It’s Game 4 on Sunday night, and I’m nervous as all hell. From the outset, I suggested the teams would split in Toronto and split in Brooklyn with the home team winning each game from there, meaning Raptors in seven. Even though that’s still possible and even though I’m sticking with it, it’s certainly far more stressful when Brooklyn holds the 2-1 edge than the opposite.

The Raptors have some adjustments they can make for Game 4 on Sunday night at 7 p.m. There are issues, but none have a perfect solution. If they did, basketball would be really easy.

Head coach Dwane Casey has shown already that he’s willing to shake things up to gain an edge. From a 12-man rotation in Game 1 to just an eight-man unit in Game 2 and then back to 10 (okay, 11, but Steve Novak played like one second) for Game 3 as he searched for answers on the wing.

I will say, though, that lengthening the rotation is probably not the answer. Tyler Hansbrough has a role in many match-ups, but short of getting under Kevin Garnett’s skin it’s unclear what his role is in this series. He was forced into action a bit in Game 3 due to foul trouble for Jonas Valanciunas but didn’t acquit himself all that well. Novak, too, is simply a specialist used in very specific situations.

That leaves nine, three of whom loom as a major issue.

ISSUE: Production from the second wing position
Terrence Ross is struggling badly. John Salmons hasn’t really been good for a couple of minutes. The team has played well with Landry Fields but that reality feels precarious given the limits he imposes on the offense.

Player MIN Pts Rbs Ast Net Rating
Ross 63 10 6 1 -25.5
Salmons 25 4 1 1 -28.4
Fields 25 0 7 1 13.5

You surely know by now what the issue is with all three of these wing options. Ross looks shell-shocked right now, and while he’s not normally one for nerves, he’s been too big an offensive zero to not explore other options. Ross has shown flashes of great defense this season but not in this series. He’s shown flashes of offensive potential this season but not in this series. It’s a tough situation because it would probably surprise nobody for Ross to come out and be excellent for the next four games, but it seems just as likely he continues to provide little. As a smart man put it to me in an email discussion, though, what was the point of this year if you’re trading experience to win a game? That dynamic changes in the postseason, of course, but it’s not like any of the other options are better.

Salmons is clearly hurting, and he wasn’t playing particularly well for the month or so before his back injury. This isn’t an “RR hates on Salmons” thing. He’s been very, very bad, and hasn’t even been able to do the one thing that’s been a general constant in his game, which is solid if unspectacular defense.

As for Fields, he’s been good when he’s been out there, on one side of the ball. The issue, obviously, is that the Nets don’t guard him, meaning he can basically only play when Patrick Patterson is on the floor, because a Fields-Amir Johnson-Valanciunas lineup leaves atrocious spacing. The Fields-Patterson-Johnson look, meanwhile, has been very good in their 11 minutes together.

Ross shouldn’t be removed from the starting lineup. It’s a bit too reactive and wouldn’t necessarily provide a benefit, plus you can simply hook him early and get the same effect.

Fields is the preferred option right now because he can check Joe Johnson, which DeMar DeRozan has now definitively proven he can’t do. But Casey will have to be very creative with his substitution patterns, because the Fields-Johnson-Valanciunas trio isn’t a good look, and Valanciunas has simply been too valuable an advantage to sacrifice his minutes to help out the wing play.

Playing Greivis Vasquez alongside Kyle Lowry more – they’re already averaging 18.3 minutes together in the series – is an option, too. Vasquez can check Shaun Livingston, odd as it may sound given Vasquez’ defensive limitations, because his shortfall is quickness, not size, and Livingston loves to use the block. It requires DeRozan to guard Johnson though, full stop, and I think we’re all probably tired of hoping that match-up plays out differently.

There’s one other option that’s a bit extreme but might be worth trying out for very short stints – Patterson at the three. He’s a “stretch four” who has primarily guarded Paul Pierce in this series, yes, but he’s also 6-foot-9, 235-pounds, and Pierce and Johnson are basically the same size, anyway. Patterson checking Johnson would be risky if the Nets put Johnson in pick-and-roll situations with a wing or a big, but Patterson could handle him on post-ups. Offensively, Patterson’s role as a stretch-four makes him close to a three, anyway, and this look would allow the Raptors to try someone new on Johnson without sacrificing offense. It’s risky, considering the Patterson-Johnson-Valanciunas look was used for exactly zero minutes this year.

