Breaking It Down

Breakdown: Raptors d. Suns, Nov. 2

Raptors 107, Suns 98


  • The Raptors dug in and turned up the defensive intensity in the 3rd quarter and turned a 4 point halftime deficit to a 9 point road win.
  • The Raptors defended hard all game, but were plagued by a lack of discipline in the first half. Phoenix made life difficult for the Raptors with an offense that was heavy on handoffs, DHO’s and ball screens, forcing the Raptors to defend constant actions.
  • The Raptors made a great adjustment with their offensive approach mid-way through the second quarter that allowed them to build momentum on that end. I’ll go into more detail below.
  • The game changed in the third quarter as the Raptors imposed their will on the Suns with a renewed intensity on the defensive end, highlighted by increasing the ball pressure, limiting the mistakes, and Serge Ibaka altering shots at the rim.
  • Their offense fed off of the defensive momentum and they were able to put the Suns away.


  • To start the game, the Raptors were trying to generate flow in their offence. However, the Suns did a fantastic job defending as a team and limited the Raptors’ ability to create good scoring opportunities from both their off ball actions as well as their ball screens.

Phoenix did a very nice job of making life difficult for the Raptors. They handled every action well – they blew up the staggers, covered the ball well, and handled the hand off effectively.

Again, notice how Phoenix handles all actions very well. They really gave the Raptors problems at times by not allowing any individual breakdowns, bullying downs screens and hand offs well, and they did a very good job covering the ball screens.

Making Adjustments 

  • In the first 17 minutes of the first half, the Raptors scored 28 points. They only posted up 1 time (Danny Green) and had zero isolation plays.
  • In the last 7 minutes of the second quarter, the Raptors adjusted offensively. The Suns were doing a great job defending against actions, so the Raptors started to run actions that forced the Suns to cover in more 1 on 1 scenarios.
  • In the last 7 minutes of the half, the Raptors:
  • Posted up Serge Ibaka 
  • Ran 3 Kawhi/Kyle wing ball screens to isolate a mismatch. 

The Suns hedge the ball screen to prevent the mismatch, but the time it takes them to recover to their matchups allows Kawhi to get to his spot.

Exact same situation, but JV sets a flair which Lowry curls for an easy layup. Ayton should have done more to prevent this layup, but JV has already hit a 3 (and taken 2) so he stays attached.

  • Ran 2 pin downs for Kawhi (one of which was a new isolation play that the Raptors haven’t run yet)

This is a new isolation play for Kawhi (usually the Raptors are running isolation plays for him in the low/mid post). The Raptors overload the strong side of the floor and pin down for Kawhi with Lowry, forcing the defense to either fight through the screen or to switch (which they don’t want to do). With Lowry spacing to the right corner, his defender won’t help because of how well he shoots the 3. This allows Kawhi to rip and go to his right hand which he is more comfortable going to.

Nothing fancy here, just a simple pin down for Kawhi and let him make the play.

  • Isolated Siakam and Kawhi in transition when they got favourable matchups

Siakam does a good job of running the floor in transition and forcing Booker to pick him up. The Suns did a very good job of avoiding mismatches in this game, but they have no choice but to matchup in defensive transition, and the Raptors exploited it.

Again, the Suns get mismatched in transition. Kawhi notices that he finally has the matchup he wants (after repeated attempts to get Canaan to switch onto him), clears out the floor, and takes advantage.


Phoenix Offense

  • The Suns offense is a compilation of constant hand offs, pin downs to hands off, DHO’s and ball screens – usually with 4 guards surrounding Ayton who roams the high post. The purpose of the movement is to create separation before the main action happens, making ball screens and DHO’s much more difficult to cover.

This a nice example of the Suns offense – handoffs, back cuts, pin downs and a DHO.

  • The Raptors scouted this, and made an emphasis of “shock switching” the Suns guards, essentially switching to deny access to the middle of the floor. This prevents the Suns from sprinting into DHO’s which will almost definitely lead to separation. Watch both of these examples below:

The Suns are trying to create confusion and separation off the initial handoff, which would make navigating the ball screen much more difficult. Notice how Siakam shocks the ball handler on the handoff, denying access to the ball screen and effectively blowing up the play.

Exact same play here – Lowry switches onto Booker and denies access to the ball screen. He forces Booker high and the ball screen is ineffective.

Undisciplined Mistakes

  • In the first half, the Raptors defended well (only giving up 52 points) but they made a lot of undisciplined errors that led to Phoenix scoring.

Kawhi loses sight of his man chasing the down screen, runs into him, loses position, and gives up a clear path drive.

Very solid defensive possession, but it ends with OG biting on the pump fake, leaving his feet and sending Anderson to the foul line.

This clip is rare for a defender like Green. He is out of stance when the ball screen happens, doesn’t avoid the screen, and then bites on Booker’s pump fake.

A little less obvious on this clip, but an undisciplined mistake nonetheless. Siakam and JV switch this ball screen late (you can see Siakam motion to switch) but then Siakam gambles and doubles the ball, leaving Ayton wide open for a dunk.

Ramping up the Intensity 

  • In the 2nd half (and near the end of the 2nd quarter as well), the Raptors significantly picked up their pressure and intensity on the defensive end and limited their mistakes as well.
  • In the 3rd quarter, the Raptors held the Suns to 19 points (7 of which came in the last minute).

You can see the Raptors starting to impose their will on this possession. Siakam bullies over the ball screen, Kawhi loses separation on the down screen but both him and JV are able to recover and protect the rim.

The Raptors are completely controlling Phoenix on this possession, never letting them get to any of their actions comfortably. Lowry denies access on the switch and gets right up into Ariza (and it looks like he gets put into a headlock, as well) on the ball screen. The Raptors bluff, handle the next handoff, and then force the the Suns into a terrible shot.

This possession is a microcosm of the Raptors’ 3rd quarter. They bully every action, stay disciplined, and VanVleet rips the ball away after blowing up the DHO.


  • Serge Ibaka was fantastic protecting the rim in the second half, constantly blocking and changing shots.
  • Fred VanVleet terrorized the Suns in the second half defensively (and looks completely healed up from his injury). There is a clip of him above where he rips the ball from Elie Okobo, but this play below was my favourite:
  • The Raptors defended the ball screen tonight similarly to how they did against Dallas – their bigs stayed home and forced the Suns’ guards to finish at the rim. Essentially, Nick Nurse and his staff determined that the Suns’ guards weren’t athletic enough for JV and Ibaka to commit to them early, and instead stayed attached to the roller (who they deemed more dangerous) and forced the guards to make plays at the rim.
  • Like all of you, I’m really excited to see how this version of the Raptors match up with LeBron and the Lakers. Because of the Raptors’ history with LeBron, I’m most interested to see if the Raptors can win the mental battle with him, and if they can continue to play with the confidence that they have been so far this season against him.

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