ICYMI from Raptors Republic
Personally, I think they matchup a little better with Indiana, even though Indiana is a better team on the whole. George Hill is a really nice two-way piece, Myles Turner is an awesome long-term prospect, and Paul George is terrific, but George is also hobbled by a troublesome ankle right now (he’s playing, but the diagnosis of the ailment keeps changing, and he looks less than 100 percent). The Raptors have mostly shut George down this season, but that’s probably not sustainable – the goal will be to limit him as best they can straight-up, maybe blitz some off-ball actions, let the Pacers bigs shoot long twos, and shut down everything else.
And so a nod of respect goes out to the 2015-16 Toronto Raptors, who quietly raised their fourth Atlantic Division Champions banner to the Air Canada Centre rafters recently with no fanfare whatsoever. No ceremonial raising, no big ceremony, just a quiet addition to a row of accomplishments that most find meaningless beyond the value of a footnote.
The Raptors have never had a player land on an All-NBA First Team, and Lowry’s got a shot. But like with the MVP voting, it’s a long one – Curry has a spot locked down, and Lowry’s left to compete with Westbrook, Paul, Lillard, Thompson, and James Harden for honors across the three teams. I’d be surprised if Lowry, an All-Star and the beating heart of a fringe contender, doesn’t make any of the teams, and I think he’s got a real shot at making the second team.
DeRozan’s had a strong statistical season, perhaps his best, and earned the second All-Star nod of his career. Unfortunately, these teams are loaded with candidates, and DeRozan doesn’t have the two-way resume of some of the names ahead of him. (He also doesn’t have the advanced-stats case, if that’s your style, as Win Shares likes him as a top-20 player but DRE and RAPM strongly disagree.) He’ll probably get a couple of third-team votes for the robust scoring with improved efficiency and playmaking.
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Most encouraging sign: DeMarre Carroll looked awesome at power forward. The boxscore numbers don’t jump off the page (8 pts, 6 reb, 2 stl), but he looked really comfortable at power forward. The Raptors switched liberally with Carroll involved, they were able to open up the transition game, he made a few hustle plays (3 offensive rebounds, a putback) and there was plenty of space for Lowry and DeRozan to drive.
Carroll is becoming a more intriguing part of the puzzle every day. Playing his first game in Toronto since Jan. 3, he played 21 minutes and had eight points, six rebounds and an impact on the game during Toronto’s solid finish to the third quarter.
The Raptors outscored Philadelphia 32-13 in the third to break open the game. Seven Raptors eventually scored in double figures, led by Norm Powell’s 18 points. And Toronto was a plus-30 when Carroll was on the floor.
Carroll played a few minutes in the third alongside normal starters Lowry, DeRozan, Powell and Valanciunas, a lineup that ostensibly could be used against Indiana if the Pacers go small and play George at power forward.
“Love it,” Carroll said. “Paul George is one of the best in the league but it’s not my first rodeo against him.”
CARROLL CONTINUES TO IMPROVE
DeMarre Carroll played 21 minutes against the Sixers, his most since returning from a 41-game absence due to knee surgery. Toronto made a run in the third quarter while Carroll was on the floor as he finished with eight points on 3-for-7 field goals, including 2-for-5 3-point field goals, as well as six rebounds, two assists and a steal. The Raptors were a +30 when Carroll was on the floor.
The most important span of minutes, as far as the Raptors’ playoff plans are concerned, was the 21-minutes logged by DeMarre Carroll in his third game back from knee surgery. It was the bulkiest chunk he’s received since returning against the Hawks last week, as well as the most effective.
It wasn’t just that Carroll was a +30 on the night, or that he hit two of his five three point tries, or that he kept the offense constantly moving with 26 passes (most on the team among non-point guards, and as many as Norman Powell in 17 fewer minutes, per NBA.com) that was encouraging. His presence continued to unlock some wonderfully effective small configurations for the Raptors to considering using in the playoffs.
“Tonight they were small,” said Casey of Philadelphia’s creative lineups. “He (Carroll) came in and was able to switch a lot of the stuff. [Robert] Covington was able to get loose because we had a bigger lineup in. DeMarre comes in and we’re small, it gives us the flexibility to some things defensively that take them out of the things they wanna do.
With Carroll back in the fold, lineups with him at the four – some of which the Raptors used to great effect early in the year – are back in the playbook.
Brett Brown Said – On the Sixers’ 122-98 loss to the Raptors:
“You give them credit. They’re getting ready to go into a playoff series. They’re trying to find some level of rhythm. I thought we played a good first half. The last for minutes of the third period is when it ballooned out.”
“They guarded,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the Raptors. “They generated a lot of their scores through their defense. We were playing an unlikely group off our bench and we got punished for it.”