Obviously, there isn’t a great option here. The first hope is that Ross simply plays better. From there, it’s a chess match (and dice roll) of which look will give the Raptors what they need.

Other Notes
*The ball is getting sticky because of DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan improved a great deal as a playmaker this season, upping his assist rate to 18.9 percent but it’s taken a major step back in three games against Brooklyn. The Nets are basically daring DeRozan to beat them, knowing that ball movement is essential to the Raptors offense, and so far they’ve obliged. For stretches, the Raptors focus only on getting DeRozan going, and it means a lot of standing around for the other players on the floor. That’s got to change.

*Somewhat related: please remember you have big men, one of whom carved up the Nets in the first two games of the series.

*One team is going to start hitting threes soon. The Raptors are 17-of-61 (27.9 percent) after shooting 37.2 percent in the regular season and the Nets are 18-of-68 (26.5 percent) after shooting 36.9 percent in the regular season. You could convince me that some of this is related to better defense. It’d be a lot easier to suggest that they’ll start dropping soon, and it will mean trouble for one team if they don’t answer in kind.

*Please, the referees…I haven’t been nearly has upset as everyone else, but the focus needs to get back on the players. The officials have dominated the discussion. I’m not one for conspiracies (okay, maybe a little) or anything like that, and I’m not even that angry as a Raptors fan. The fact that the officiating has been bad, period, makes it hard to discern bias. Are you really hating on one team if you’re brutal both ways?

*These teams are unbelievably close. They’ve now played seven times, the Nets have won four and the total score has been 678-677 Nets. It’s ridiculous, it’s fun, and it’s stressful as all hell.

Vegas says: Nets -4 with 56 percent of action going on the favorite. 58 percent is also hitting the over at 192, which seems about right considering the teams have averaged 193.6 points in their seven meetings, and they’re sure to heat up from long range.

The pick: Raptors by a half-dozen. This amounts to a must-win of sorts, because a 3-1 hole is an incredibly daunting task. Like they answered in Game 2 (kind of), I think they’ll be able to do the same here. I know, it’s a bit homerish to assume that it’ll be the Raptors playing a good 48 minutes before the Nets, but the path to the Raptors improving – ball control, get back to feeding the bigs – is a little more within their own control than “hit those threes” for the Nets. I don’t know, I’ve gotta be optimistic.

I’m nervous, yo.

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  • raptorstand

    Our shooting % is down and our turnovers are up because we are using up to much time at the top of the key. We have to establish down low so that the wings become open. Tross has seen very little open shots. There is a reason we started every game down low during the season, because it works. Get it low , the outside shot opens up. JV will be monster today and we will shoot 50%, we will win going away. Go Raps!!

    • mountio

      Agree with this. Our offensive execution has been horrible. Credit the Nets D – they are very long and excellent at trapping the pnr, yet not getting beat back door.
      I think we have to start down low and force them to react. JV is the closest thing we have to a mismatch offensively – ye have to use it. Once TR gets an open 3 or two, his whole game opens up. All he has got so far though is contested, end of shot clock 3s, which are obviously lower percentage.
      To be perfectly honest, we have not played a good game yet. We have looked like (imo) the worse team each game. If we play our game, we SHOULD be the better team. Heres hoping we come out, play well, hit some shots and force them to adjust to us as opposed to vice versa

      • hoogie

        Agree with you…our d has been bad for most of the games and our offence is really predictable. Nets know that no matter how quickly we bring the ball up court(or who brings it) the Raps are going to stop 6 feet above the key play criss cross with the wings switching sides each passing the ball to the other then DD playing 1 on 1. What happened to going down low to JV who is really giving the Nets bigs fits under the basket. Every player and coach in the NBA knows that Joe Johnson cannot go to his left with the ball…..why are we guarding him straight up all the time (except for Fields)? Prevent him from going to his right (or of course straight line) and he will be less of an offensive threat. Maybe the odd double on him to throw off his timing and flow. Pierce is going to get his no matter what you do, but he is getting older and more tired legs, same as KG….if you keep the ball moving and make them run they will be sitting a lot more. Raps by 4 going home with the split.

