Will will follow up with a detailed statistical analysis of the series a little later in the afternoon, so I’m left to focus on some tactical elements of the Nets series, and how the Raptors have to excel in order to progress.

Adjusting to Small Ball Lineups

Two of the most used lineups by the Nets happen to be Williams-Livingston-Johnson-Pierce-Plumlee/Garnett.  It concedes size in the frontcourt for ball-handling and size in the backcourt.  The Raptors like to play Valanciunas and Johnson together, which means that if Valanciunas guards the biggest guy on the court (i.e., Plumlee or Garnett), it results in Johnson guarding Pierce.  This can be problematic on defense and beneficial on offense if Johnson.  The question is whether Casey retains Johnson in this matchup or gives the more nimble Patterson a crack at guarding Pierce, reducing the latter’s quickness advantage.  My view is that having Johnson guard Pierce is too risky because it moves our best interior defender away from said interior.  The Nets can exploit this quite easily and ask questions of Jonas Valanciunas’ help defense.  Like all things in life, this isn’t entirely black and white, and Casey has to find the right balance of when to use Patterson and Johnson in small-ball lineups.  One possible route to take is to have Patterson guard Pierce and shift Johnson to the center, leaving out Valanciunas.  Of course, pulling our biggest interior threat isn’t great, but nobody says this has to be a 48-minute move.  Finding the right balance of matchups by weighing them against fatigue, momentum and game flow is where coaches earn their money, and Dwane Casey is in the on-deck circle.

Use of Zone

30% of Nets shots are threes (compared to 28.5% for the Raptors) which is good for third in the league. They shoot 37% from three, meaning that it’s a good chunk of their offense. I posted a GIF from one the games with them this year showing examples of two poor close-outs on one possession. If that’s the sort of defense the Raptors intend to play, then they may as well raise the white flag. One strategy to counter their three-point shooting is the use of a 1-2-2 zone which does well to cover the perimeter. A matchup zone could also be effective, but leaves the threat of cutters, and given that the Raptors help/shot-blocking defense is left wanting at times, might be too risky. Essentially, over a seven-game series, Dwane Casey needs to have a few cards up his sleeve that give the Nets different looks. If he trots out with the same sort of defense, even a coach like Jason Kidd in conjunction with their veterans will figure out how to successfully attack. It’s no coincidence that the Raptors defense falling on tough statistical times (allowing more than 103 points in April and a free-falling defensive rating) has coincided with reduced use of zone defense by Dwane Casey, who previously had used it to good effect to throw off teams coming out of quarters. Let’s revisit that again.

Defend Without Fouling

In a series where superstar calls are likely to go the other way, the Raptors have to ensure that they defend without fouling.  The worst situation for the Raptors could be if they get into the penalty early in the quarter, and the Nets shoot free throws through Pierce and Johnson’s well-executed fakes.  This could prove disastrous as it slows the pace, which favors the older Nets far more than the Raptors, and turns this into a grind.  How well John Salmons, Terrence Ross, and perhaps Landry Fields do to contest without fouling is going to be a key factor in the series.   Pierce averaged a career-low 4.1 FTs this season – the Raptors have to keep him under that number.

Get to the Line

For the most part, the playoffs are a half-court game and in that setting a team has to grind out possessions even when the offense isn’t operating at a high efficiencies.   Read that as DeMar DeRozan being counted on to bail the team out when the offense is sputtering, and he can do that only if he’s able to get to the line consistently.  The onus here isn’t on DeMar DeRozan to drive in one-on-one situations, as that is not his strength.  It’s up to Dwane Casey to structure the offense and plays where DeRozan is in good positions to catch hand-offs, timely passes coming off curls, that see him going towards the rim with three-point shooters adequately positioned.  DeRozan, for his part, has to realize that the officials will be swallowing the whistle on the same plays where he got calls in the regular season.  This is going to be tough to come to terms with, but once he accepts this, he’ll realize that he’ll have to have an extra burst in his drives to get the result he desires.

