One of the things that was especially disappointing to watch in Game 1 was DJ Augustin’s first half scoring output. The Raptors, who were especially eager to thwart Nikola Vucevic’s offense, stuck Marc Gasol to him like glue – which was effective – but allowed Augustin to get to his right hand, and move unchecked through the paint a few times. On top of that, Augustin hit some high-difficulty shots, it happens. In the second half, the Raptors – focusing on Gasol and Danny Green – played a very aggressive brand of pick n’ roll defense against Augustin, and it was largely successful. Outside of Augustin’s late game heroics (5-points in final two minutes) he was limited to one free throw in the second half. The Raptors were emboldened by their success in the second half of Game 1, and utilized the same defense in Game 2.
Game 2 saw the emergence of “Playoff Kawhi” on offense, and a resurgent Kyle Lowry as well. The Raptors dominated the Magic from the get-go, but outside of the (deserved) attention that the offense got, the Raptors put in an outstanding defensive effort. Part of that defensive effort bled into the offense, with the Raptors more aggressive defense, they created more turnovers and managed to breath life into a transition game that was shut-down in Game 1. Not only did they get to play aggressive on defense and reap the rewards – tips, steals, transition – but they rarely suffered the consequences – open shots, missed rotations. Gasol was a big part of that.
*A Vucevic/Augustin DHO (dribble hand-off) that allows Augustin to turn the corner with Green giving chase. If this were the regular season or the first half of Game 1, we likely would have seen Gasol drop back into the paint. Here he steps directly into Augustin’s lane to the rim, when he does this you can see him kick his foot out in case Augustin tries the pocket-pass and Green notices Gasol has walled off the paint, so he quickly tries to occupy the space the pass to Vucevic would need. Augustin isn’t expecting to be blitzed in the pick n’ roll, he’s used to Gasol dropping, and Gasol takes a swipe at Augustin’s unprotected dribble for a steal.
*Few things here – The Raptors didn’t pay Isaac much mind on defense during this game, Gasol drops under the initial DHO between Vucevic/Isaac, recognizing that Isaac won’t punish him from downtown and Lowry can catch-up. When Vucevic re-screens for Isaac, Gasol recognizes him as a sub-par dribbler headed towards the baseline, and he and Lowry blitz him together. Gasol’s quick hands nab the Raptors a steal.
*A lot of credit goes to Green on this one as well, but anyway – You can see that Gasol is definitely not in “drop” position on Augustin pick n’ rolls anymore. He shows really high, and Green crowds him from behind. Green does the lion-share of work on this one as he’s tremendous trailing Augustin on the play. When Gasol showed high he forced Augustin to snake the pick n’ roll, eating Vucevic’s lane to the rim. In addition to that, he stepped out far enough for Green to make it back in time for the block. Savvy from both Gasol & Green. Once again we get to see the Raptors not get torched in the Augustin/Vucevic pick n’ roll.
The switch from dropping in the pick n’ roll to showing, for Gasol, means a lot to the Raptors defense. Not only that he can do it, but that his teammates (Green, Lowry, Siakam, Leonard) can all make his job significantly easier in that role. Gasol isn’t a DPOY candidate anymore, but his defensive IQ can be used to attack offensive players a bit more often, especially with such rangy and talented defenders suited up next to him.
It’s the playoff mindset, studying their set, studying his (Vucevic) game. Understanding how they’re trying to get him the ball, and we do a really good job on pick n’ rolls, sometimes switching and helping me when he (Vucevic) pops. It was a good game-plan. – Marc Gasol
I was shocked to see that the Magic couldn’t deal with the more aggressive pick n’ roll and DHO defense as the Raptors played it similarly in the second half of Game 1. The Raptors offense didn’t really pick up until the second quarter, but their outstanding defensive game started from the jump, and with the play-type that the Magic seemed to want, with the player they wanted to pick on.
Nurse had high praise for Marc Gasol’s job shutting down all-star Nikola Vucevic. Said his physical and smarts were the key.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 17, 2019
This continued throughout the game, the Magic didn’t find themselves a stretch of longer than a couple minutes where they felt comfortable on offense. The Raptors were relentless, and even as the Raptors had foul calls stacking up on one another, they didn’t relent. They executed their game-plan without rest for the first 36 minutes.
*It doesn’t even have to be the pick n’ roll defense either. He’s cognizant of Vucevic’s immense struggles with double-teams in the series thus far and decides to attack him in the post-up. The Gordon/Vucevic action prior to this forced a switch for Vucevic in the post against Siakam, a true mismatch, but Gasol not only forces the ball out of Vucevic’s hands, but he steals it and jump-starts transition for who else, but Pascal Siakam.
In the first two games of the series, Gasol has taken the Magic’s top offensive option (Vucevic) and shrunken him down to 8.5 PPG on less than 33-percent shooting. Limiting the Augustin-Vucevic to four made shots over the course of the game was a big win for the Raptors defense. The Magic’s incredible half-court defense overwhelmed the Raptors in Game 1, but the Raptors responded with vigor in Game 2.
*One last clip to hammer it home. So, this offensive possession is a mess for the Magic. Their spacing is clunky, Leonard has completely abandoned Isaac in the corner, and Green is helping off of Augustin, who is near half-court. Gasol shows on the action, again, he plays the middle well enough that Fournier has to contend with his defense, but also can’t dish to Vucevic on the dive. Fournier occupies himself with Gasol who is presently restricting his access to the rim, and forgets about the chasing Lowry. Lowry sneaks in and steals the cookies, Siakam lopes off in transition and the Raptors look dominant. Easy stuff.
It’s not just that Gasol is paramount to the Raptors “5-out” offense working – displaying incredible passing and screening chops above the break – it’s not just his ability to space the floor. It’s his ability, in a Lowry-esque manner, to play the game in such a cerebral way. Last night we saw Gasol take the proper risks on defense, make plays on offense, and most importantly, not get killed in the pick n’ roll. That last one looms large for the Raptors Finals hopes, and likely spells doom for the Magic’s chance to advance to the second round.
Obviously (there was) a sense of urgency, you know (the defense) it was at a very high level and the whole team understood that and did a great job of executing the game-plan from the get-go and we played with good energy. – Marc Gasol on the Raptors defense
The Raptors first big adjustment – outside of y’know, handing over more of the offense to Kawhi – has paid off big time. We’ll see if the Magic come with any fun wrinkles in Game 3, but for now, the Raptors have all the momentum. Raptors in 5.
Have a blessed day.