The Sixers had Hollis Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, Nerlens Noel, and Ish Smith on the court when the score was tied at 72. But T.J. McConnell subbed in for Covington with 4:13 left in the quarter. Fifty-nine seconds later, Christian Wood replaced Noel. Then Kendall Marshall came in for Smith with 3:05 left in the third.
All five Toronto starters and two reserves – Bismack Biyombo and Terrence Ross – scored in double figures. Norman Powell led the way with 18 points. Jonas Valanciunas and Ross contributed 17 points apiece. Valanciunas added 11 rebounds to post his 22nd double-double of the season.
Best performance: This was an easy one, because Jonas Valanciunas was just that dominating when it mattered. The Raptors center scored 10 of his 17 points during the first 8 minutes, 15 seconds of the game. He also had a game-high 11 rebounds – six offensive – and one blocked shot in just 17:10 of action.
The effort defensively was lacking in the first half as the Raptors showed little desire to contest many of the 76ers’ jumpshots. While being conservative on the offensive end is justifiable, less determination on the defensive end is not. This being an “evaluation game” where Dwane Casey and his staff were just looking at the strengths and weaknesses of different units, DeMarre Carroll’s communication and heart on defence seemed to be apparent no matter what guys he played with. He had one steal, but as he has shown since his return, he has not lost a step when it comes to 1 on 1 defending as he was a plus 30 in 21 minutes.
Last year’s playoff loss felt like a mental collapse as much as a physical or strategic one.
It’s true that we knew exactly what Washington was going to do, what they were doing to us. I go back to health: We weren’t totally healthy. Kyle, being our engine, wasn’t 100 percent healthy. I think we’ve handled that a little bit with bringing Cory [Joseph] in, another bona-fide point guard who can defend and also run the show. But we were a shot away from advancing the first year. People forget that quickly. I go back to when I was in Seattle. We got beat in the first round two years in a row, and the next year we went to the Finals. We don’t want to get embarrassed and swept by any means, but you’re not going to build Rome in a day. The steps we’re taking now have helped that. Our personnel is totally different from last year. I think we’re more playoff-ready, more built for the playoffs.
Well, physically. Bismack Biyombo is bigger, stronger, and in the playoffs, it’s an ass-kicking contest. The stuff you get away with in the regular season changes in the playoffs. It’s a physical, grinding-type game, and I don’t know if we were equipped for that last year. I think personnel-wise, bringing Cory in, bringing Bismack in, bringing DeMarre [Carroll] in—those types of hard-nosed players—helps your presence in the playoffs.
Toronto has more depth and can match up in the size department.
If Toronto plays its game, the Raptors will be moving on.
If the Pacers can impose their will, then expect a long series.
Carroll gives the Raptors a huge edge, his 20 minutes and 42-second stint against the Sixers representing his longest during his comeback run.
He ended the night with a plus-30 number.
Casey didn’t want to delve too closely at the Pacers, who laid an egg last Friday night at the Air Canada Centre in a 111-98 loss.
“They’re a good team,’’ added Casey. “They’re a team that’s been there before, an experienced team, a talented team. Paul George is one of the elite players in the league … You can go right down the list.
“They have a very talented roster and their core has been there before. That’s the concern, but we’ve got to go in there and play to our identity, no matter who it was whether it was Detroit or Indiana but now we know it’s Indiana.”
The Raptors hold a 3-1 edge in the season series against Indiana but as they know first-hand, that doesn’t mean much. The Raptors were 3-0 against the Washington Wizards before they were swept in the first round a year ago. The Raptors have been the higher seed in both of their most recent first-round losses as well.
No wonder Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was making the Pacers sound like the second coming of the mid-’90s Bulls as he assessed the matchup.
“They’re a good team, they’re a team that’s been there before,” said Casey after the Raptors handled the Philadelphia 76ers 122-98 Tuesday night. “They’re an experienced team, a talented team. Paul George is one of the elite players in the league. The young kid, Myles Turner, has really come on. Ian Mahinmi is one of the most improved players in the league. You can go right down the list, they have a very talented roster and their core has been there before.”
Home court should be an advantage for the Raptors, whose fans are among the loudest in the NBA in an arena where an edge must be established for Toronto to win its first ever best-of-seven series.
It starts at home and winning at their will separate this unit from the previous two post-season teams, which lost a combined four games to the Nets and Wizards.
Casey talks about learning and growing from past experiences, both good and bad.
Some of the more pronounced lessons are gleaned from the playoffs, where legacies are established and reputations forges.
That’s where the Raptors find themselves now that the regular season is one game from its completion, the team ending the 82-game grind in Brooklyn Wednesday night.