Exploit the Center

The Raptors may be short on center depth, but they do have a center advantage.  Yes, Jonas Valanciunas presents a problem for any of Plumlee, Garnett, Collins and Blatche.   He’s done very well to improve the awareness in his offensive moves over the last month, and the Raptors will need to make sure that he’s well-fed.  Here’s the catch though: he is likely struggle to start the series due to nerves and the magnitude of the occasion, or perhaps the Nets recognize that sending a second defender throws him off and Valanciunas get flustered.  It’s how Casey responds to such tactics that will have far-reaching results.  Whether it be sending the helper’s man down the middle as a cutter, or moving the three-point shooter over by a few degrees – the Raptors have to make sure that Valanciunas is a well that they keep drawing water form – either through Valanciunas scores or Valanciunas-initiated offense.

The Shaun Livingston Problem

He’s tall, he has a mid-range game, and he can handle the ball.  He averaged 10 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds against the Raptors this season. Those are above his seasonal averages of 8.3, 3.2, and 3.2 with good reason.  He poses a matchup issue for Kyle Lowry because he’s very comfortable operating out of the post, and using screens to set himself up for open space around the elbows, from which he can drive or pull-up.  The Raptors will have some decisions to make regarding Livingston, but ultimately it’ll come down to whether they’re comfortable with Livingston taking on a scoring role at the expense of being a facilitator.  The Raptors may have the size at PG to stick with Livingston through someone like Julyan Stone, but playing the latter is tantamount to having an offensive void at one position, which Casey cannot risk.  If the Nets are featuring a Williams-Livingston backcourt, then the Raptors matchups work themselves out with Lowry guarding Williams.  If it’s Livingston alone at the point, that’s when you have to consider switching the shorter Lowry on Joe Johnson, tempting the Nets to operate out of an inefficient guard-post, and stick someone like Terrence Ross on Livingston and live with the consequences.

Offensive Rebounding

Brooklyn is the third worst defensive rebounding team in the league, only ahead of the Lakers and Milwaukee.  The Raptors rank 11th in offensive rebounding rate.  Put the two together and you’d surmise that this is an area where the Raptors have an edge. That edge, however, depends entirely on whether the lineup has Valanciunas and Johnson present, which is up for debate given the Nets’ small-ball tendencies.  From a personnel perspective, the Raptors have enough to get away with a lower shooting percentage by dominating the offensive glass.  For example, DeMar DeRozan’s shooting percentages dipped from January to February, February to March, and March to April.  He shot 41.6% in April and at 17.8 FGAs takes the  most shots on the team.  To withstand poor shooting nights by DeRozan, or Terrence Ross due to jitters, or simply surviving an off night from Kyle Lowry, offensive rebounds are critical.  Conceding offensive rebounds consistently is often a psychological blow for teams as it’s a deflating event that prompts the defense to start from scratch, which is exactly what the Raptors should aim to do.  If the Raptors are able to get more possessions through their perceived offensive rebounding edge, it affords them to play at a slower pace and increases the margin of error for shooting, both very valuable advantages.

Reacting to Ball Pressure

The Nets are third-best in the NBA at forcing turnovers (MIA, WAS).   They can apply pressure through Livingston, and have sound defensive players in Kirilenko and Garnett.  Possessions are the currency of the NBA and the Raptors cannot afford to have poor possessions that yield low-quality shots, or worse, turn it over.  Whether it be guys like Alan Anderson pressuring in the backcourt by playing DeRozan tight, or Garnett trying to get away with swipes against Valanciunas, the Raptors have to be cognizant of what the Nets are trying to do and anticipate their defense.  Easier said than done, and requires a ridiculous amount of tape-viewing to get right.  A good place to start might be to reduce the amount of ball-handling guys like DeRozan and Johnson have to do, both are poor ball-handlers and you can bet that when they’re dribbling, the Nets are smelling steals.  The Raptors do have Lowry, De Colo, and Vasquez that can handle the rock and they should be used as such.