  • dunkmycat7

    How come nothing on Donald Sterling ?
    Let me get this straight…
    He owns a team in a league whose players are 75-80% African American.
    His girlfriend, who is less than 1/3 his age, is part African American part Hispanic.
    He has been accused of this racist behavior before and has paid MILLIONS in fines…
    Ok I’m not sure what 50 year old white guys SHOULD be saying about this but ‘im gonna venture the following:
    I think LAC just took over from TO as THE place UFA’s will NOT go.
    When is Blake a FA EXACTLY ?
    Lebron -you are totally right -NO place for this guy.
    And if you want to know what I REALLY think let me leave it to one of my personal faves – Snoop
    so yeah DS -fuck you.
    (wonder how Masai would put it -EXACTLY 🙂 ?

    • BlakeMurphy

      Because this is a Raptors site. I have opinions, of course, and they pretty much echo Snoop’s, but this isn’t really the right forum for it.

      Blake ain’t a free agent until 2017, btw.

      • dunkmycat7

        Gotta start somewhere…

    • mountio

      Im with Blake. Sterling is a pig, straight up. Has been for years. Not just the worst owner in pro sports over the last few decades, but also the most reprehensible. However, this is a raps site and we have a huge game tonight. Plenty of DS opinions and places to discuss elsewhere …

      • dunkmycat7

        Sorry I disagree – we should ALL be talking about this – it seems like every team and every player incl RAPTORS are ALL OVER THIS this throughout the league as well as EVERY NBA pre/post game show etc.
        It’s hugely relevant, the only reason I started here is that I didn’t see anything on this anywhere on RR-did I miss it ?
        I’d be happy to cut and paste somewhere else if you like…

        • mountio

          Im with ya. Maybe there is a forum on this in RR – not sure. All Im saying is we cant hack on Blake, who is writing a pre-game, on the game day of our most important game of the year for sticking to that in his content.

        • DDayLewis

          Can’t speak for Blake, but he and I both spent 8 hours reporting on the story yesterday, and I know I’m a little tapped out on the issue.

          • mountio

            id say that qualifies as extensive coverage …

            • DDayLewis


              My sentiments are similar to Blake’s. Fact is, this is nothing new with Sterling, and the NBA was always aware of his personal beliefs. Quite frankly, I’m disappointed they didn’t act on his previous transgressions. They’ll never admit this, but they were probably banking on Sterling dying before anything else came out of his mouth.

              But I also understand that the NBA is a business, and operate under rules and laws. A business isn’t interested in dictating politics, nor playing the judge on morality. That’s not an out for the league to duck the issue, but before everyone gets enraged at Silver, the Clippers or the NBA, we need to keep in mind where they’re coming from.

              And finally, if the NBA does decide to wade into the tricky issue of policing politics, it opens up a slippery slope. What crimes, or beliefs is the league willing to put up with, and what aren’t they? For example, if you look into Mikhail Prokhorov’s history, I’m sure you’d find skeletons in his closet as well. Fact of the matter is, the NBA is in the business of billionaires paying millionaires. There aren’t a lot of billionaires out there, and there are far fewer good ones. There aren’t a million Vivek Ranadive’s out there.

              In this case, the NBA will surely act, because Sterling’s sentiments are nasty and unforgivable, but if you’re expecting large corporate entities like the NBA to dictate morality, odds are, you’ll be left disappointed more often than not.

          • dunkmycat7

            Thanks for the links…and for the coverage.

            • DDayLewis

              No problem man. Sterling is a bad person, and everyone should know it.

        • Tinman

          I heard the tape. A lot of ignorance, but not sure if it’s racist. The man was having a conversation with his much younger, Afro-American GF, who quite frankly, betrayed him.
          JayZ wears a medallion that symbolizes that white people are the devil, Carmelo has sported one as well.
          The silence in VIBE magazine was deafening.
          What action should the NBA take against them?

          • FLUXLAND

            While there’s no justifying his comments/feelings in any way, it was abundantly clear the woman was baiting/antagonizing him into saying something controversial. She was clearly aware of his position, asking him to express it seemed to have alternative motives.

            His past transgressions speak for themselves, we didn’t discover anything new here..and he’s said far worse in the past.

            • raptorstand

              Good lord Flux we have finally agreed on something. The guy is a douchebag but it seems a little Mel Gibsony to me. I would hate to think what would come out if every players white or black were public knowledge, let alone fans. Personal phone calls to me don’t mean crap. Just another race baiting bs story.

