In the wake of Toronto’s uninspiring outing in game one of their series against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, all of the talk post-game dealt with either the players on the court or the executive that put them together. Some wanted to talk about the disappearance of DeMar and Amir, others the emergence of Valanciunas and everyone wanted to chime in on the Masai Ujiri f-bomb delivered moments before tip-off. No one, though, seemed all that interested in talking about head coach Dwane Casey — odd considering that the Playoffs often come down to the game of chess that occurs between the two men calling the shots from either sideline.

This is Dwane Casey’s first crack at being the man in change for a Playoff series. While he’s been to eleven postseasons as an assistant in Seattle and Dallas, that experience aiding someone else — while useful — can only carry you so far in a series where you’re responsible for designing a winning game plan yourself. Casey wasn’t really out-coached in game one, in fact his team probably would have won if they’d been able to take care of the ball better (the club had 19 turnovers leading to 17 Brooklyn points). The Raptors out-rebounded the Nets pretty easily (45 to 37) and they out-assisted them, too (22 to 16). The Raptors hit more free throws (23 to 22) despite Toronto’s need for late-game fouling and they scored four more points on the break.

All that and the Raptors held Brooklyn to just 42.5% shooting on the game, which is below their top-ten regular season field goal percentage of 46%.

So all of that should be a reason for optimism, right? The Raptors did a lot right and lost because of a couple of correctable errors: DeMar DeRozan’s 3-13 stinker and an overabundance of turnovers. Bring on game two.

Well, not so fast. Remember, the chess match of the Playoffs cuts both ways. Jason Kidd got a forty-eight minute look at how the Raptors plan on executing against his club. He saw how they planned on handling the awkward matchup at power forward between Amir Johnson and Paul Pierce, he saw how they had success with Valanciunas down low and when they got out in transition. Tuesday isn’t just going to be a case of Dwane Casey fixing a few problems and otherwise rolling out the same strategy, it’s about tweaking what needs tweaking while also realizing that Kidd and the Nets are going to be spending their downtime working to upset those same things that Toronto did well in an attempt to take a suffocating 2-0 lead in the series before heading back to New York.

This is where we really get to see Casey The Tactician work. Casey has logged a lot more bench time than Kidd has. He’s been in the coach’s room not just conceiving strategies for his troops but also theorizing on the counterstrategies that his opponents are going to use. Yes, there is a big difference between offering a voice in that conversation versus having to make the final call, but if one of the key story lines to this series is going to be experience then Casey’s experience has to count for something here.

Let’s remember, Casey has a lot riding on these Playoffs. He’s a free agent at the end of this season. While it would appear to be a no-brainer that he returns next season after putting together two remarkable seasons out of his three since arriving in Toronto, you learn to never count your chickens as a head coach, especially when you were inherited by the general manager. If he is thoroughly out-strategized in this postseason it at least has to give Ujiri pause before he restructures the roster to better suit Casey’s preferred style of play. No matter what, this roster is getting a tune-up this summer, and it may not be a subtle one. Ujiri has to know what kind of players he’s going out and looking for. If he starts to have doubts about the kind of system that Casey wants to run (or his ability to get his players to run it consistently and effectively) then this summer would be the time to make that change, regardless of how impressive Casey was in the regular season. We’re in an age of zero security for head coaches. Casey’s not unaware of this, and while he would never coach from a position of trying to save or secure his job, there are potential implications hanging on his decisions that extend beyond his chess match with Kidd.

It’s one of the reasons why watching how Casey reacts from game-to-game is the most interesting aspect of his postseason for me. We’ve never seen Casey in this mode before. We never seen how he responds to the adjustment game that the Playoffs force a coach to play. He says he’s coming armed with more plays for Valanciunas, a re-conceived attack for DeRozan and more running overall. Great. Those sound like worthwhile strategies to implement, but there are miles and miles between those concepts and how they can, will and should be executed in a competitive Playoff series. Does he have the tactical wherewithal to implement these alterations to his game plan? Does he have the motivational chops to get his players to execute it? Will he abandon certain principles mid-game if they aren’t working? Will he alter his rotations for the same reason? He took the first blow in this series and so these are the questions that now lie at his feet. How he responds will have trickle-down affects that linger long after this series is over. Ujiri and Tim Leiweke want to build a contender, and contenders contend in the postseason, not the regular season. Even if Casey can’t win this series (and the personnel he has to work with may dictate that outcome for him) he nonetheless has to demonstrate to his bosses that given the right personnel he can make a team successful in the Playoffs.

First, though, he has to make his next move on the board and win game two, because if he doesn’t his team won’t survive long enough to get any satisfying answers to the aforementioned questions.

  • Nilanka15

    Good article. This is definitely something to keep our eyes on for Game 2.

