Statement: The Raptors completed their season sweep over the Warriors, and did so in emphatic fashion on the second night of a back-to-back. Not only did they beat the Warriors by 20 points, but they were also without Kawhi Leonard, who sat out a second straight game with a sore hip. Toronto is now 7-1 with Leonard out of the lineup.
Nothing to lose, and quite a lot to gain, as it turned out. In beating the Warriors 113-93 on their home court, not only did the Raptors accomplish the most impressive win a team could possibly garner — at Oracle Arena, on the ugly end of a back-to-back and without their MVP candidate — but they did so in a fashion that could fortify them for the playoffs. The “what” was nice, but the “how” was even better. The Raptors played a smart, controlled game, with evidence of their game plan all over the place.
It started with making things as tough as possible on Stephen Curry. Curry and Thompson combined to miss 11 of their 13 three-point shots, and most of that was good fortune. Crucially, Curry managed just 12 shots in his 32 minutes, with Fred VanVleet hounding him all over the floor, chasing him around screens. VanVleet, playing with a sore back that was aggravated against the Clippers on Tuesday, was equal parts nimble and physical.
“’I’m not sure you can stop a player like that,” VanVleet said. “In his mind, he probably stopped himself. But for me I just want to make it tough, pick him up full court and make him work, fight over screens and chase him inside the line and throw bodies at him. It’s a five-man job on all of those guys. It’s a heck of a job to try and limit their touches. If we can hold him to 12 shots – whether that’s us or him, we’ll take it.”
“He’s a tough little SOB,” Kyle Lowry added of VanVleet. “That’s why I love him and that’s why he’s going to be in this league a long time. He is going to do special things in this league just because of how tough he is mentally and physically.”
Every team says they are going to try to be physical on a player, though; the Raptors made Curry work on the other end, too. In their series against the Warriors, the Cavaliers would routinely put Curry through pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll, trying to get an unfavourable matchup. The Raptors, instead, were content with the one they had. With the Warriors trying to hide Curry on Danny Green, who generally lives on the perimeter, the Raptors threw the ball to Green in the post. It is not that unusual of a plan, except when you consider that prior to Wednesday night, Danny Green had attempted two shots out of the post all year. It was a focused, targeted approach: The Raptors knew what they wanted to do, and then they did it. (When asked how many post shots he thought he had taken this season prior to Wednesday, Green correctly guessed the answer.)
Naturally, the jokes flew around a very content locker room. Green joked on the broadcast after the game that he probably had not done that much post work in a game since elementary school.
“I don’t know if he knew he had it (in him). But I’m glad he found it today,” said Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, speaking to the media after the game because Nick Nurse flew back to Iowa to be with his family following the death of his mother earlier in the week. “That’s what you’ve got to do about Golden State, you’ve got to score the ball, you have to find ways to score and we had a size advantage with Curry on him at times so it worked out to our advantage.”
“I’m not sure the last time Danny can remember the last time he was double-teamed in the post so he’s probably feeling pretty good about that,” VanVleet added.
The Warriors began playing a more focused brand of defense. They cranked the pace up to Sonic the Hedgehog levels and started hurling up three-point attempts like a prime Mike Tyson searching for a soul rattling knockout. Unfortunately, those threes didn’t really land, and the Raptors weathered the storm with calculated aggression on both ends.
Durant absorbed some physical punishment in the third quarter as he battled in spirited fashion, but every time he scored, the Raptors answered with ease.
The Raptors took their time posting up Warriors defenders with impunity, especially if they could get a big man guarded by a small man on a switch. It was like CLOCKWORK. Toronto also completely neutralized the Warriors pick-and-rolls by smothering the ball handler and forcing them to quickly give up the ball. The Raptors’ backside rotations cleaned up any potential problems, and the Warriors found themselves throwing up desperation mid-range jumpers without any daylight.
As the Raptors calmly strangled the life out of the Warriors down the stretch, it dawned on me that this is the first team this season that actually made me consider them a true postseason threat. These dudes can ball.
The Warriors were limited to 47% shooting from the field, and only made 6-of-26 (23%) from beyond the arc. It’s always tough to win when Curry has more turnovers (4) than made field goals (3).
The Warriors unanimously downplayed that Leonard’s absence led them to lacking the effort they needed. Durant also dismissed Kerr’s theory that the Warriors struggle with feeling motivated.
“I don’t think we overlooked anybody tonight. They just played better than us,” Durant said. “We respect every team that comes in here no matter what their record is and they played better than us. We have to be a better basketball team next game and going down the line if we want to get to where we want to get to.”
