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Raptors Republic Chat: The Last 5 Minutes Vs Golden State

Let’s sort through the end of that one.

In this chat, we discuss what happened in the last 5 minutes on the offensive end versus Golden State. I should mention that the idea comes from 538, whose politics chats are awesome. Read them. Transcript below lightly edited.

Louis Zatzman:

Hello and welcome to the first ever RR Chat (I need a better name)!

Blake Murphy:

You definitely do.

Louis:

Thanks for agreeing to talk this out with me. Hot takery and shenanigans encouraged. So the MO today is to figure out what the hell happened to the Raptors offense in the last 5:32 of the Golden State game. Specifically, did the Raptors have better offensive options than what they ran? The Raps had 14 possessions. They shot 2/11 with 2 FTs and 1 TO. Ouch. We’ll get to the details later, but let’s lay out our biases to start – what the hell happened? Were there better options?

Anthony Doyle:

There have to be better options. That fourth quarter, and it really was the entire fourth quarter, not just the last couple minutes, was simply letting the defense pick the shots the Raptors were going to take. The Raptors chose to take 8 of the 10 players off the court on every offensive possession, and the only reason it even came down to the last minute was because Jakob Poeltl was superhuman.

Blake:

Of course there were better options! What do we exist for if not to point them out after the fact, with the benefit of hindsight? Although in this case, perhaps the most frustrating element wasn’t that hindsight was needed but that it was entirely predictable – when the Raptors took on this new offensive identity, most were concerned the offense would devolve in high-leverage spots. And it did, with several possessions not even including a pass in the frontcourt. An adjustment period is to be expected, of course, but it was disappointing even with the appropriate caveats applied.

Cam Dorrett:

That’s the problem – the two guys responsible for hitting said shots were stuck in iso-situations for the majority of the 4th, especially on the last three possessions. That the 15-footer DeMar missed was his “bread and butter” doesn’t do anything to ease the pain of the offence looking exactly like last season’s when it mattered most.

Louis:

OK, so it looks like I’ll be the pessimistic (and definitely fan-hated) voice in this chat, but I can’t figure out where improvements could have been made. Where was the advantage to be attacked? Who was going to hit a shot if the ball was swung?

Blake:

I hate this kind of argument. It’s defeatist. Trying wouldn’t have resulted in success, so why try? And maybe it wouldn’t have improved the looks – the Warriors are ridiculous defensively and you’d likely wind up trading one bad matchup for another – but at least you’d be forcing a defense to make decisions, leaving room for human error. And down the stretch, some of their best looks were improvisations (usually off of offensive rebounds) that involved a simple action creating a slight imbalance…which is preferable to a contested long two, even if the action is still fairly low-EV itself. It’s a team of elite defenders; you have to try something.

Cam:

I hate elite defenders.

Blake:

I hate them too, Cam. That’s why I’m glad the Raptors don’t have any.

Anthony:

I agree with Blake here. The Warriors can’t make a mistake defensively if you aren’t making them play defense. All it takes is one error to get a good shot, and also, you have Jakob Poeltl dominating the boards all night. You generate easier opportunities with the defense moving. Also, the Raptors didn’t force either Kevin Durant or Steph Curry to play defense in those closing minutes because of the isolation offense, which helped them conserve energy for offense.

Yesterday morning, I went back through the tape, and there were, I think, 11 separate fourth quarter offensive possessions for the Raptors that did not include a single pass in the frontcourt. Not one.

Louis:

The new offense has to start from an advantage, and the Raps were really trying hard to make one. They ran screens to get DeMar attacking every player on the GS roster, getting switches away from Iggy. It just so happens that Draymond can lock up DeMar 1 on 1 without help. Cuz the defense wasn’t rotating on a drive, helping or anything. What’s the point of passing just for the sake of passing? Nothing was doing either way.

Blake:

Again, though, Louis: Is it not worth trying? You just said Green (or Iguodala, or Durant) can capably guard DeRozan without help. So…

Cam:

How much of this is simply the Raptors reverting back to what’s comfortable in their 4th game of the season? I know I’d do it if I was about to beat the Warriors.