  • ckh26

    Nice piece. This game is now ” it.”
    The season is on the line. This is where as a team you stand up and smack somebody in the mouth (figureatively – i’d be more than ok with this literally as well) and show that your a team to be reckoned with.
    Led by Lowry + Demar we got the cojones to do that. JV will have to avoid as many fouls as he can as he will be handed a couple of head scratchers by the zebras. TRoss has to show if he is a man or a college kid today. Patterson will show up again today and Vasquez has shown he can play when it matters.
    Raps by 3 and go home with the split.

  • asifyouknow

    I just love Casey’s take “…is not panic time”
    Well! My dear coach you better wake up! Your time will run out tonight if you don’t win.
    You need points, that defense thing isn’t working out for you vs a team who are bigger and stronger at the positions that are killing you (as I posted that a week ago) .
    Start the line up that is giving you the most offense as proven by the stats (if Casey believes in stats)
    Lowry, Demar, Vazquez, Patterson and JV and play them 40 if you have to. This is the game ..this is the final…you not going to go 3-0 vs the Nets.

  • webfeat

    “Fields-Amir Johnson-Valanciunas lineup leaves atrocious spacing.”

    Then put Lowry, TRoss/GV, Fields, 2Pat, JV out there. Fields vs JJ worked very well in Game 2. It’s unbelievable that Casey waited until the last minute of the fourth quarter in game 4 to try it again.

  • RapsFanatic

    Raptors gotta play inside out, get T.Ross and JV going early, and Kyle Lowry has to be aggressive and be the bulldog that he is for the full 48, limit turnovers, and the raptors must, must, must, must get out on the break if they want to win this game. Raptors are going to win if they play aggressive from start to finish.

    • DDayLewis

      The concept of inside-out sounds great, but there’s a few issues.

      1. Our wing players aren’t doing a good job of feeding the ball inside. Post-entry passes have been quite dicey.
      2. Patterson and Amir will both have the height advantage, but both players lack refined post-games
      3. Jonas has a refined post-game, but he’s also been extremely turnover prone
      4. Name on time this season where the Raptors’ bigs were able to carry the team to victory via posting up numerous times?
      5. Jonas is a poor passer out of the post. He’s the only one who commands doubles.

      I’m not saying these guys can’t be used more, but post-ups probably aren’t the way to go. Pick-and-roll with Amir or Jonas is good because it pulls the Nets’ only big out of the paint, which opens cutting lanes to an unguarded basket. Also, Amir and Jonas are great in the PnR.

      • RapsFanatic

        I agree with you, PnR is the way to get amir and jonas going. The only problem is BKN is trapping as soon as they see a PnR coming, and the raptors start to abandon it and they play one-on-one dribble isolation basketball which is killing them. I remember the game in BKN during the regular season where Lowry was attacking the basket and just setting up amir and JV through PnR and we were in the game. In this series Lowry only played well in game 1, and in G2 and G3 he played pretty bad. I think the key to winning this series is the performances from Lowry, Ross and Amir Johnson. JV, Demar, Greivis, and even PPat, can’t be our main scorers throughout the series.

      • FLUXLAND

        …but BK is shutting down the PnR, forcing ISOs.

        Everything people are discussing has valid merit, on paper… but the playoffs are not about outscoring the opponent, they are about getting stops. For all the talk, all year long, about this being a defensive/halfcourt team…they seem completely incapable of stopping anyone and they keep getting abused in the paint.

        • DDayLewis

          The playoffs are not about outscoring opponents…

          In that case, we’re up 2-1! Huzzah!

          Your point about the PnR is good. The Raptors’ guards have done a shitty job making things happen in the pick and roll. Brooklyn’s quickness on closeouts and traps is killing the initiation of the offense.

      • mountio

        I agree with all of this .. but I think it comes back to the lesser of several evils. Normally, our guards are able to get enough ball movement to get reasonable shots for themselves or others (or KL is able to beat his man off the dribble and do the same). But, in this series, that is just not happening. As a result, we are going possession after possession where we run pnr or wheel hand offs well above the three point line and dont even get inside the 3 pt line until 5 left on the shot clock. Even with some of the heroic shots DD or KL have hit, this is not gonna be very successful.
        Im also scared shitless of forcing JV to be a decision maker in the post … but we have to figure out some way to get our offense started and heading towards the hoop (and in fairness to JV, hes been pretty good out of the post lately)

      • raptorstand

        The bottom line is , we have played there game, now its time for them to play ours. We have failed on the outside, we have to look to get low everytime no matter what happens we have to force them , we need open looks and this is the way. They are playing really tight on the outside , get low and everything opens up. We do this and they cant stay with us. Demar cannot ever guard Johnson ever. The first ten plays should be scripted to go low or a drive at the hole. We must attack.

