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Playoffs

Raptors treating Game 6 like a Game 7, and other practice notes

There’s a lot of talk about toughness, energy, and identity. Let’s hope for a better start Friday.

The Toronto Raptors mailed in Game 4 and then mailed in three quarters of Game 5. It took an awesome, miraculous fourth-quarter comeback to salvage home-court advantage and take a 3-2 lead into Indiana, and while it’s great that the Raptors were able to make the comeback, they’d prefer not to have to.

What the solution is for their slow starts the last two games is intangible, and the message was clear at BioSteel Centre on Wednesday: The Raptors are treating Friday like the last game of the series. The message is apparently setting in.

“I just look forward to Game 7,” Bismack Biyombo said, before laughing and correcting himself. “I mean, Game 6. Because we’re going to play that game as if it was Game 7. And that’s just the mindset. You just gotta understand, when we loss in Indiana, it didn’t feel good. It really didn’t feel good. Coming home, we know what we have to do. Going into Indiana, we’re well prepared.”

Expect to hear a lot of that over the next two days. How, exactly, the Raptors come out with more hunger and fire from the tip remains unclear, but they’re expecting to do so.

Starting better

“The next game is gonna be pretty much like a Game 7 for us because we’re looking o close the series, and it’s going to take the same intensity,” Biyombo elaborated. “We have to be able to come out and play with the same intensity…We can’t get too high on ourselves and be satisfied until we get one more done, and I think that’s the mission we’re on, all of us.”

They said the same thing ahead of Game 5, though, and struggled early. So, we’ll see.

One idea Casey has for getting them going seems pretty simple and might just do the trick.

“Just show them the film of last night. Show them the film of the first three quarters,” Casey offered. “It’s very easy for me. I don’t get too high, don’t get too low. But all we have to do is show them the first three quarters of last night, it’s a reality check. We can play much better, as we should have.”

In terms of the in-game adjustment, Casey said he “can’t repeat” what he told the team to fire them up and credited the broadcast for doing a good job editing it out. Thye have to hope that kind of profane propane isn’t necessary this time out.

Lineups, starting and closing

There’s been a lot of talk of the two lineups the Raptors used to close out the fourth quarter, a pair of lineups that had exactly zero experience playing together before Tuesday. And not just zero game experience – DeMar DeRozan revealed that they hadn’t even run plays together as fivesomes.

Scratching and searching for a spark, Casey came upon that group without much difficulty in terms of trust.

“It was pretty easy, because I was looking for a group of men to go in there and compete the way those guys went in there and did,” Casey said, highlighting pace, ball protection, and transition defense as keys.

What clicked with that group is, again, more intangible, with the players citing toughness and energy and a general sense of the moment. If they’re looking for tactical reasons it worked, there’s the switchability of the small group, the ability to better neutralize Indiana’s preferred track-meet pace, and the ability to counter that with a torrid pace of their own.

And, of course, the intensity.

“I think at the end of the day we just find a way how we can play,” Biyombo said. “What really has helped us is the way we talk on defense and the way we switch with the small guys. But more than anything, it’s just the speed of the game. We’re able to run a lot, push the ball a lot. And also on the other side, our intensity level defensively raised to a whole other level in the fourth quarter, and that’s what I think helped us.”

As for the starting lineup, Casey offered that, “I wouldn’t say it didn’t work,” though he conceded it may have messed with Patrick Patterson some. “I trust Pat Patterson immensely,” Casey said, and he should.

It was an off night, but the reasons you want Patterson starting were apparent early, and the starting group only went -2 in 16 minutes. Patterson’s poor night came mostly late in the first and third, as he was oddly a -15 alongside Biyombo. Casey cited struggles with Patterson at center, but the Raptors actually only played two minutes like that. It was just kind of an odd night for Patterson and lineups that generally perform well.

Anyway, it certainly could have gone better, as I’m sure some will be sure to (justifiably) hammer home to me. It will be interesting to see how Casey plays Game 6 in that regard – it was just one game, and the five-man starting unit from Game 5 has still been a positive in the series and during the season, in small samples, and it makes a world of sense on paper.

Screen assists

Another factor the team cited in getting DeRozan going and the effectiveness of the closing group was the quality of screens the team set, particularly Biyombo.