Blake:

Oh, 100 percent, Cam. It’s a lot easier to trust a new style when you have 48 minutes and 82 games to trust that with a large sample and greater repetition it’ll work. It’s another thing altogether, psychologically, when the leverage is ratcheted up and a real, non-hypothetical win is sitting there for the taking and you’ve been conditioned for years to win games This Way.

One thing I think went underrated in the breakdown of the late offense – getting mismatches/causing defensive decisions isn’t JUST about the chances of a better one-on-one bucket. It can also help put Poeltl in a better offensive rebounding position against a smaller and scrambled defense.

Anthony:

Blake had a great tweet right after the game about that, about how we all revert to who we really are when things get tough. But at the end of the day, that was the point of the culture change, right? Wasn’t this what it was all about? Accepting that isolation basketball struggles in the playoffs against good teams and that you have to do other things. Because if that wasn’t the point of it, why did the Raptors try to change their offense at all?

Cam:

Agreed Anthony, but if Lowry and DeRozan hit those shots we sing their praises more than we already do.

Blake:

Anthony, I agree, but it’s Game 4. My point wasn’t that it’s right, but more that it’s going to take more time for those situations to have the habits beaten out of them. (Paradoxically, they’re probably going to need to win a tight game the New Way to get them to close out games the New Way.)

Louis:

Let me attack this question another way, because I think there were better options, but maybe not the ones we’re discussing. What was working in this game?

Cam:

POELTLLLLLLLLLL

Anthony:

Not that much really was working, to be honest. It was somewhat of a brutal game for the Raptors that they were inexplicably still in at the end.

Louis:

Now who’s the pessimist?

Anthony:

If Pascal Siakam doesn’t play the best 5 minutes of his entire career in the third quarter, if Jakob Poeltl isn’t a perfect human being for 48 minutes, the Raptors aren’t in that game.

Really though, what happened often was that a bad offensive possession ended, Poeltl generated an offensive rebound, and on the reset, they didn’t go back to isolation. They ran a simple pick and roll, and it generated a good look. We talk a lot about how good Poeltl was on the boards, but his screens really created a lot of offense for the team as well.

Louis:

Transition was working well. In the last 5:32, the Raps had 1 transition attempt (an open Lowry 3 that rimmed out) and 1 semi-transition attempt that ended up in a DeRozan dunk. But they only ran twice after misses.

Blake:

Have to get stops to be able to move in transition. (Golden State was 4/8 with 0 offensive rebounds in the final 5:30, so I guess there were more opportunities to run, if not the personnel with the closing lineup.)

Anthony:

Of course, it also might be worth talking about the fact that in the first half, the new offense failed too. Nineteen above the break threes in a half for the Raptors isn’t a recipe for success either.

Louis:

2/19

Cam:

I hate to put things into black and white and say “the Raptors would have won IF” but at the end of the day they shot 8/34 from deep while the Warriors connected on 12/26 – is this a sign of the new offense working but shots not falling…or simply not working?

Blake:

It’s a make or miss league. (gets shot into the sun)

Louis:

I think we’re moving on to a broader and maybe more important question than just what happened at the end of the GS game, which we really know. The Raps shoot a lot of 3s now and they miss a lot of them. So what is the Raptors’ recipe for success in general?

Blake:

I think that 40 threes is too many for a team that doesn’t project as great from there and is elite inside the arc. However. The volume of threes already appears to be having a spacing impact as opponents recognize the need to close out quickly (something I talked a bit with C.J. Miles about and is encouraging in the second unit). And I also think maybe they’ve been given more of a green light early on than they intend long-term as a means of increasing comfort, breaking old habits, and sussing out with a greater sample who can and can’t take which shots later on.

For context: The Raptors are 11/28 with a defender tight or very tight, 11/39 when open, and 22/71 when wide open. I think those uncontested marks will come up naturally.

Louis:

Yeah, it feels like the Raptors have had some bad luck, so to speak, with their shooting. DeRozan for example is bottom 5 in the league in isolation scoring. That will come up. Lowry is shooting horrifically, which won’t last forever.