The Stretch Four

You can throw any seasonal bench numbers out the window here because the playoffs are about matchups and more specifically, mismatches. Mirza Teletovic scares me in the same sense that Bostjan Nachbar did in 2006-07 – the Raptors have generally had trouble with stretch fours and Amir Johnson, for me, cannot cover the position well because he’s more comfortable staying inside and meeting offensive players rather than going out and covering them. Patterson, who like Teletovic comes off the bench, is a like-for-like counter and which big man has a greater impact off the bench could decide a game or two so in the series. Teletovic, when combined with guard like Livingston, can move without the ball well and has enough of a drive/shoot game to give the Raptors defense something other than their “big three” to worry about. The Raptors can’t afford to let their bench have big games and the second unit, led by Vasquez at the point, has to maintain enough offensive throughput to cancel out the contributions of the likes of Teletovic.

Passing Lane Accuracy

The foundational elements of the Raptors offense are good screen-setting and ball movement, which is a forced on and a by-product of not having a star player on the team.  This is much different than teams where reliance on a particular player to put pressure on the defense and create off of that is the norm.  In order for the Raptors offense to function fluidly, they need to be able to accurate, in-rhythm passes.  The Nets happen to be third in the NBA in steals and the Raptors are bottom-third in conceding turnovers to steals.  The Nets are excellent at ball denial in the post and perimeter, which means that in order for the Raptors to make inbound passes, post-passes to Valanciunas, flares to Ross, hand-offs to DeRozan, or even a simple point-to-wing after a down-screen, the Raptors have to have multiple options/angles to execute simple passes.

Let’s go Raps!

  • Roarque

    I see KG baiting JV and Amir into early foul trouble and then Kidd will insert Lviingstone and Plumlee to play with our best bigs on the bench. Garnet can’t play more than 6-8 minutes at a stretch and I’m betting those stretches will be at the beginning of each half and mostly to use the only tool he still maintains from the old days ie, his ability to shit disturb and trash talk. When KG is out there we should use PsychoT on him.

    • GetLicks

      I really hope Casey utilizes Hansborough the way Vogel did against Birdman last year. Hansborough’s one major skill will be very valuable to this team in the playoffs.

  • Tee

    Reading that made me nervous

  • Mark

    It is good to point out that the Nets are a perimeter team that operates inside-out with Livingston and Johnson acting as post-up options/facilitators. I think JKidd took half a season to figure out their optimal small-ball line-up and using the three as their weapon of choice. Really they have three guys including Pierce who are big guards that can play out of the post which is pretty tough. Toronto will have to use help D pretty sparingly otherwise they open things up for shooters.

    I’d like the Raps to use Johnson and Patterson together since it gives you better offense and defensive coverage. I’d stay on the shooters and just concede the post. We have JV and Amir which are good-great post defenders which should have enough length to stop guys like Livingston.

    I think if we can stop a team like Golden State and Dallas we can stop a mediocre Brooklyn team. We do concede only 19 three pointers per game which is top five in the NBA. The key to me will be running our offense efficiently. You need to limit turnovers so having Lowry, Vasquez, Derozan, Patterson, Amir should keep our turnovers to a minimum.

  • mountio

    Small ball and adjusting to line ups could be our downfall in this series. I think straight up we can take Brooklyn, but if Casey gets in his own way by over adjusting lineups and not playing our game.
    I would leave Amir in there against Pierce and PUNISH them on the other end so that they have to adjust to US. Same goes for when we play Miami, Casey always adjusts to them as opposed to vice versa.
    What I dread is Casey subbing in Salmons for Amir in an effort to match up because he thinks Salmons veteran leadership and D on Pierce are the right way to go. I cant way strongly enough what a bad idea this is.
    If we stick to our game, Brooklyn will not be able to stay with us. By our game, I mean heavy doses of TR and JV, especially JV as he can own the point (in addition to KL, DD and AJ of course). Lets just hope Casey doesnt outsmart himself ..

    • Ted

      My biggest fear is Salmons eventually taking the bulk of the minutes at the 4 spot and playing small ball. If the Raps do this the series is over.

