On the second night of a back-to-back and without resident Superstar Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors looked like meagre opponents to the team’s pundits and the Warriors. Lowry solidified his return to form and the Raptors hatched a terrific game plan to stymy the Warriors.
With Leonard out, Coach Nurse opted for the same starting line-up that was featured against the Clippers. Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry shared the backcourt, Danny Green slid up a position. Lowry, emboldened by his successful night in LA, attacked the Warriors defense with purpose. He got to his spots in the mid-range repeatedly, earning the Raptors loads of space as a result.
VanVleet, who drew the Steph Curry assignment started by flexing his defensive muscles. When the Raptors play big guards, VanVleet can often-times get pushed into uncomfortable situations on defense. With Curry’s bouncy, cutting style, VanVleet was uniquely capable of giving chase to Curry early on and throughout the game. (Louis Zatzman will have more on this later today, so check back in.)
The guards opened up the game in terrific form and Serge Ibaka followed suit. With Pascal Siakam drawing the Kevin Durant matchup, he found his hands full defensively. Durant was able to shed Siakam with ease early on, had it not been for Ibaka’s sterling help-side defense, the start of this game could’ve been much different. He was terrific stepping up in the pick n’ roll and deterred Durant numerous times. Which, according to Steph Curry, was important:
“They played physical, they really got into us. I mean, we missed some open shots early too and that might’ve got into our heads a little bit. We tried to talk it through the rest of the game, but we had a tough time coming back from that.”
Outside of the Durant possessions, the Warriors ran a healthy dose of pin-downs for Klay Thompson, who generally had a height advantage over Lowry. There was a lot of pin-downs run for Curry as well, but VanVleet remained vigilant. The Warriors couldn’t wean any advantage from that play-type. After Lowry’s early success, he got a bit braver and outfoxed Jordan Bell under the rim. This along with a VanVleet triple put the Raptors ahead 22-9.
The space that Lowry’s assertive start granted the Raptors was abundant. The Raptors pick n’ roll offense was cutting the Warriors defense wide-open. Whether it was on the short-roll or getting all the way to the rim, Lowry was utilizing that neat pocket-pass of his to spring his big-men into open space. The early lead allowed Nurse to bust out a bench line-up early. The bench was lined up against Durant+ bench, but they still played to a draw, which is a win. Not one to push his luck, Nurse let the starters close out the quarter. Nurse, who’s game-plan for this game was immaculate, drew up a clever OBO play for Valanciunas here:
The start of the second quarter featured more pick n’ roll play courtesy of the dynamic Lowry-Valanciunas ‘pnr’. The outcome was two buckets on two straight possessions, both of which featured deft finishes by Valanciunas on the short-roll. Ibaka and Valanciunas have really dominated that space this year, but without seeming like they’re shying away from the bucket.
The Warriors, who never seem too cool to cut on offense, ran a few curls for Thompson early on, he hit a couple of them. Draymond Green got the Warriors started in transition, the play ended with one of Curry’s patented touch passes before he darted out to the 3-point line for a triple, money. Curry has two triples at this point, but both of them came in transition. VanVleet has the clamps on him in the half-court.
Clearly having done their homework, the Warriors started doubling Pascal Siakam in the post. Not only that, but when they had him in single coverage, they didn’t allow him to spin over his left shoulder. They shaded him heavily to his left hand, and made sure he could see the help defense that was creeping over. His options probably seemed limited to him: make a sweeping pass to the corner with his weak hand, or go up over two defenders with his weak hand. I don’t imagine either seemed particularly attractive to him, as a result, we saw a lot of turnovers from him tonight. He still wasn’t bad, just hamstrung by great defensive preparation.
Two developments in the first half that were far more impactful in the second: Danny Green started posting up Curry every time he came down the floor. Even if he wasn’t getting the ball, he was making Curry fight for the spot. And Siakam’s possessions that we often see him turn the corner on, turned into DHO’s so he could maintain his utility on a night where his half-court offense got phased out.
The bad thing that happened in the second quarter was that Valanciunas got injured. A swipe from Draymond Green came down on Valanciunas’ thumb and incidentally, dislocated it. Valanciunas remains a really tough guy, and I’m sure that thumb got popped back in straight away. With that being said, a dislocated thumb is a pretty nebulous injury, and I’m certainly not a medical professional. It looks like he’ll be out for a month, give or take.