I think there is space for DeRozan to isolate, but not every possession. He and Lowry are slowing the ball down a lot when they touch it because it looks like they are still figuring things out. Which makes sense. Blake may already have said this, but if they cough up a lead in game 40 the same way, I would be more concerned than game 4. Change is hard!

Blake:

I, for one, refuse to change.

Louis:

You need not change and are perfect.

Boss

Anthony:

Change IS hard. Maybe I should feel good about losing these last two close games against great teams. I don’t, because one of the things that concerned me last year was that the Raptors seemed to find a way to lose against really good teams, and they haven’t beaten a good team yet this year.

Cam:

Let’s be real, there was nothing inspirational about the Spurs loss sans Kawhi. That one stunk from start to finish.

Blake:

This is probably too much armchair psychology. But do we think that losing two close games to elite teams by reverting to their old ways late might be a galvanizing force? “Look, this didn’t work. Again. Let’s at least keep trying the new philosophy.” Or am I grasping?

Anthony:

It’s too early to say, I think. History says that the Raptors are extremely reluctant to change their ways, so they might look at it and say ‘we got two possessions from beating one of the greatest teams in history, so what we’re doing can’t be that bad.’

Cam:

Yeah, sadly I’m with Anthony, especially after Casey’s comments post-game: “We had two good looks with DeMar and Kyle down the stretch, I’ll go to war with that any day,” Casey said after Toronto dropped a 117-112 decision to the Golden State Warriors in a wonderful early season game at the Oracle Arena. The man will go to LITERAL WAR for his iso looks. Don’t hold your breath.

Louis:

Yeah, that’s not a good look for this vaunted culture reset.

Blake:

He’s not going to rip the offense publicly, but yeah. The Lowry vs. Thompson one you could talk yourself into being an OK attempt. That DeRozan jumper against Iguodala though, or the runner against Green, no.

Anthony:

There were only two isolations that worked in that fourth quarter. One was when Livingston was guarding DeMar (Livingston subbed out for Igoudala immediately after this), and one was after a Delon screen that got the Curry switch. DeMar isolating against Igoudala, Green, or Durant didn’t work a single time.

Louis:

They were trying hard to get DeRozan isolated against Curry, but the Dubs stopped switching the Delon screen after DeRozan got that one to fall. So I think playing CJ Miles would have been nice to get better isolation looks, especially because it would have forced the Curry switch, but it doesn’t sound like any of you think improving the isolation game is a good thing.

The bench played great against the Dubs, especially the OG Poeltl Delon triumvirate. Should they be in to make sure the Raptors play the new way?

Anthony:

It was the fourth game of OG’s career, and Casey has never exactly loved playing rookies late, so I understand why he wasn’t in there, but yeah, I think OG might’ve had a case for being on the floor at the end of the game.

Blake:

Look, if they’re going to run stuff to get DeRozan/Lowry attacking 1 on 1, fine. And if lineups can help with spacing, even better. I’m not naive to think that they won’t use two really good individual scorers that way. We can still talk about ways to maximize that stuff (like Miles). Also the Warriors would have ignored OG completely.

Louis:

So that goes back to running in transition when you can and having Miles play instead of Delon. Are we really just going to suggest incremental changes? Where is the hot takery and shenanigans!? It sounds like we’re all kind of agreeing that any realistic change would be incremental.

Blake:

Incremental is important!

Louis:

Then in the spirit of incremental, to end things off, I want to hear an incremental change from each of you that would have improved the end of the Dubs game / is useful going forward.

Anthony:

I think this is simple. In Jonas and Jakob, the Raptors have two of the better screening bigs in the game. Jonas occupies a lot of space and sets hard screens, and defenses have to account for him because of his scoring low. Jakob is so ridiculously good at finding seams in a defense on the roll. Use them, late. It cannot hurt to set a screen.

Louis:

Jakob screened for DeMar on *counts*

6 of the final 14 possessions!

Cam:

Lose a game the New Way – so you can at least tell everyone you tried.

Anthony:

Also, here’s another suggestion for the Raptors: Set an off-ball screen once in a while.

Even if the late game possession still ends with DeMar or Lowry creating their own shot, you can still use the 24 seconds of the shot clock to have other pieces moving to try to influence the defense.

Blake:

Play the Lakers instead of the Warriors.

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