      • mountio

        Totally. Im surprised its not getting more airtime as a distinct possibility. Its sooooooo right out of the Casey playbook from a few different perspectives. And I agree – it will not end well

      • Dunkenstein

        Won’t happen unless he gets red hot when he is out there. We really need T Ross to use his quickness against the Nets hottest perimeter player even if that happens to be Pierce. I’m not worried about his bulk factor versus this kid who is the best man on man defender the Raps have had in a long time.

        • Ted

          Didn’t happen much in the regular season. Remember the Pacers game where Salmons started guarding Paul George. I’m worried TRoss will get benched quickly if Ross starts poorly.

    • asifyouknow

      Salmons needs to come up big in this series, all the Sacramento guys have to come up HUGE if Toronto is going to get by the NETS.
      If you are afraid of Salmons playing, well, you best drink some Molson’s to get you through it because I see him playing 12 to 15 min.
      I do agree that Casey at times out smarts himself. I truly believe this is his series.
      Casey goes against a rookie coach that has never been an assistant in the NBA, Casey should be able to slam Jason K.
      The regular season is different than the playoff in that teams are more intense, players personalities come out (SORT OF SHOWING OFF) Mr. Casey needs to let this guys play, let them have a little fun. They deserve it.
      I believe this series is on CASEY.

      • mountio

        First, I will definitely be drinking heavily in my seats, whether or not Salmons plays .. but if he plays more than 20 mins / game (which Im afraid he will if Casey decides to match him up against Pierce a lot at the 4) and plays crunch time over Ross, Ill be doing shots.
        Second, its a good thing we matched up against Kidd, because hes one of the very few coaches where I can say we might have an advantage. Both are horrible end of game / clutch situation coaches .. it could be ugly stuff in the final minutes of these games.

      • Ted

        Yup. Forget Lowry, Derozan or JV. IMO Casey is the X Factor of the Raptors. This matchup is gonna require a lot of shuffling of players and taking advantage of matchups. Offensively both teams can score. Its up to Casey cause allowing Lowry and Derozan to Hero ball against the Nets won’t work well for the Raps.

  • Phat AlberG

    I hope Raptors wear the black Jersey’s for this one!

    • DDD

      lol no. brooklyn will be wearing black, and the free shirts for all the fans are white, so we have to go white at home. it would be good however to wear black in BK since their fans would be wearing it as well

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  • Dunkenstein

    Forget Stone, Fields and Decolo. You’ll only hear those names if there is garbage time. Raps will go primarily with the usual starting five backed up by Vasquez, Patterson and Salmons. I hope Hansbrough gets some minutes to piss Pierce off and to attack the offensive glass. …. Whether Livingston score 8points or 10 won’t make a difference in the ultimate outcome. I think it’s up to us to lose the series more than the Nets in winning it. If we find our earlier hard nosed D, don’t turn the ball over too often and keep the pace fast, we’ll win and the Nets can’t stop us.

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  • hotshot

    Casey big strategy: “They are dominating us so lets throw Salmons in there for more minutes.”

  • FLUXLAND

    “mismatches”

    “Mirza Teletovic scares me” (& the whole S4 para).

    BANG ON! That guy has been burning the back of my mind since Kidd gave him the green light on Drake Night.

    • Gusser

      Agree completely. The Mikki Moore of this series.

      • FLUXLAND

        No doubt. Mirza Moore?!

        The guy is a baller.

    • Bugster

      I wouldnt worry about Mirza, If he misses a few, his night is over. But Johnson is another story, now if that guy gets hot, the series is over.

      • FLUXLAND

        I dunno.. he was missing on Drake Night and Kidd didn’t really yank him.

        And I don’t know if you seen him play besides vs TO, but that’s the kind of guy that kills the Raptors when his shot it falling. I think he’s flying a bit under the radar on the Nets, he’s very skilled.

  • Bugster

    I would basically use the way how the Heat defend the Nets. Dont go for any kind of head fake with Pierce, make him drive and no help if Livingston decide to post up. They are a very good experience perimeter shooting team, they will not be playoff scare and start to miss shots. Guard all those 3 point shots and make them penetrate but do watch out for the KG 15 foot jump shot. I’m sure they will running lots of plays for KG and Pierce.

  • Gary Gill

    Nets in 5.