Ask anyone who has played in the NBA’s second season and they’ll tell you the playoffs are a different animal, something you have to experience to understand and be ready for and while there are always exceptions to the rule, recent history seems to support that claim. This is the time of year when the more seasoned teams believe they have an advantage, even if it’s just a mental one. If nothing else, they know what to expect.
Have the Raptors graduated to that class? Certainly they’re a lot better off than they were two years ago, when the playoffs were a new frontier to many of them, including DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson.
“I had no clue,” DeRozan admitted. “Guys could tell you what to look out for, how to prepare for the playoffs but it’s a different atmosphere. When you get out there, the intensity, every single second you’re out there on the court, everything matters so you’ve got to be mentally locked in because nothing is a secret.”
“The first year we had some success, we didn’t win the seven-game series but we had some success,” said Casey, whose starters had just 24 games of playoff experience before taking Brooklyn – 388 games of playoff experience between its starters – to a deciding Game 7. “Last year they went through something so they understand the pitfalls of a playoff series.”
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“Love it. Playing against Paul George, one of the top players in the league, it’s not my first rodeo against him, I played against him in Atlanta. It’s going to be great to go out there and compete and play at a high level. It’s a great feeling. Back in training camp, this is what you practice for every day. It’s a great opportunity for us, and we just have to be ready to take advantage of it,” he said.
Head coach Dwane Casey was asked whether Carroll would be reinserted into the starting lineup in place of Norman Powell.
“We’ll see when playoffs start, but right now he’s coming off the bench,” Casey said before the game.
Carroll’s ability to play multiple positions allowed Casey to put him at power forward for part of that deciding stretch, a preview of what to expect starting Saturday.
What makes George so tough?
He can do it all. And he plays at both ends, so, that makes him really special. At the same time, man, I’ve got to do my job and make whatever shot he (shoots) hard for him. The motto I always believe in is I don’t want him hitting the same shots he’s hitting earlier in the game at the end of the game
And here are some additional keys to an upset if the Pacers play the Raptors:
Ian Mahinmi has to hold his own against against Jonas Valančiūnas.
The Pacers cannot let DeMar DeRozan eat at the free-throw line.
Paul George has to play without fouling.
The Pacers can’t let whomever is playing power forward for Toronto — Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, or even DeMarre Carroll — abuse them from deep.
Paul George needs to consistently win his matchup.
The Pacers need to take advantage of the Raptors complete lack of big man defense by exposing Valančiūnas/Scola/Patterson.
The Pacers have to hit the long ball at a reasonable rate.
The carelessness with the ball leading to turnovers needs to stop.
“It’s very encouraging, but Paul George is not a one-on-one matchup,” said Kyle Lowry. “DeMarre is going to spend time on him; DeMar is going to spend time, Norm. Everybody is going to have to touch him. We’ve all got to be prepared to go out there and play.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey wasn’t about to tip his hand on how he intends to use Carroll in the playoffs.
“He’s feeling good, shooting the ball well, it’s a day to day thing, but so far so good,” said Toronto Coach Dwane Casey before Tuesday’s game. “We’ll see once the playoffs start, but right now he’s coming off the bench.”
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The Playoff schedule will not be released until later in the week but the second seed Toronto will have home court advantage for both this match up and the second round (should they make it). Game 1 is to take place on either Saturday or Sunday at the Air Canada Centre with game 2 also in Toronto, the series will than head to Indiana for two games before (if needed) game 5 back in Toronto.
The Raptors took the season series against the Pacers 3 games to 1. Their most recent matchup was earlier this month and Toronto strolled to a 111-98 victory at home. That game did not feature Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Luis Scola and DeMarre Carroll as all were either rested or still on the injury list. Everyone of those players is expected to be fit for the playoffs and the fact a half strength Raptors side was able to win what was at the time an important game for Indiana should give fans a lot of confidence heading into a third straight playoff series.
Indiana’s star Paul George is undoubtedly the biggest threat to a place in the second round but so far this season Toronto has done a good job of containing him. He scored 14 points in the last match up and 16 in their sole victory over the Raptors this season. Most likely DeMarre Carroll or DeMar DeRozan will match up against the Pacers wing. This Pacers side also has a few other notable players, George Hill is a dangerous veteran and scored 20 against Toronto earlier this season. Monta Ellis, Ty Lawson, Rodney Stuckey, Solomon Hill and Jordan Hill are also some key players in this series that the Raptors must be wary of.
“I grew up watching Vince, imitating a lot of things I saw him do as a kid. He was one of the first dudes I learned from,” DeRozan said about Carter. “Being in this organization and to be able to pass him and records that he set, there’s no topping Vince, because we all had to learn from Vince. People always say, ‘you’ll be a better Raptor than Vince.’ Nah. Vince started everything and I got everything from Vince. To hear him say things like that, is obviously big for me.
