Breaking it Down: Game 7’s Final Play, Amir’s Fouls and Defensive Rebounding

A few select items from Game 7.

The Toronto Raptors lost by a single point to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday in Game 7. That reality couldn’t possibly hurt more, especially since the teams played 11 games this season with a final score of 1,070-1,070. The entire series was unbelievably close.

With a series that close, it could have swung on any number of bounces, calls or plays. Yesterday was more about the feels, but today it’s worth looking back at some of those coin tosses that didn’t go the Raptors way. It’s a bit masochistic, sure, but we’d be doing ourselves a disservice not to try and learn something from such a heartbreaking defeat.

The series was full of lessons. Dwane Casey, in particular, hopefully grew as a coach. DeMar DeRozan was provided with a list of what he needs to work on this offseason. Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas took a master’s course in veteran savvy. The list goes on, but here are some takeaways from Game 7.

The Final Play
I mean, it was garbage, right? The play appeared to be to get the ball to Kyle Lowry, with the instructions to “make something happen, Kyle.” The Nets were prepared for this, because the action really didn’t require them to do much but blitz once they knew what was happening.

Now, there was contact at several points during the play. I get that. But no referee is going to swing an entire series on a borderline call, especially when the ball handler is driving out of control. Just let that go.

The play call, however, was probably not what the Raptors wanted. The always-awesome Coach Nick broke down exactly why in a BBall Breakdown video, illustrating that Casey actually botched the timeout – he drew up a play for the wrong side of the floor.

Here’s how the Raptors initially lined up, and what the action appears to have been designed to be:

lowry finalplay

Here, Lowry would be going around Patterson’s screen on his right. That would not only make the drive easier and any eventual layup a better proposition, but it would have made safety valve number one (Terrence Ross) a far easier pass.

That’s not the only issue with the final play, though. It’s no surprise that Lowry ends up in heavy traffic for the final shot because there’s not enough time to pass:
lowry finalplay2However, he should have had a bit more space a second before this, as the placement of Ross was either designed poorly or executed improperly:

lowry finalplay3 lowry finalplay4

Had Ross been stationed in the corner, Alan Anderson either couldn’t triple or Ross would have been wide open for a corner three – still not the best look when you only need a two, but an open shot is preferable to one in heavy traffic.

Amir Johnson’s Fouls
Amir Johnson fouled out in just 22 minutes, having played perhaps the game of his life (20 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 10 rebounds) to that point. This isn’t the Johnson of a few years ago, where early foul-outs were commonplace, though, as it’s an area of his game he’s gotten far better with over the years.
amirfoulsIn this series, he had fouled out once (Game 5) and was averaging just shy of five fouls per 36, so getting into some foul trouble wasn’t entirely surprising. What was surprising, however, were the calls that went against him in the second half (I recall people complaining about the first-half fouls, too, but upon further review at least two of them were clear fouls, while the other was a foul but possibly should have been on John Salmons). Here’s the first:

The Raptors broadcast showed a better look at it on replay but I only have the ESPN copy to GIF from, which doesn’t. Basically, Johnson grabs Paul Pierce’s arm a bit as he begins his move, which is technically a foul. Given what the officials had established as acceptable contact to this point in the game, though, this was the tickiest of ticky-tack fouls. Until…

Yeah, we feel you, Amir. Again, we don’t have the benefit of a close-up ESPN replay (#staywoke), but basically, Deron Williams and Johnson got tangled and the referee decided Johnson was the aggressor. And finally, because Joe Johnson hadn’t done enough damage yet…

There’s a chance I’m being a homer here, but what this looks like to me is Joe Johnson landing cleanly (no foul) and then stepping on Amir Johnson’s foot, which causes the fall. It doesn’t look to me like Amir undercut him or took away his landing space, and he certainly didn’t bump him with the body as he began his dribble.

The Refereeing
This will seem silly having just pointed out how bad the second-half fouls on Johnson were, but please, if you’re one of those people doing so, stop blaming the referees. It was fun to joke about but far too many people seem to actually believe there was a conspiracy (and Tim Donaghy, really? That’s who we’re going to trust, the guy who has every incentive to say what he said since it gets him more air time?). The refereeing in this series was bad, full stop. I will repeat what I did several times in the series: when the officiating is bad all around, it is nearly impossible to discern bias. Every Raptor fan will surely remember a half-dozen bad calls, but guess what? Had the Raptors won, every Nets fan would be able to remember a half-dozen bad calls, too.

Defensive Rebounding
The Raptors chose a really bad time to just stop worrying about their own glass. In Game 7, the Raptors finally got the turnovers under control with a series-low of nine, only to hand back those additional possessions by surrendering 16 offensive rebounds, the sixth most they allowed in any game all season long. And this, to one of the worst offensive rebounding outfits in the entire league.

StatSeasonSince Jan 1Game 1-6Game 7
Tor O-Reb %27.2%26.9%26.6%27.8%
Tor D-Reb %74.9%74.8%79.4%65.6%
Brk O-Reb %21.7%21.0%20.6%36.4%
Brk D-Reb %72.3%71.6%73.4%71.2%
Lg Avg Oreb%25.5%25.4%25.8%

Amir Johnson fouling out certainly didn’t help, nor did Jonas Valanciunas having one of the worst games imaginable (seriously, in a one-point game, the Raptors were outscored by 23 points in his 27 minutes, which I would have thought was impossible). Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche each grabbed five apiece even though neither ranked among the league’s top-65 in offensive rebound rate (said differently, neither would be a top-two offensive rebounder on a neutral team). Valanciunas and Chuck Hayes are great defensive rebounders but combined for just five in 36 minutes, and the trio of Lowry-DeRozan-Ross – normally all above-average on their own glass for their position – combined for just nine boards on the defensive end in 116 minutes.

The Raptors weren’t out-muscled, though. A couple, sure, and there were a couple of unlucky long rebounds, but the Raptors also lost track of players crashing and were caught ball-watching several times. Have a look:
oreb1 oreb2 oreb3 oreb4 oreb5 oreb6 oreb7A lot of little mistakes throughout the game that added up. I was going to do more (for example: why doubling the post just isn’t an acceptable option against a team that passes as well as Brooklyn, which means one Raptors wing is going to have to learn some post defense), but Synergy and video appear to be down right now.

Quite a few lessons to take away from this one, and enough to leave you frustrated since just a single one of these plays ending differently could have been the difference.

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