Before we get into how we heal from the Game 1 setback let’s be blunt: the Raptors failed miserably in guarding DJ Augustin on the last play despite having their two best defenders on the diminutive point guard. That is difficult to swallow in the best of times, let alone in the opening game of the playoffs facing an opponent you’re expected to crush. Miscommunication is what’s being classified as the root cause in the heart-breaking, gut-wrenching three which saw the Magic take a 1-0 series lead. The further you rewind the game clock, the more plays you can point to which, if they gone slightly differently, could have easily shifted the result to the north side.
Any lower seed’s early success criteria is to steal home court advantage and given that the Magic entered the series playing with house money, they’re more than satisfied with their returns thus far. They’ll obviously strive for two but psychologically they’re satisfied to the point where Game 2 could even be a blowout in favor of Team North (or whatever the marketing label is this year). Personally, I blame the Game 1 loss on the ACC still not using theater lighting but let’s not get into that right now.
The quotes coming out of the Raptors lockerroom are encouraging (e.g., “first to win four games”) when contrasted with previous years (e.g., “oh shit here we go again”). I’m paraphrasing but you get the point. The experience and calming influence of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard in these off-court moments is key, and an asset that is net new to the Raptors franchise. On the court, the two played a professional game by not forcing shots and always putting the Magic defense under pressure, or at least giving them something to contemplate about.
The same can’t be said for Fred Van Vleet, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, who all let them off the hook by opting for avenues the defense was more than happy to concede. Ibaka’s long twos, Lowry’s no-rebounder-underneath pull up threes, Fred’s poor entry passes are all instances of wasted possessions which if the Raptors clean up just a little bit, will be sufficient to advance. A lot has been made about how the lower pace favored Orlando which is odd because it is in the half-court set that the Raptors should be able to execute better given their talent and experience. One would expect that the Raptors to be comfortable playing any pace against the Magic because if we’re depending on the ‘right’ pace against Orlando, we’re dead against Milwaukee.
The silver lining in the woeful three-point shooting is that they were legitimately good shots, which is why Nick Nurse has to be let off the hook a little. He screwed up reading the game on how Orlando was abusing our two-guard lineup, but while that was happening the Raptors were getting clean looks. Hitting them at 12/36 (33%) is not that much lower than the season average of 36%, but given that the quality of the shots was probably higher, on a ‘normal’ day the Raptors would have come out on top. With Jeremy Lin seemingly deemed untrustworthy, squeezing more out of the guards may mean more time for a specialist like Jodi Meeks, who had a pretty good showing in his limited time. It may mean putting Lowry back at the PG and having a shooter in Meeks play off the ball. If the Raptors can squeeze by without Kawhi Leonard using lineups like these it could mean the ability to extend him more in the fourth quarter instead of him coming in at the 6:43 mark. Having said that, a lot of our problems go away if we have one productive guard off the bench, which we didn’t against the Magic. Norman Powell missed both his clean looks from three and Fred Van Vleet had a single assist.
The offensive rebounding was likely the difference maker here: 10-6 in favor of the Magic leading to 11 second chance points compared to Toronto’s 6. There is no matchup or nuance to be scrutinized here – we got outhustled even when we had two bigs in there. The Raptors were an average defensive rebounding team in the regular season (15th) and the Magic were a below-average offensive rebounding team (19th). The former was quite evident and the discrepancy here can be attributed to the Magic’s recognition of that. This should be an easy one to clean up heading into Game 2.
There are a lot of DeRozan/Leonard iso-ball parallels being made and they’re fundamentally different. I have zero problems isolating Kawhi Leonard against anyone on the Magic. Aaron Gordon did a commendable job using his strength to push out Leonard and make him work harder, but that is a matchup you still go to whenever you can. The difference between the DeRozan isos is that Leonard is a very aware passer who will not force low-percentage shots. Leonard only went to the line three times despite getting hacked on every other possession. This is where Nick Nurse has to make the officials more aware without moaning out loud. There’s a nuance there which maybe Nurse has yet to master and it’s reflected in the Magic’s 20-14 FTA edge.
You can look at his game from a Magic perspective and say there’s room for improvement as well. They only shot 40% and had a miserable third quarter. At the same time, their bench outscored the Raptors bench 31-26, they shot 48% from three and only had 11 turnovers, which is 2.2 below their season rate. The Raptors on average allow 34% three-point shooting and force close to 15 turnovers. This was far from a peak performance from the Magic and you expect things to normalize on a couple ends
Game 2 should be a win. Or else we’re looking at Wizards circa 2015.