All things considered, good and bad, the Raptors came out of the first half looking terrific. Holding a 16 point lead (57-41) and holding the Warriors trio of Thompson-Durant-Curry to 11-28 shooting in the first half. The team played harassing, swarming defense. VanVleet and Lowry were poised and creative in the pick n’ roll, and even though Valanciunas got injured, the big-men were dominant.
Looking to build on his first half development of bullying Curry in the post, Green hits an absurd floater over his right shoulder after getting doubled. Likewise for VanVleet, he continued to sprint off-ball and found himself open for a triple that he promptly cashed. After that, Lowry secured his 100th double-double as a Raptor after attacking the planted right foot of a horrible baseline defender before sliding a bounce pass to Ibaka in the dunker spot.
Lowry’s line tonight: 23/5/12 (his 100th Raptors double-double!) and three steals on 50/29/75 shooting splits in 38 minutes. He was a game-high +23.
— Joshua Howe (@Howevolution) December 13, 2018
After that, though, the Warriors started dropping on most any pick n’ roll. Even though Lowry’s shot has gotten much better as of late, he’s still not in the ‘PU3IT’ frame of mind. The Warriors were happy to switch most of the pick n’ rolls above the break, and Lowry and VanVleet had trouble gaining separation from the Warriors bigs. This stalled the offense for a time.
Realizing that they can’t take advantage of the traditional “big man covers explosive guard” matchup, the Raptors went back to Danny Green’s post game. You could hear Jeff Van Gundy was shocked every time it happened, but it made perfect sense. VanVleet works off-ball on offense and chases Curry everywhere on defense. Curry runs himself ragged on offense trying to shed VanVleet, but gets hammered on every defensive possession. So reminiscent of any playoff series that made the Warriors sweat.
With Valanciunas out, Greg Monroe got an opportunity in some extended minutes, something we’ll likely see more of. He was terrific, every time he checks into a game he seems 100% ready, which I don’t imagine is easy. He’ll sit for games at a time, then all of the sudden his number is called and he starts cutting up opposing defenses. Loved the transition of the offense from pick n’ roll – Monroe isn’t a particularly good screen-setter – to playing out of the high and low post to maximize Monroe’s passing ability. Not to mention he can still bust out a post move here and there.
Lowry hit a triple to open up the fourth and extend the lead to 18. After playing heavy, heavy minutes through the first 3 quarters (he finished with 38 minutes played) he got an early hook in the 4th quarter. Stepping into the floor general spot was Delon Wright who was perfectly crafty. Although he’s been a touch inconsistent this year, he has the ability to really bend the floor with his passing. Thinking back to the Wizards series, Wright has a penchant for upping his game when the competition rises. I’m excited for the rest of his year, and especially the playoffs. We’ll see.
Wright led a bench unit to the final whistle, and maintained a positive plus-minus all the while. His blend of slinky “reject the screen, slide down the 45” lead-guard play set up CJ Miles for both of his triples. A huge development, since this is the first time Miles has shot over 50-percent from three in a game in I don’t know how long.
A quiet night from OG Anunoby is the only thing that could be seen as disappointing – and you’d have to be pretty determined to be upset if that bothered you. Lowry bounced back, VanVleet hit from downtown and was the main deterrent to Curry. Forcing the former-MVP into a 3-12 performance, and the Raptors held the Warriors to their worst home performance on offense of the season.
*The Raptors are undefeated in the Mike Lowry era
Great team performance, and the first “full-48 minutes” game of the year. As tough as it is to dominate a game of runs, the whole way through. The Raptors managed to do it against the healthy version of the defending champions. A huge thumbs up to Nick Nurse’s game-plan for this game, and a head nod towards the players for executing at an obscenely high level. The Raptors are 23-7 and well on their way to a 60-win season.
“They’re not an up-and-coming team (Raptors). They here.” – Kevin Durant
Also a quick shoutout to Vivek Jacob, reading his work – and especially his recaps – for the site this year has been such a treat. Really delivering high, high-level writing to the RR team and to you guys, the readers.
Have a blessed day.