Gameday: Raptors @ Warriors, Mar. 4

Steph Curry: Much better than his Mad Dog Face would indicate.

Game two of a four-game road trip, and the first of three on the West Coast. The Raptors head into Golden State for a 10:30 p.m. tip-off on Sportsnet One.

The Warriors are a good, and perhaps more importantly for Raptors fans tonight, fun team. On Wednesday night, Steph Curry did this:

I haven’t gotten confirmation, but I believe he is still wearing Raymond Felton’s ankles and heart on a necklace.

Of course, Curry cooled off over the weekend, but it’s not like he’s up against a hot team here. While the Warriors are 33-27, they’ve lost four straight and 10 of their last 13. They’re also up against the 23-37 Raptors who kindly bowed out of the playoff race with four straight losses in the past week. Two cold-ish teams square off, so maybe it’s a toss-up, but one of those teams is significantly better than the other. Let’s have a look.

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Toronto 105.9 (11th), Golden State 105.9 (12th)
D-Rating: Golden State 106.6 (19th), Toronto 107.8 (25th)
Pace: Golden State 94.4 (7th), Toronto 90.0 (25th)
Strength: Golden State 3-Point Shooting (1st, 39.4%), Toronto Ball Control (3rd)
Weakness: Golden State Rim Defense (27th), Toronto Hacking (30th)

39.4%, are you kidding me?? Not to mention they’ve hoisted the 10th most long-range attempts, so it’s really tough to keep this team from piling up points three at a time. The Raptors are one of the better teams in the league at limiting three point attempts, and it’s going to be absolutely crucial for the team to do this tonight. Especially with Curry and Thompson, defenders are going to have to fight through screens and be ready to get bumped around. Switching and trying to recover on those two guys isn’t a sound strategy, you’ve gotta keep the space tight.

On offense, it’s all about getting to the rim against the Warriors. Teams finish within five feet 62.3% of the time, well above the league average. However, the Warriors don’t allow players to get into that space all that often, which is an interesting contrast. At Sloan this weekend (and boy, is there a lot more about Sloan coming from me this week), Kirk Goldsberry of Harvard/Grantland presented a study based on SportVu visual tracking data that highlighted interior defense, and David Lee was a punch line. However, the Warriors are obviously doing something to keep guys out of the painted area.

I asked Ethan Sherwood Strauss, who is of TrueHoop, HoopSpeak and WarriorsWorld, to explain what the Warriors do to keep teams out of the paint even though it seems like, given the high percentage they surrender, teams would want to hammer the ball inside.

Ethan (loosely paraphrased since it was a GChat conversation): Their bigs don’t hedge on pick-and-rolls. The bigs sink down towards the paint because they aren’t mobile enough to reroute guards. It’s kind of papering over a flaw more than anything else. I endorse it, but recognize that it’s making the best of a bad situation.

So there you have it. When Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas screen tonight, don’t expect to see David Lee, Carl Landry and the rest of the gang (I don’t believe Andrew Bogut will be playing) to hedge out on Kyle Lowry, Rudy Gay or DeMar DeRozan. On one hand, this is probably good for the Raptors since it allows their ball-handlers more space and freedom. At the same time, I fear that this could convince the three aforementioned ball-handlers to pull up with a lot of mid-range jumpers if they can create separation off the screen.

The Warriors give up the league’s most shots from 10-14 feet and are top-10 in shots from 14-19 feet. This is smart, since those shots aren’t high-efficiency looks, and helps explain how Marc Jackson has turned a team with poor individual defenders into a semi-respectable defensive unit. The Raptors, meanwhile, are middle of the pack in terms of frequency and efficacy of those 10-19 foot shots. It’s not ideal for the Raptors to take “no hedging” as an invitation to pull up ad nauseam.

When the Warriors beat the Raptors 114-102 at the end of January, the Raptors fell into that trap early but got away from it later on. Aaron Gray also dropped 22, so maybe we should just throw that game out entirely.

In terms of guarding Steph, it’s going to be really difficult. When he’s running the point, Lowry makes the most sense as his check but he really can’t afford to gamble as much as normal. He needs to play more stay-at-home defense and focus on limiting Curry rather than forcing turnovers. When Curry moves to the two, I’d actually keep Lowry on him to follow him through screens and play the chase game, while moving DeRozan onto Jarrett Jack.

I was going to do a positional breakdown but I think you get the point now – stay tight on the shooters, attack David Lee wherever possible, don’t settle for pull-ups too often. And hope David Lee doesn’t fight anyone, because I don’t want to get a hernia laughing at him and Aaron Gray throwing down.

The Picks
Vegas: Warriors -6.5
Hollinger: Warriors -4.5
Blake: Warriors by 8. I just can’t bring myself to trust the Raptors to be disciplined offensively AND work their tails off defensively. It’s usually one or the other when it comes to this team. And seriously…Steph Curry.

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