DeRozan is one of the most respected players in the Raptors locker room as he is the team’s longest serving player. He is not one to fall in love with personal achievements.
It’s always team first with DeRozan, and the fact that the Raptors have set a club record for games won overall and on the road this season are more important to him.
That’s why Raptors coach Dwane Casey is very proud of a player he calls a leader.
“He represents everything you want to have to build a program around. It couldn’t happen to a better person, a better player, a better teammate, a leader.
The North is excited, and you can hardly fault them. The Raptors have appeared to be the most cohesive team in the entire conference and have routinely threatened the Cavs for home court advantage. Of course, there are issues.
The matchup problems for Toronto are all over the place. Andre Drummond of the Pistons is a massive force, who could make Toronto suffer for selecting Terrence Ross over him in the 2012 NBA Draft (can you believe Ross was picked between Harrison Barnes and Drummond!?). Valunciunas is becoming a dependable playoff force but he had his hands full with the likes of Marcin Gortat last season.
Unless DeMarre Carroll returns, they don’t really have anyone capable of containing LeBron for an entire series. Patrick Patterson can sort of do it, but he’s not designed for that duty over the long haul. Joe Johnson (Heat) and Paul George (Indiana) can also expose the lack of wing defense the Raptors have right now just like an aging Paul Pierce did last season. Now do you see why they overpaid Carroll?
That’s the bad news for Raptors fans. The good news? The Raptors can also create a lot of issues for opponents on the other side. Their lineup of DeRozan-Lowry-Patterson-Ross-Valanciunas is the second best lineup in terms of offensive rating, scoring a ridiculous 131.6 points per-hundred possessions. The only team that outranks Toronto in this all-important category is Golden State.
Was that your first time in the visitors’ locker room at AT&T Center?
Yeah, it was my first time. When I came here I was looking for the court (laughs). I didn’t know how to get there (from the visitors’ locker room).
How long was the adjustment for you making the transition from the Spurs’ way of doing things to the Raptors’?
It takes a while. When you change organizations, you’re so used to one way of playing that you have to get used to all the new sets. You have to get used to the rhythm your new team has. It took a while, and I’m still learning, but I just felt like as long as I played aggressive, and played hard, I’d get adjusted quickly.
Here is a great American success story of sorts. Two years ago, poor Biz was so far ahead of his peers in the category of not being passed the basketball that the gulf between him and the next-closest player on the list was larger than the one between second place and eighth. Bismack did not get the basketball, and for good reason. He could not catch or dribble or shoot or pass or even really just stand in one place on the court without flummoxing a teammate, or sometimes bowling him clean over.
But by last season, although his role and minutes had diminished, Biyombo was a full-fledged defensive anchor, combining exceptional rim protection with the lateral quicks to switch onto guards and help from the weak side.
This season, Biyombo is averaging eight rebounds per game in just 22 minutes off the bench, and opponents are shooting 45.1 percent at the rim when Biyombo is in the vicinity, which is right in range of Rudy Gobert, Serge Ibaka and the best shot-blockers and shot-alterers in the league. In March, he set a Raptors single-game record with 25 rebounds and scored a career-high 16 points. Biyombo has been a revelation. He has not, however, frequently been passed the basketball, and for good reason.
Give credit to coach Mermuys on developing the players and fostering an environment for growth. We saw some huge leaps in terms of playing ability for almost every player in the rotation. Let’s take a look at some of the bigger successes this season.
Bruno Caboclo struggled with many things early on, the Raptors draft pick had troubles with turnovers, shot selection, and fouls which limited his overall productivity and minutes on the floor. Caboclo’s minutes reached a high of 38 per game in March and his fouls dropped to just 3.5 per game compared to his 5 per game average in January. We saw Caboclo’s shot selection improve, settling for fewer mid-range jumpers late in the season and opting to drive all the way to the basket instead. The Brazilian’s numbers were up across the board, going from 13.4 points per game from November-January up to 16.5 to close out the season. Caboclo’s all-around averages in March of 18.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals per game on a very solid 45% from the field gave us a glimpse into the versatility of the forward.
Key matchup: The battle for your viewership. It’s the Raptors’ last game of the regular season, so it’s not likely that their top players will see significant minutes. It’s also the end of the road on another nightmarish year for the Nets, who have just 21 wins and are on a nine-game losing streak, playing without Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young for the final six games of the year. Whatever your allegiances, Wednesday night’s game will be a true test of fandom. If you make it through the full 48 minutes, you’re the real winner.
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