Whatever the case, the Warriors struggled more with executing than actually trying. Exhibit A: the Warriors’ normally prolific offense suddenly disappeared.
The Warriors leaned on Durant’s efficiency because Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson suddenly lacked it. Durant had a team-leading 30 points, while shooting 13-of-22 from the field, 2-of-4 from 3-point range and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line along with seven rebounds and five assists. Thompson had 14 points on 7-of-17 shooting, while missing all five of his 3-point attempts. Curry had 10 points, while going 3-of-12 from the field and 2-of-8 from 3-point range.
“Honestly, I feel like I should make all of them,” Curry said. “It doesn’t really matter. I didn’t have rhythm for whatever reason.”
Kerr surmised those reasons likely involved a combination of Curry missing shots that normally go in and the Raptors defense showing effectiveness with their schemes.
Whatever the case, the Warriors’ main issues did not trace to Curry or Thompson shooting poorly. They might solve that problem as quickly as Friday’s game in Sacramento. The bigger issue traced to how the Warriors responded to missed shots.
“It affected our energy a little bit,” Curry said. “We tried to talk our way through it, but they played well and played aggressive. They got into us early. It set the tone for the game.”
The timing was tantalizing, too, with Draymond Green — one of the NBA’s best defensive players — returning to action Monday night after missing 11 games because of a sprained big toe. But the Warriors played unevenly on defense in Green’s first game back, a win over Minnesota, and even more sluggishly Wednesday night.
Toronto set the tone in the first half. The Warriors offered modest resistance as the Raptors shot 51 percent from the field and built a 57-41 lead.
The Warriors couldn’t contain Lowry, who struggled mightily in a recent four-game stretch (4-for-28 from the field) while fighting back soreness. Lowry then busted loose for 21 points Tuesday in a win over the Clippers (on 8-for-13 shooting), helping the Raptors overcome Kawhi Leonard’s absence.
Leonard also missed Wednesday night’s game because of hip soreness. And Lowry went right back to work, sinking two difficult, early shots over 6-foot-7 Klay Thompson. That’s no easy feat, given Thompson’s defensive ability and his 6-inch height advantage.
Lowry scored 14 points in the first half, prompting the Warriors to try a novel strategy. They put Kevin Durant on Lowry in the third quarter, hoping Durant’s 7-5 wingspan would bother him — and it did for a few possessions, as the Warriors briefly ratcheted up their defense.
But it didn’t last. Lowry finished with 23 points and 12 assists as the Raptors rolled.
That the Raptors were playing the second game of a back-to-back set without Kawhi Leonard (hip injury) only underscored their legitimacy as a contender. After digging an 18-point, second-quarter hole, Golden State didn’t seriously threaten as its winning streak ended at four games. Ill-timed turnovers and 19 missed three-pointers overshadowed a 30-point, seven-rebound, five-assist gem from Kevin Durant.
Most troubling for the Warriors was that, in one of the biggest matchups of the regular season, they lacked enthusiasm. Less than two weeks after Golden State’s overtime loss in Toronto, the Warriors were slow switching off screens and getting hands on shooters. The Raptors had 27 assists to only 11 turnovers as all five of their starters scored in double digits.
“There are some nights when you can just feel it: You just don’t have that edge,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s not an excuse. It’s just reality. We did not bring the required energy.”
Durant did his best to spearhead a comeback, riding a flurry of forays to the rim to 13 third-quarter points, only for six Golden State turnovers to nullify his effort. Fresh off routing the Clippers by 24 points without Leonard on Tuesday night, the Raptors executed the blueprint the Warriors try to follow: spread the floor, make the extra pass, limit mistakes.
It was another reminder of why many believe Toronto, not Golden State, boasts the most complete roster in the NBA.
“They’re pretty well-rounded,” Stephen Curry said. “They’ve shown different styles to win games. Tonight, they were obviously the better team. Everyone seemed to have confidence and was playing off each other really well. On our end, we just didn’t have it.”
Leading the way for the Raptors, with both the starters and the bench, was Kyle Lowry. A poor shooting stretch from just days ago seems distant, as Lowry had 23 points (9-for-18, 2-for-7 from three), 12 assists, and five rebounds to lead Toronto.
Beyond numbers, Lowry’s blue collar attitude impacted this game from the get-go, as Nick Nurse opened with him guarding Draymond Green at power forward. The mismatch frustrated the Warriors and especially Green, who picked up two fouls and a technical in the first five minutes to break focus. As far as tone-setters go, it was a huge sequence set up by Lowry’s willingness to bang in the post.