    I’ve been impressed with the improved defense we’ve seen since Casey was hired, but I can’t say I think of him as a mastermind tactician…..yet.

    • FLUXLAND

      Casey can call for all the adjustments he wants but he’s at the mercy of the player’s willingness to oblige. I can’t see the game 1 plan reading: “DD chuckfest” or “all eyes on Kyle dribbling at 3 point line for a down clock bomb”.

      Makes it tougher to asses him. That 12 second mysterious clock burn at the end is a perfect example. All that coaching playoff experience and he just fails to call for a harm or blatant disregard of orders? Whole thing was somewhat incredulous to me.

  • hotfuzz

    I can’t for the life of me, understand Casey’s fascination with salmon. Has fields killed Casey’s mom or something? Surely he’s a better defender than salmons (whole being no worse of a shooter than him). At this point, even the most casual fan can see that salmons is not even fit to be a ball boy.

    • Ds

      Salmons was awful, both defensively and offensively. So, technically, there’s nothing to lose if he tried Fields. But I have a feeling that Casey has been stubborn about using Salmons for the last 20 games or so of the season, and it worked for the team overall (despite the OKC game hiccup), so I bet you he won’t even try it.

      The problem for me is that he trotted out 12 players in game 1, trying to find the right combination, while the game was close throughout. That’s a recipe for dysfunction in a playoff series.

    • Moe

      He’s a veteran BS -_- play fields like 2 mins, see if he bring anything. Look at Miami, brought in haslem (was on the bench as much as Landry) and they got much better when he began to play. Fields energy could help the ball move, plus he is a fantastic cutter

    • Mexiballer

      Fields will play tomorrow. I dont think we will see a whole lot of Salmons the rest of the way. But fields need to play hard and hold his own.

    • Chewwy No Matthew

      I agree with you and while we are on the subject, the fascination with Chuck Hayes, especially in the fourth quarter is mind boggling. Casey seems to have a hate on for Fields and Hansborough, who definitely are better for playoff basketball than Salmons and Hayes.

  • KJ-B

    THANK YOU TIM C!!! This is what needs to be the focus–DeRozan had negative momentum from the word go.. Lowry, although had great individual numbers, did not necessarily make his teammates better (I rate Vazquez higher in that category for Saturday)..
    Casey, started slow and then found his way after the trade which is when 22% of the season had passed. Let’s hope this series is a microcosm of the Atlantic Division win where Dwane inspired the troops to play beyond their years and fears.
    The sum of the parts is not quite yet greater than the whole on this Raptors roster. PLAY TO-GETHER fellaz! LET’S GO RAPTORS — #partyinthesquare was there — we deserve better…

  • golden

    Good article. Nets are a tough matchup for the Raps, especially the strength and size of their PG/SG/SF, which we would ideally counter with quicker lineup (maybe going smaller).

    Nets weakness is defense (20th in the league in DRTG), and we saw them have trouble defending the post. Unfortunately the Raps offense is initiated almost exclusively from the perimeter, and most of the time ending in a jump shot, so Raps don’t have a lot of practice in feeding the post directly from simple high-low entry passes (think Parker and Duncan). And even Kidd admitted that containing JV in the post is one of the key adjustments the Nets need to make for game 2, so ideally the Raps need to pound the ball into JV and Patterson, and ado more pick and roll with Amir to make the Nets pay for small ball and playing Pierce at PF. Again, unfortunately, that’s not how they’ve been playing all year, so instead I see Casey trying to match their small-ball, which we can’t.

    Not really optimistic about Casey’s ability to make adjustments game-to-game, or in-game, but then again, these Raps can never be counted out.

    • smh

      “Not really optimistic about Casey’s ability to make adjustments game-to-game, or in-game, but then again, these Raps can never be counted out.”

      yeah, hoping Raps pull it out

  • http://www.raptorsrepublic.com/forums/activity.php Doc

    Sounds like Landry Fields could get some time on Pierce and/or Johnson— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 21, 2014

  • Pong

    Fields is our secret weapon. DC was holding him out for after we get past the first round. But it looks like he will finally unleash Fields on the Nets tomorrow. Kidd will never see it coming.

    • Junior Qamar

      I was saying the samething and people laughed haha

    • asifyouknow

      Oh my dear God quit drinking my friend…lol

    • Chewwy No Matthew

      I highly doubt that Casey could afford to remotely think about holding a secret weapon for the second round. You have to get there first. Fields will be a better matchup against Johnson

  • dunkmycat7

    Just watching tim and sid,,apparently DC also a focus of Zen Master Phil as next coach of NYK…
    Who planted the rumour ? Jason Kidd ?

    • smh

      Uhm, what? no way!

  • asifyouknow

    Turnovers are acceptable on someone who handles the ball the majority of the time like Kyle and Greivis but 6 TO from Jonas is totally crazy, at times they give him the ball too far away from the basket, that is an instant turnover.