        • raptorstand


  • Ted

    Amir and Landry together is a no-no, so then just start with Lowry-DDR-Landry-2Pat-Jonas.

    Amir’s playing injured and you can clearly tell. The raps can’t beat the Nets playing a perimeter game. DWill and JJ are clearly the more talented pair over Lowry and Demar. The sooner Casey and the Raptors understand this the better.

    Jonas, 2Pat and Amir are the key to this series offensively. Casey has to try getting postups for Amir and 2Pat as well and not just for Jonas. Run the game inside out will allow good looks for TRoss. Stop giving the ball to Demar and TRoss at the top of the 3pt line expecting them to dribble around screens its clearly not gonna work well and hasnt.

    Go Raps Go!!

  • Nathan

    The reffing has been bad, but it has also been genius. They are making ‘game-changing’ calls agains the Raps and ‘ticky-tack’ calls against the Nets that don’t affect the game. The genius in that is it’s keeping the end foul tally relatively close so no one can make a case after the game about it.

    • Stef

      ^ This ^

    • DDayLewis

      What’s more likely?

      That the NBA is wholly rigged, yet thousands of players, hundreds of executives, dozens of coaches, and every ref is in on the conspiracy, to the extent that they’re able t deviously cover their tracks by equilibrating the numbers of fouls and free throws….

      Or that we’re salty from losing an admittedly frustrating playoff series, and we’re falling victim to confirmation bias?

      Let’s calm down. Reffing is hard. Believe it or not, this is actually the best anyone in the world has to offer.

      • why

        I totally agree on reffing all you have to do is watch any other level of basketball from Jr High to High School to CIS to NCAA to realize how good NBA refs are. Such a high proportion of calls are interpretive and as fans we are hardly unbiased. BTW – Jack Armstrong is starting to sound like Tom Heinson.

      • WhiteVegas

        The recent article by Donnaghy explained how simple it is for the NBA to effect the reffing and therefore outcome. They talk with the refs before the game and tell them what kind of calls they want to see. For instance, “call more loose ball fouls on Jonas, he got away with too many last game.”
        It doesn’t require some 9/11 level conspiracy, just simple instructions to the refs before the game. The fact Donnaghy was doing it for years and no one noticed shows just how easy it is.

        • golden


        • DDayLewis

          So the word of one disgraced man is to be believed against everyone else’s?

          Isn’t that evidence of confirmation bias right there?

          • WhiteVegas

            Jose Canseco was disgraced and everyone said he was full of crap when he exposed steroids in baseball. The league was even complicit, they knew it was happening but were fine with it because it resulted in more home runs which brought a lot more attention and therefore money to the league. Over time Jose Canseco has been proven right. Just because Donnaghy was doing illegal gambling doesn’t mean everything he says is a lie.

      • Stef

        So .. what you’re saying is that if someone thinks he recognizes a nefarious pattern that a certain ref (say) seems to be applying when making calls that negatively affect out team, then it only figures that if that if this — or something similar — is actually so, then “the NBA is wholly rigged ..”. Two words: Bo-Gus.

  • golden

    It’s not just about plugging in players to win 1-on-1 matchups on offense or defense. Basketball is 5-on-5 and the longer the series goes, the games normally get tighter and it the strategy and tactical play calling are magnified. Time for Casey to step up. Too bad we can’t sub him out.

    • Hassan Mehmood Khan

      Casey did a magnificent job defensively when the mavs won the finals and contained lebron effectively .

  • Hassan Mehmood Khan

    we have to get ross going we need him to explode if we want to win this series , we can not win this without ross

  • Hassan Mehmood Khan

    I predict JV will get 20 and 15 this game with 2 blocks on that trash talker KG

  • Northbound

    Despite the shitty reffing, we prevail.
    Game MVP: Vasquez

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