He wasn’t the only one. Danny Green had 15 points, just three of them coming from distance, as he worked Steph Curry into the paint on a few backdowns that were, clearly, part of Nurse’s scouting report. Again here, the Raptors found a weakness in the armour of the Warriors and ruthlessly attacked it over 48 minutes.
For the second straight game, Serge Ibaka was excellent as well in pick and roll opportunities, amassing 20 points and 12 rebounds. He was even better on defence, though, as his two blocks don’t quite tell the story of his role as rim protector. With Jonas Valanciunas leaving the game with a particularly gruesome finger dislocation, there was more emphasis on Ibaka to play big, and he did so in his 29 minutes.
For the Warriors, the story comes down to missed shots. Early on, there were a lot of good looks that rattled out for Curry and Klay Thompson, who combined to shoot just 10-of-29 from the field. The rhythm of the Warriors offence was the biggest casualty, as the Raptors took advantage in dialling up the pressure throughout, stymying any run Golden State tried to put together. For his part, Kevin Durant was very good — although not the world-beater he was two weeks ago — scoring 30 points on 22 shots.
It started with a 12-7 lead for Toronto out of the gate. The two fouls on Green forced the Warriors to dig into their bench early, while the Raptors were eager to get out and run. The game was free-flowing, as a Lowry and-one put Toronto up 22-9 for their biggest lead of the quarter. Late in the first, Nurse subbed in OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, and Jonas Valanciunas, who all played with more aggression and conviction than they did two weeks ago — resulting in pseudo-bench minutes that worked.
Coming off the heels of their blowout win against the Los Angeles Clippers, who were No. 2 in the West when the Raptors swamped them the night before, it is almost unquestionably the franchise’s most impressive back-to-back stretch in its history.
“I love Oracle. I love the fans here. I love the building,” said Lowry. I think they are moving to a new building next year so it’s going to be a missed place but it’s special. This is a great building. The atmosphere is unbelievable. They have done special things here. But it’s just a great building … we lost 13 in a row I guess as an organization … guess they got to start a new streak. What else can I say?
The Raptors led 57-41 at half, sawing through the Warriors like the magician does the lady in a box as they jumped out to a 13-point lead on Golden State after the first quarter – the largest hole the Warriors have been in to start a game at home this season. Then they held serve with the second unit as Raptors head coach Nick Nurse opted to tighten his rotation a little bit by giving Lowry and Siakam a longer stint with the struggling second unit. The Raptors pushed their lead to 18 on an Ibaka floater with a minute to play and went into the half in full control, to the extent that’s possible against the NBA’s most explosive offence. They did it in the first half by holding them to 38.6 per cent shooting and only three total triples, shades of what was to come.
The Warriors didn’t bring their ‘A’ game and the Raptors punished them for it.
“They have a little bit of everything – athletic wings and bigs that can shoot threes and put the ball on the floor,” said Curry. “We know Kyle Lowry is a great player … tonight they were obviously the better team and everybody seemed to have confidence and were playing off each other really well and on our end, we just didn’t have it.”
The only cloud was a nasty-looking injury to Jonas Valanciunas, who dislocated his right thumb as Green swiped at the ball as the big Lithuanian gathered it in the paint. Valanciunas was in agony and replays showed his thumb at a horrible angle. There was no foul on the play, although there were those in the Raptors camp that believed it was a reckless chop on Green’s part. It will likely cost Valanciunas considerable time – a shame as he was effective finishing in the paint against the Warriors, just as he has been all season. But the Raptors’ depth is something else, and they were able to get good minutes from little-used Greg Monroe and will be able to rely on him if Valanciunas is out for any extended period.
With the Raps up by 21 and just more than five minutes remaining, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr pulled his starters, basically throwing up the white flag.
It was that kind of domination.
Kyle Lowry played 38 minutes in this one and had 23 points and 12 assists to lead the way, but he had plenty of company in the impact department. Serge Ibaka had another strong night with 20 points and 12 rebounds, VanVleet put up 10 and three assists but saved his best work hassling Curry into a rare 10-point night.
All five Toronto starters — Lowry, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam, Ibaka and VanVleet — scored in double digits. The Warriors’ big three — Kevin Durant, Curry and Thompson — had 30, 14 and 10, respectively.
With the win, the Raptors completed a franchise first, sweeping California — 4-0 with wins over the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors and Kings — for the season. The nine-point win over the Kings was the closest of the bunch.
The Warriors move across the Bay to their new digs in San Francisco next season so it was farewell in the best of all fashions for a Toronto team that will not miss this building.
