, though, didn’t begin on the perimeter, as many expected – instead, Golden State was content to run their possessions through David Lee and the returned-but-hobbled Andrew Bogut, doing the majority of their scoring in the paint and in transition in the first half. As Blake’s pointed out in his pre-game posts numerous times, the Raptors are actually surprisingly effective when it comes to iso defence, and that was quite evident early in the game as the Warrior wings looked to create their own shots off the dribble in the half court, rather than drive and dish or swing the ball around the perimeter. The Warriors – the most prolific 3-point shooting team in the NBA this season – ended the first half shooting just 2 for 9 from the perimeter, which was both a sign of strong perimeter defence from the home squad and a scary premonition of things to come.
With the Warriors struggling from long range, you’d think the Raptors would have a comfortable lead going into the tunnel at the half, yet the game was tied at 52 largely due to some sloppy transition defence. The Raptors ended the first half with 5 turnovers – not an awful number, but their major issue was returning to their own side quickly after shot attempts (either makes or misses). It seemed like every second Raptors possession ended with Golden State moving the ball through the Raptors’ lane, and multiple defenders being slow to return (Ed Davis being a prominent culprit). It’s also important not to forget the contributions of David Lee in the halfcourt, who was basically unstoppable in the first half, finishing with 15 points and scoring on seemingly whatever he wanted. The Raptor bigs have had trouble with floor-stretching floors all season, and last night was no exception on that front.
There were quite a few positives to take from the first half, though, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Despite being outrebounded in the first half (an expected Raptor advantage) and going just one for eight from long-range themselves, the Raps managed to shoot themselves to 52 points thanks to some slick passing and an unexpected contribution on the offensive boards from Aaron Gray (4 in the first half). Gray’s huge night was largely due to some great drive-and-dish plays in the lane, particularly from DeMar DeRozan, who set a career high in assists and had a great night distributing the basketball, if not finishing himself, but he does deserve credit for putting himself in position to take advantage of a size mismatch when Bogut left the game, hogging the ball down low and making the four foot bunnies that he seems to miss on a regular basis. I don’t want this column to be thousands of words of me waxing poetic about my favorite goofy seven-foot doppelganger, but 9 for 12 shooting is pretty damn efficient, and a good percentage of those were second chance points (6 offensive boards for the game).
The second half began largely how the first half ended, with the Raptors riding hot shooting from mid-range and the Warriors running their offense through David Lee. As the 3rd went on, the Raps, particularly DeRozan and Anderson, began to drive the ball through the Warrior lane and exploit Lee’s still below-average defence – nice recognition of an advantageous matchup from the Raptor bench as Golden State wings began to increasingly hound the home squad on the perimeter. Unfortunately for Toronto, though, a continuation of the slow start from the Warriors’ infamous “Super Splash Brothers” was just too much to ask for, and back-to-back 3s from Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry (who left the game in the fourth with an ankle injury), followed by a Curry steal/layup, left Golden State up 9 points and the Raptors in battle-back mode for the rest of the game.
It wasn’t necessarily at this point that this was most glaring, but the Raptors really could have used Kyle Lowry in tonight’s matchup. Jose’s difficulties fighting through Warrior screens and Lucas’ general inability to play any semblance of perimeter D became increasingly glaring as the Warriors heated up, and even with the Raptors experimenting with a zone to hide Lucas, the Warrior guards (not just Curry and Thompson, but Richard Jefferson and Jarret Jack as well) continuously exploited whoever was on his side of the court while he was out there, whether it be driving and kicking for 3s or just posting him up. It was clear tonight that the Raptors were a better defensive team when in a man set against this Warrior team (again, pointing to their strong isolation numbers), and being forced to change out of that in the 3rd quarter (and to start the fourth) seemingly with the express intent of hiding their point guard, went a long way in determining how this game finished up.
Despite a Jose shooting spurt that brought the Raptors within 2 points at the end of the 3rd, the game was essentially decided after the aforementioned Warriors’ spurt. Scoring points in bunches can have a real effect on a team’s psyche, particularly one that’s been beaten down as much as our Raptors have this season, and the fourth quarter featured both the offense and defence of a team that had already been finished off. Take a look at the Raps’ fourth quarter shot chart:
Yes, that is a total of TWO makes inside the paint. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – this team is at its best when it’s driving and kicking, moving the ball around the perimeter, and making the extra pass to cutters – and at its very worst when its offensive possessions involve early-in-the-shot-clock mid-range jumpers, which is basically all we saw for the duration of the fourth quarter. At least that offensive strategy paired really well with increasingly disinterested perimeter defence, as the Warriors seemed to get whatever shots the wanted, whenever they wanted, down the stretch.
There isn’t much argument that the Raptors have been one of the NBA’s hardest luck teams this season, and yet, through all their difficulties, they’ve always played hard and finished the game with effort and intensity (if not results). Tonight, more than any other night so far this year, it seemed as if all their bad luck had been beginning to catch up to them mentally. Two and a half great quarters, and one and a half dismal ones – that’s all it takes to sink you against a playoff team, and, unfortunately, that’s what we’ve seen far too often this season.