Breaking It Down

Breakdown: Trail Blazers d. Raptors, Dec. 15

Trail Blazers 128, Raptors 122

Recap

  • The Raptors, with Kyle Lowry, had a valiant comeback attempt in the last 5 minutes of the 4th quarter fall short as the Trail Blazers earned a well fought home win.
  • The Raptors seemingly couldn’t find a rhythm on both ends of the floor, and constantly hurt themselves with empty possessions or defensive mistakes that either stymied one of their runs, are started a Portland run.
  • Defensively, the Raptors gave up 9 offensive rebounds in the first half, struggled to cover the ball in 1 on 1 situations, and far too often were un-fundamental defensively (i’ll go into more detail about these “un-fundamental” errors below).
  • With no Lowry in this game, the Raptors struggled to find themselves offensively and had many more “empty” possessions than they are used to. Their high shooting percentage kept them in the game, and their hot shooting in the late 4th kept the game within reach, but the Raptors never were comfortable offensively.

Defense

  • As technical as the NBA game can be, with much talk and analysis about the X’s and O’s, that aspect of that game will always be overcome by the mentality and approach a team has coming into a game.
  • For whatever reason, be it a west coast road trip, no Lowry, or 2 great road wins, the Blazers were more mentally prepared  for a hard fought battle than the Raptors were at the start of the game.
  • An example of this is the offensive rebounds that occurred in the first half:

You can tell from these clips above, the Portland came into the game with an aggressiveness that the Raptors had to adapt to. The Raptors took the first blow and spent the rest of the game matching Portland’s aggression rather than imposing their will on the game, which is both unlike the Raptors, and makes winning a game much more difficult.

Defensive Fundamentals

  • Unlike the Warriors game in which the Raptors had a very clear, and unique defensive game plan, they didn’t do anything special against the Blazers. Instead, they decided that they could do a good job defensively by sticking with their basic defensive principles, or what I refer to as their defensive fundamentals.
  • The Blazers have two main scoring threats in CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, who both score mainly off of off-ball screens and by using the ball screen – both of which the Raptors chose to handle fundamentally.
  • Further to that, the Raptors continued to deny one pass away when possible, build help at the nail, and deny access on DHO’s. Let’s look at some issues the Raptors had:

Defending DHO’s

This was one of the more minor issues the Raptors had defensively in this game, but an issue nonetheless. The Raptors try to deny access to the DHO if possible, but if not, they chase it hard over top with the big dropping (similar to balls screens). You’ll notice in these clips that the guard can’t deny access, and the big is never in position to drop.

Back Door Cuts

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the Raptors like to deny one pass away when possible. The Trail Blazers took advantage of the Raptors overplaying on the wing and had success on back door cuts.

Defending Off-Ball Screens

You’ll notice a few different types of screens in these clips – down screens, staggers away, flair screens – all of which the Raptors struggled with. They often seemed confused about what they wanted to do on the staggers and flair screens, as in some cases they switched and some they didn’t, which led to easy looks at the rim. On simple down screens, the Raptors struggled (again) with losing separation and allowing the Portland guards to soft curl with success.

Poor Closeouts

The Raptors have been very good this year off the ball defensively, and I have commented many times at their level of awareness, and how well they stay in stance, while doing so. In the clips above, you’ll notice in every situation that the defender responsible for the closeout is either out of stance, realizes that they have to close out too late, or closes out half-way and doesn’t fully contest the shot. This aspect of the Raptors defensive performance hurt the most, as these poor closeouts from above led to 18 points, some which came at crucial times in the fourth quarter.

Offense 

  • As good as the Raptors have been in transition, in the first half they weren’t able to generate the type of scoring oppurtunities that they have relied on out of their transition game. They were much better in the second half, but most of their success came in the last 4 minutes, which consisted of making some very difficult shots.
  • The major issue the Raptors had in this game was figuring out what they wanted to do in the half court to create advantages. Without Lowry, and without success in the transition game, the Raptors seemed like they either weren’t certain of their plan on a handful of possessions, or they just couldn’t create. Check out these examples:

As you watch these clips, watch them from the perspective of trying to figure out what the Raptors intentions are on each possession. Usually, it is quite clear in the half court how the Raptors are attacking their opponent – going at their big in the ball screens, isolating their matchup (usually Kawhi) in the post, running staggers for a shooter, etc., however they uncharacteristically had many possessions in this game where it didn’t seem like they had a solid plan of attack. Also, notice how some of the plays end – Danny Green coming off a ball screen, OG trying to go 1 on 1 from the perimeter, or Green/Miles being forced into highly contested, bail out 3’s.

  • As the game progressed, the Raptors started to find success in certain actions. As they have all year, the Raptors began to successfully create advantage situations in the ball screen against Portland’s dropping big:

You’ll notice in these clips that the Trail Blazers are trying to “weak” the ball screen (keeping the ball handler to their weak hand). Once the Raptors figured this out, they had success with their guards, specifically Kawhi, getting downhill against the big and creating at the rim. You’ll notice two other clips with FFV involved, one of which Monroe changes his angle on the ball screen to hit Curry up top in which FVV walks into a 3, and another situation where the Raptors get FVV hitting the ball screen with pace, preventing the Blazers from denying access in which Monroe scores on the roll.

  • An action that the Raptors continually found success with through the second half was the FVV/Kawhi ball screen, in which they initially ran with Kawhi setting the screen, but eventually adjusted to have FVV set the screen:

The Raptors have used this action throughout the year with Lowry and Kawhi, but I don’t recall them using it as often as they did in this game. You can see the progression’s that the Blazers go through trying to figure out how to handle this action; at first they switch and get burned on the drive, then they switch and get burned on the ISO with Kawhi at the high post, then they get rejected in anticipation of the screen, and eventually they settle on hedging the ball screen and trying to keep the same matchups. This is one of the few times the Raptors had the Trail Blazers guessing throughout the game.

Notes

  • Nick Nurse and his staff made the bold decision to double Lillard in the fourth quarter last night (and at the end of the first half as well) and get the ball out of his hands. While I understand the thought behind it (don’t let an elite finisher make the shots) I didn’t think Lillard was unstoppable to the point where this was a necessary move. In the last 2:30 of the game, it costs the Raptors 9 very important points.
  • Before Siakam went down, this is the most difficult a team has given him with regards to his ability to create in the half court. While he was able to hit a couple 3’s, he was’t as successful as he has been creating which is likely due to a larger focus on him (especially with Lowry being one less player to prepare for).

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