“Going into the second half, it was just having a mentality of trying to find a way to get our guys better shots, layups, and all those things,” Biyombo said. “I think we did a very god job setting good screens. It wasn’t just me, it was everybody. We got some layups. I think Kyle drove a couple times and got fouled, went to the free throw line. I think I set another screen on DeMar to open up Cory, 3 points, we went up six. Those were important plays to us and I’m glad we got to complete them.”

And he wants credit.

“I think you can always give an assist in a different way,” Biyombo laughed when asked about screen assists. “There is an assist that shows up on the statsheet but otherwise, it doesn’t show up. So I think when you set a good screen, somebody get an open shot, that’s another assist. I always count it as an assist.”

Biyombo has only dished two actual assists in the postseason so far, but he ranks seventh in the league with 3.2 screen assists per-game, despite averaging just 20 minutes, per NBA.com.

“Better screening always helps,” Casey said of the impact on DeRozan’s game. “Holding the screens, setting the screens, DeMar and other guys waiting for screens, and putting them at different angles was part of the adjustment, so to speak. Most of all, setting the screens. I thought Bismack did a tremendous job…I thought that really freed up DeMar and Kyle.”

Everybody loves Norm

The Raptors treat their impressive rookie firmly like a rookie despite his breakout, and that seems to be a perfect fir for Powell. The Raptors have an established culture of constructive criticism, and Powell, an unrelenting worker with a seemingly insatiable appetite for improvement, thrives on it. So yes, Casey was quick to point out Powell’s mistake on the game’s final possession and defer credit for the job on Paul George to the whole team, and Lowry and DeRozan were adamant he’s still a rookie (scroll to the bottom), but that doesn’t mean this team doesn’t love Powell and what he’s bringing to the table.

Here’s a sampling.

Biyombo:

I told him you have to play defense in order for us to win this game. You gotta play defense. And Paul George is hot right now and we have to find a way to stop him. If we can stop him, we can win game. I told the same thing to Cory, whoever they were guarding, the main thing was for us to play defense.

Norm, you gotta give him credit, the guy’s always in the gym. Every time I come in during a day off, I find him in the gym, Every time I’m in the gym, I see him showing up. I give him a lot of credit, the way he has been able to come out and play when he didn’t play the game before that, and then come out this game and play a very good game. That’s just amazing. He stayed confident, he’s still coming, get his work done. I think at the end of the day, that shows a lot of character. You want to have a guy like that on your team. You can only appreciate his hard work.

DeRozan:

I never was nervous, honestly. When I first worked out with him in the gym, I always tell people this story. His mindset, his competitive nature, he didn’t care who you were once you was on that court. Being a rookie, coming into the league, not knowing the NBA, but you’re willing to lay it all out there on the line with NBA guys. He gained my respect since then. Everything from then was a plus. From watching him in the D-League, from watching him work out before practice, after practice. So it’s not surprising at all, the things he’s capable of doing.

You see his toughness when we go out there and play. That’s hard to find in a lot of guys, especially early on. Whatever I can do, whatever this team can do to help him, we’ve been doing that all year, and it’s showing.

Casey:

No question. I was just talking to Masai. I think he and Delon, all our young guys, Bruno down the road, Lucas. Those young guys are gonna be excellent, excellent players.

Norm has taken advantage of it. Really, really impressed with where he is. I’m glad he’s in our program, and I see nothing but great things for his future. Now, he’s learning., just like a lot of other young guys He’s gonna make some mistakes but the key with his, they’re hard mistakes. You’re working hard and playing hard and making mistakes, it’s hard to get upset with a kid when he’s doing that.

Lowry, from Tuesday:

He played well. The kid’s been doing well. He’s been doing this for the last month and a half, two months now. He’s been phenomenal throughout this whole season. I always told him ‘stay patient.’ When he went to the D-league, did his stints very well, he did them no problem, he didn’t sulk. He did them, came back up, and then he got a chance to play. His confidence has been growing. I really am proud of him because of how hard he’s worked and how much he’s willing to learn and accept coaching from the coaches and accept our criticism and our critiquing and also our constructive criticism.

As for Powell, his best moment to date may have came when asked what, if anything, makes him nervous.

“Nothing.”

I dare you to not love Norman Powell.

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