Toronto improved its league-leading record to 23-7 with the win. The Warriors fall to 19-10.
In Episode 435 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley goes solo to break down the Raptors’ 123-99 win over the Clippers at Staples Center Tuesday night. He touches on Kyle Lowry’s return to KLOE form, Fred VanVleet: lord of secondary distribution, the offense’s crispness in the absence of Kawhi Leonard, and Kawhi’s very good answers to some very dumb questions. Also the new jerseys are kinda lame, but better than most.
Raptors guard Danny Green jokes about how the team was able to hold the Warriors to just six three-pointers, discusses his mindset while matching up against Steph Curry in the post, and explains how keeping up their pace is key to their offence.
“He’s been looking pretty good lately,” coach Nick Nurse said, before the Raptors left town for a four-game road trip that continued here Wednesday night.
One sign that Wright is feeling more comfortable and confident is the way he’s attacking the basket and trying to finish in traffic. He’s a bit of a contortionist when he gets near the rim, but that comes with feeling like he can make any shot no matter who is near him.
“He’s got a lot of finishes, he’s got more than the average guy,” Nurse said. “This side, that side, left hand, right hand, really high off the board, tons of spin.
“I don’t know, I’m not sure he’s calculating the finish, the English on there. He’s got a lot of calculations to make if that’s the case. He’s got some when he’s on this side of the basket, I’m not so sure I would ever imagine how to put it in on that side, but he does sometimes.”
The biggest thing the Raptors need from Wright — a point that’s been made for years — is for him to become a more assertive finisher and shooter.
Wright is shooting a career-best 41.3 per cent from three-point range going into Wednesday night’s game against Golden State, and his willingness to shoot in transition, or even when he has an open look in halfcourt sets, opens up myriad possibilities for teammates.
VanVleet, meanwhile, is rounding into form after a slow start to the season. Heading into Wednesday night, he was 8-for-15 from three-point range, including five made three-pointers — one off his single-game career high — in a loss to Milwaukee on Sunday.
He also helped get Lowry going on Monday in Los Angeles when he had a career-high 14 assists.
“Freddy did a great job of pushing the ball and the tempo was great,” Lowry told reporters after the game. “He got me some open looks.”
A month ago, Siakam won Eastern Conference Player of the Week during a string of high-scoring and extremely efficient performances. Two weeks ago, he scored a career-high 26 points on 8-for-10 shooting in a win against the Warriors. He is averaging 14.6 points and grabbing 6.3 rebounds in 30 minutes per game, all massive leaps.
People love Siakam, and they don’t love him because he’s 18th in ESPN’s real plus-minus. “He always stands out,” guard Fred VanVleet told CBS Sports. Siakam plays like his life is on the line, and yet appears unfazed by mistakes and misses. His work ethic is revered, his hustle is infectious and his bandwagon is overflowing. When he put Paul Millsap in the spin cycle last week, VanVleet mimicked the move on the sideline.
Siakam himself doesn’t know what he’s going to do with the ball as he attacks the basket. The reason his spin is so effective — and the reason he is shooting 67.9 percent on 2-pointers — is that he keeps his options open and lets the defense dictate what he does. He has the feel and the touch to adjust at the last possible moment.
“If I feel like I have an advantage to go straight up, I go straight up,” Siakam told CBS Sports. “If I feel like I have an angle, I spin or I do whatever.”
The 24-year-old Siakam describes himself as “obsessed with development,” dating back to when he first started taking basketball seriously. (This is not all that long ago — he was almost 18 when he first played organized ball.) At New Mexico State, he redshirted his first year and started his freshman season coming off the bench. As a sophomore, he increased his scoring average from 12.8 to 20.3 points per game and won WAC Player of the Year. He loves feeling like he’s making progress. In this respect, winning Most Improved Player feels like his logical next step.
“Obviously it would mean a lot because that’s what I’m about,” Siakam said. “I’m about improvement. So, like, that would mean a lot to me. But at the end of the day, I don’t look at that. I’m trying to just focus on my game, continue to work and get to whatever the highest level for me is.”
“We don’t really talk about awards, but, shit, I’ll put him at the top of the list,” VanVleet said.
OverDrive hosts Bryan Hayes, Jeff O’Neill and Jamie McLennan are joined by TSN 1050 Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg to get his take on Kawhi Leonard being hard to read and the controversy of how the Clippers are pursuing him.
Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio last offseason after the proper course of treatment for quadriceps tendinopathy (which sidelined Leonard all but nine games last season) became a wedge between him and the franchise. How much the people around and advisors to Leonard helped drive in that wedge to grow the gap — to get Leonard out of San Antonio and to a larger market where he could be more of a star — is one of those topics of gossip and speculation. The Spurs are known as one of the most player-friendly organizations in the league.
Leonard got his wish, was traded to Toronto, and has looked like a top-five NBA player again this season, especially of late. He has shaken off the rust to average 26.1 points per game, shooting 38 percent from three, taking charge of the offense for stretches and locking down players on defense. If people forgot how good Leonard was last season, he’s reminding them — and helping lift the Raptors to a 22-7 record and the top spot in the East.
Yet everyone still has questions, and Leonard is not about to fill in the gaps in that knowledge, either.
For example, what does he think of the Raptors organization?
“It’s been good so far,” Leonard said of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”
Are the Raptors different than the Spurs as an organization?
“It’s still two goals and a basketball, just different teammates,” Leonard said.
What about Toronto as a city?
“It’s pretty hard to enjoy the city when you’re playing every other day,” Leonard said. “You usually take those off days to take some treatment and get your body ready for the next day. Just rest so you have the energy.”
Is the cold bothering the Southern California kid? That one he did answer.
“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”
Leonard also confirmed that he’s not feeling the effects of that quadriceps injury last season and it isn’t slowing him down (the hip injury that had him out Tuesday in Los Angeles was separate, just the kind of bumps every player deals with over the course of a season).
“I was able to take my time and get the right treatment to make me feel comfortable, taking the right steps through training camp and throughout the season to have trust in myself,” Leonard said.
Will he be playing in back-to-backs soon?
“I’ve been playing a lot of minutes, we’ll just see as it goes on,” Leonard said. “It’s not that big a deal to play into a back-to-back.”
No Kawhi, No Problems
Some top teams are the polar opposite of themselves when they don’t have their blue chip players on the court. They go from championship contender to a team that looks like they’re tanking. Two teams come to mind: the Lakers without LeBron; the Rockets without Harden.
Luckily for the Raptors, this is not the case when Kawhi Leonard sits out. As much as it is annoying, the Raptors fare pretty well when he’s out. Of the seven matches Kawhi has missed, the Raptors are 6-1 with an average winning margin of 18-points. Also, good things happen when Kawhi is missing. Consider: last night Kyle Lowry found his shot hitting 21 points, including four threes. This, after not being able to buy one over the previous five games. Speaking of which:
Lowry and His Shot
He’s back! Lowry broke the horrid run of poor three-point shooting and general scoring funk he was in last night vs. the Clippers, and that is cause for celebration. In terms of scoring, Lowry is still off his career average, and making fewer threes per game thanks in large part to the last few weeks. But Lowry’s assists are still at a record high — and leading the league — and most importantly: Toronto is winning.
Before the Clippers match, Lowry had gone 5-of-32 from three-point range in five games. In those five games he scored a total of 25 points, averaging five points per game. Safe to say, Lowry was back to somewhere near his norm with 21 points against the Clippers. Funk broken — for now.
This year is playing out like Serge Ibaka’s second coming. The 6-foot-10 centre has been given a new lease on life with a more fluid, flexible role with the Raptors this year. Full credit to coach Nick Nurse for trying some new things with Toronto’s line-ups. The experiment (that’s not really an experiment anymore) of splitting time between Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas as the starting bigs has worked and continues to do so. If you need proof: last night the two players combined for 41 points on the back of Ibaka’s 25.
In fact, Ibaka is trending up. In his last seven games he’s accumulated 118 points, good for 16.8 per game. On top of that, his worst shooting game was .444 — his best .667. Last year he averaged 12.7 points in a more defensive role. Ibaka and his offensive abilities have been unleashed this season and he has thrived in his new role.
Toronto Raptors officials have noticed a Clippers employee at “roughly 75 percent” of the team’s games so far this season, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
While teams scouting upcoming free agents is not unusual, Windhorst reports that those keeping an eye on Leonard have included Clippers president Lawrence Frank, which is rare for a high-level executive.
The Clippers are expected to mount a significant free-agent pitch to Leonard if he opts out of his contract next summer. Los Angeles is set to have two max contract slots and up to $50 million in salary cap space.
Some executives also told Windhorst the Clippers should use one of their max slots on Tobias Harris, whose contract expires after the season. Harris arrived in L.A. via the Blake Griffin trade and is having a career year in his eighth NBA season.
Not much different with the Raptors “earned” edition Nike jersey. They’ve kept it pretty simple and streamlined in the first two years of the new system. pic.twitter.com/cz6xetwKwF
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 12, 2018
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