Put Backs

Pregame news and notes: Prepping the rematch

Toronto won a playoff-style initial matchup in Oklahoma City behind a monstrous night from Pascal Siakam. The game was the first half of a home-and-home, and both teams should use it as a dress rehearsal for bigger moments. Expect the Thunder to gameplan more closely for Siakam, picking him up earlier in transition and semi-transition, and potentially even sending early help when he has the rock in dangerous areas of the floor. The Thunder started George on Siakam but went away from it after a few strong early scores from Kawhi Leonard. The Thunder may well slot George on Siakam full-time in this one. (Russell Westbrook would be another really interesting matchup option there.) If the Thunder do try to take Siakam out of his comfort zone, others like Fred VanVleet and even Danny Green will need to make plays in space off the dribble.

On the defensive end, Toronto will need to clean up their rebounding. Steven Adams is the best offensive rebounder in the league, but him coming away with 7 offensive boards is not within the realm of acceptable. Likewise, Jerami Grant snagged 6 offensive boards of his own. Toronto did a solid job of leaking out in transition, especially Siakam, but it’s a tough tradeoff. If Toronto decides that their defensive glass is more of a priority, Siakam may have a quieter game due to spending more time bodying crashers than scoring on the break.

Paul George and Leonard spent a lot of time guarding each other, but neither was the main offensive force for their respective side. If Toronto wants to establish Leonard offensively, they will comfortably slot Green onto George. Green’s slithery defensive ability can capably check George’s liquid swords-style offence. Against the Thunder’s other star, Siakam was the primary defender on Westbrook. Despite Westbrook scoring 42 points, Siakam did a credible job. Green struggled with him in the few attempts he saw, but VanVleet is always a good option for guards like Westbrook. Toronto will probably start with Siakam taking the check early, and there are fewer options for Westbrook than George. Toronto is happier with Westbrook shooting than George, so any matchup that takes the ball out of George’s hands is a good thing.

(One matchup note: if Toronto opts to have everyone guard their one position, that could help solve the rebounding crisis. If Siakam spends more time on Grant than Westbrook, that would hurt Toronto’s transition game but considerably clean up the glass.)

This is all fairly nuanced matchup stuff, but that’s the point of late-season home-and-homes. The point is that Toronto and Oklahoma City both saw things that need fixing. This second matchup will be an opportunity for Nick Nurse and Billy Donovan to flex their chops more than any player. Because the Thunder lost, the impetus for change is on Donovan’s shoulders to start. For Raptors’ fans, this one will be about watching how Nurse responds.

Toronto Updates

Kyle Lowry (ankle) is day-to-day, but he has been ruled out. Expect him back next week. Otherwise, this looks to be another healthy dress rehearsal for the playoffs. Gasol will start again. There was some media chatter about Leonard getting some rest in this one, but Nurse said they didn’t even give it any thought. Chris Boucher and Jordan Loyd will be with the 905 as they try to secure a first-round bye in the G-League playoffs.

PG: Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin
SG: Danny Green, Patrick McCaw
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
C:  Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka

Oklahoma City Updates

Andre Roberson (knee) is out for the season, but they’re otherwise healthy.

PG: Russell Westbrook, Dennis Schroder, Raymond Felton
SG: Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo
SF: Paul George, Abdel Nader, Deonte Burton, Scotty Hopson
PF: Jerami Grant, Markieff Morris, Patrick Patterson, Richard Solomon, Donte Grantham
C: Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel

Assorted

  • He’s staying.
  • Pascal Siakam won the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for the month of February. Siakam works closely with Right to Play, and he travels through Canada and African countries. He spreads the gospel of sport and education. The award will also accompany a $10000 donation to Right to Play.

The Line

Toronto is -2.5, which constitutes a full seven-point swing from their status as underdog in OKC. Toronto being at home helps, but having won last time helps more. The over-under is 226.5.

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