    Another think that bothers me about Jonas is that little flat footed put up he does and misses half of the time, 50% is a good percentage but guess what the percentage is on DUNKS?

    99.9 % .

    DeMar’s off season camp (If pros go to that stuff) should be dribbling camp 101, the poor guy can’t dribble his way out of an open tundra.

    All the starters +/- ratings were in the negative , four of them in double figure negative. The backups, two of them who played over 30,were in the plus. That is just a losing stat.

    To win they most:

    Keep the ball moving, quick passes to find the open guy.

    DeMar needs to make a decision, do I have to prove that I’m an all star and keep trying to force things or do I get humble and become an assist king for the night to help this team.

    Believe me the NETS are already in his head. DeMar said he needed to be more aggressive and that is exactly what the NETS are hoping for.

    I hope DeMar don’t dig himself another hole. Toronto is winner because they play unselfish ball.

    The winning combination for this series (might not be for the next one if they pull this off)because of the three NETS up front is a three guard set, Vasquez Lowry and DeMar playing together at this point I think DeColo can handle 10 to 12 minutes without hurting the team.

    • FLUXLAND

      Can you tweet Vaz and ask him to hold off on the Antoine Walker Shimmy until after the game, and not in front of the BK bench?

      DD is going to “keep takin the same shatz, man”. Three/*offensive rebound*/instant three. He was taking shots RG wouldn’t take. From your keyboard to his eyes, I guess.

      • asifyouknow

        Yea I agree, the Terp shim was a bit much…but he got caught in the moment, he is an emotional player. I never fault a guy like him who comes to play every night, a ESPN guy said it best, when Vasquez is in the game something is going to happen, bad or good but something is going to happen and today is all good.

        29 minutes
        18 points
        45% fg and 60% from 3
        1 TO
        4 rebounds
        8 assists
        I’ll give the guy a break. Dance the Macarena if he wants.
        Oh yea before the hating clubs come on ; He allowed 100 points.
        It actually has been all good since he got healthy after the all-star game. (I don’t think he is all there yet, he still puts a bag of ice on it when he is on the bench)

        OF COURSE I’M SURE THERE ARE FOLKS HERE THAT WILL BLAME THE LOST ON THAT SHIM hot dogging…LOL..

        If DD keeps forcing the issue he will get spanked again, this are grown man in the NETS playoff team, this are not 22 year olds. He best get humble and find the open guy, he ignored JV, Vaz and a few others trying to will his shot on those guys . They are clearly not going to let him beat them.

        I hope he proves me wrong cause I love the guy, MJ he is not! At least not yet. You do know that because he is one of the worse three point shooters in the NBA they are going to give him that shot all night long ..Right?

        Is all I’m saying.

        Go raptors. By the way they might resign Patterson ,Vaz an Lowry so you might be stuck with me for awhile…lmao…lmao……all in good fun guys!

        • Chewwy No Matthew

          Considering that Vasquez was a major reason we could have won this game, I don’t think a shimmy is anything to get on him about. His body language was terrific and you want that in your players. The moment was not too big for him.

  • Darius

    My problem with Casey’s coaching philosophy, his attitude towards playing veterans is solely based on past success equals current success. I agree, with the fact that Salmsons brings a level of toughness that current rosters lacks in the perimeter (other then Lowry). But to me, I’m sure he doesn’t go back to Salmsons after seriously underperforming the first round (different in regular season). I think going small would make the raptors offence even more deadly. Create more room for Derozan to slash, and penetration opportunities towards the basket for Lowry after the screen. If the Raptors could make this into a Western Conference type of game; up and down tempo with high frequency baskets, the Nets starting line up could be exhausted down the stretch. I really was disappointed how Casey gave up on Terrance Ross, by not playing him much in the second half of the game. This decision, could hurt his confidence going forward and ruin his impact for this series. If I was coaching this team, I would allow my young players to make mistakes early and fail as much as possible, then come roaring back for Game 2….. get the jitters out and trust we have the superior team. Go RAPS

    • Ghotte

      There’s no coach currently in the playoffs that would even consider allowing “my young players to make mistakes early and fail as much as possible” because *that* would be a certain recipe for failure. This isn’t the regular season where you try things out with the youngin’s. You are playing to win. And therefore, if you have vets, you lean on them based on past experience. Common sense.

  • Mexiballer

    Landry Fields will play tomorrow. Finally. The Raptors are going to hit the boards hard and run. Amir gets to play inside where he belongs. Hard, fast, physical ball. No more of this slowing it down shit. Now if the refs will let them play we can hit them hard and fast.

    • asifyouknow

      Yes he will play and you know he is Vaz’s pall so Landry will be geting the ball..lol