Gay Struggles, Lebron Shines, Small-Ball and Game Theory

A recap, some more gripes about Rudy Gay, some praise for Lebron and a note on basketball strategies.

[Quick Reaction post]

Okay, so the Raptors lost to the Heat by 9. There’s no shame in that, right? Everyone loses to the Heat (except the Sixers and the Nets, apparently). Let’s go over how this game went down.

1st Quarter

Raptors make a concerted effort to give Jonas the ball in the post. Jonas responds by pouring in 10 points on 4-7 shooting from the field, including a put-back, a dump-in (off a nice pass from Amir) and a sweeping right hook from the post. Valanciunas feasts on the Heat’s lack of size on the interior (Bosh was away because his wife gave birth; congrats Bosh!) and collects three offensive rebounds in the period.

However, JV was not the best player in the post – Lebron James was. With Bosh out of the line-up, James set up shop on the mid-block and went to work against an over-matched Rudy Gay. Lebron makes 5/6 shots from the post in the first, and creates a handful of open looks for his teammates. Raptors lead 25-23 after one.

2nd Quarter

Casey puts in the bench unit while Spoelstra does the same. Hansbrough brings his usual hustle and frustrates the Birdman, who was out-worked for rebounds. Hansbrough also chips in with some nice interior defense while the wings bomb away from the perimeter (qu’elle surprise!). Terrence Ross provides some instant offense as he splashes home a pair of threes, matching Michael Beasley output (he also sunk two).

The starters came back in, but didn’t fare too well. Demar looks off JV in the post, electing to drive + kick it out to Terrence Ross with three seconds left on the shot-clock, which predictably results in a missed shot. The Heat bust out in transition and Demar’s man, Ray Allen, sinks a wide-open three with Demar trailing the play. Sigh. Dwyane Wade sinks a tough turn-around jumper with time expiring to give the Heat a 52-50 advantage going into the half.

3rd Quarter

All the starters were back for the start of the third. Wade and Lebron torched the Raptors, pouring in a combined 18 points on 9-12 shooting, but the Raptors’ starters hold their own. Valanciunas threw down a HUGE DUNK over Lebron James, Demar scored 8 points on 4-5 shooting and Rudy Gay catches fire momentarily (an And-1, driving layup), but then immediately regresses to his usual form (long-twos for dayysss). Heat lead by a score of 78-74 after three.

4th Quarter

Seeking to give his starters a breather, Dwane Casey turned to the bench to hold the fort at the start of the fourth, but everything went south in a hurry (like the Heat will after last night’s game). The Raptors turned it over on four straight possessions, that went like the following:

1. DJ Augustin dribbles the ball off his foot with no pressure on him

2. Fields dribbles down the court in transition, slips on wet-spot, loses ball

3. Gay gets stripped, loses ball

4. DJ Augustin throws a pass out of bounds because he’s one of the worst players in the NBA

While all this was happening, the Heat extended their lead to 12 points. The starters came back in (BTW every time I type out “the starters”, I want to pour one out for #TBJ) at around the 8 minute mark, but Miami had this one dude named Lebron who was really good at putting the basketball in the hoop. The Raptors brought it to within 6 points with two minutes left off some free throws from Demar, but Lebron kicks it out to a wide-open Ray Allen in the corner, and Allen promptly sinks it to put the game to bed. Game ended 104-95 in favor of the defending champs.

Rudy Gay’s Struggles Continue

Oh boy. I know I’m beating a dead horse at this point, but Gay was miserable in this game. Aside from the momentary burst he had in the third, he just listed on the court. He settled for way too many long-jumpers (in other news, water is wet) and did a poor job containing Lebron James. Look, he’s had a rough go of it, and I’m sure he’ll turn it around sooner than later, but coming into last night, Gay’s true-shooting percentage was 15 percentage points lower than Bargnani’s. BARGNANI!!!

Here’s his shot chart from last night:

gay sc

Lebron James is the Best Basketball Player on Earth

The King had the whole arsenal out on display tonight – the post game, the play-making, the defense, attacking the rim, everything. He didn’t ever look like he was putting in 100% effort, and he still put up 35/8/8 on 65% shooting. That’s crazy. As someone who was too young to remember the Jordan era, I can unequivocally state that Lebron James is the best basketball player I have ever had the pleasure of watching.

He also made the discombobulated Raptors defense pay with his passing, like so:

Small-Ball and Game Theory

“Game theory” sounds really cool because game theory is really cool. At the core of it, game theory is the study of strategic decision making, and it’s applications have permeated across political science, biological science and economics.

By in large, game theorists look to find the best-response in certain scenarios. This could be simple, like analysing the best responses in rock-paper-scissors, or it could be something far more complex, like end-game scenarios in chess. Either way, the idea is to find the action that will best suit you given a set of parameters.

Implicitly, basketball is a bit like a chess match. The Heat decided to go with a small-ball lineup against Toronto’s regular-sized lineup because Bosh was out. Given their strategy, Dwane Casey was forced to make a decision; stick with the big lineup, or match theirs with small-ball? What’s the best response to the Heat’s small-ball lineup?

Truth be told, Casey couldn’t have been sure. Staying big would theoretically have given the Raptors more of a presence in the paint, contesting shots in the paint and the ability to score in the post, while going small would have allowed the Raptors to be quicker at chasing the Heats’ shooters off the three-point line.

After the first, Casey decided to lean heavily on his small-ball lineup. What was the right answer? Nobody really knows, but it was fun to watch Casey tinker with line-ups to match the Heat. However, what I did notice is that the Heat rarely ever reacted to Toronto’s lineup changes. The Heat knew where their bread was buttered, and they stuck to it.

Anyway, if my little blurb on game theory in basketball interested you, you can read more about it:

General game theory in basketball

On sitting a player in foul trouble

On crunch time

On line-up construction

But I will say one thing; Miami struggles the most when they have to adapt their game-plan to yours (ie: the Pacers). Personally, given Valanciunas’ dominance in the early going, I would have liked the Raptors to play their game and force the Heat to adapt, rather than the other way around.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Classic Amir, leading the team in plus-minus at +7 on the game
  • Hansbrough is a pretty solid defender in the post. He won’t block very many shots, but he’s where he needs to be and he makes opponents take tough shots. Looks like Ujiri got what he paid for.
  • It was tough to evaluate Lowry’s performance in tonight’s game. He’s best when he’s in pick-and-roll situations and the Miami Heat completely took that option away from the Raptors tonight. With the Raptors’ offense becoming more and more wing-polarized, Lowry’s prowess in the P&R is less valuable and he is not suited to an off-ball role in the offense.
  • Demar is a more savvy offensive player. He’s more calm, less hurried and he’s doing a good job using his pump-fakes and post-moves to create space for himself.
  • Dwyane Wade is such a heady player. I will always remember him as the guy who dragged the Heat to the playoffs during those lay-away years before Lebron and Bosh came along, crashing and tumbling his way to multiple years of 26/6/6, but now his game is 90% “old-man-game”

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