Raptors News

Pre-game news and notes: Ask not for whom the bell tolls

I don’t believe in jinxes. The Raptors may have had trouble closing out teams in the past, but Nick Nurse and co are looking to change that. He was asked yesterday about his team’s inability to close out series in previous years and responded with vitriol.

“This team doesn’t? Or this organization? What do you mean? This team, let’s see if they can start their own history tomorrow.”

The Raptors have never won a seven-game series in five games before. I don’t care. I’m not sure where else the Orlando Magic can turn in their hopeless efforts against the Toronto Raptors; the writing seemed to be on the wall at the end of game four. The Magic quit. I’ve never seen the Raptors do that to another team in the playoffs before, but I sure recognize it when I see it. They stopped rotating on defense, stopped playing with force on offense.

The thing is, some things went right for the Magic in game four! They made over half of their midrange shots, shooting 14-for-26 from the area. Nikola Vucevic opened the game with a midrange pick-and-pop. Aaron Gordon, especially, seemed to be indefatigable, hitting fadeaway after fadeaway over Toronto defenders. But it was clear that the offensive output of contested midrange jumpers wouldn’t be enough to catch the Raptors.

So what else can Orlando do? They can run Terrence Ross off of pindowns 30 times and ask him to start hoisting triples over double-teams. Maybe they will. So far, the Magic can’t score no matter what they do. Since Toronto updated their gameplan at halftime of game one by putting Danny Green on DJ Augustin, having Marc Gasol show high on screens, and ignoring non-shooters anywhere on the court, the Magic have scored 0.93 points per possession. That’s dramatically lower than their 1.09 points per possession in the regular season. Toronto has had their number.

Orlando doesn’t have a ton of options to improve their play; they’re kind of a maximized team right now. They’re solid, but there aren’t areas in which to improve, other than asking non-shooters to make more shots. Steve Clifford is a smart coach, and he’s keeping the same starting lineup.

Clifford spoke about potentially starting Ross to juice the offense, but that would mean Orlando couldn’t have an offensive system for all 48 minutes. So no go, there. Otherwise, Clifford is still trying to play the numbers game. He cited turnover stats, saying Orlando needs to equal or better their 11 turnovers in game one to have a chance. He cited defensive rebounding. The point is that if Orlando can’t score as consistently, they need to have 10 extra scoring chances, 10 extra possessions to have a chance to outscore Toronto. That’s asking a lot.

We’ve seen Toronto win with Kawhi Leonard unable to score. We’ve seen Toronto win while unable to make their corner triples. For Orlando to take another, both of those have to happen while Augustin scores 20+. With the Raptors at home to close this out, it’s probably time to go prep my preview for the Sixers series.

Toronto Updates

OG Anunoby (appendectomy) remains out. Anunoby was with the team yesterday, but he won’t be available and remains without a timeline. Chris Boucher (back spasms) is out.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin

SG: Danny Green, Patrick McCaw, Jodie Meeks

SF: Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, Malcolm Miller

PF: Pascal Siakam

C:  Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Eric Moreland

Orlando Updates

Nothing new. Mo Bamba (leg), Markelle Fultz (shoulder), and Timofey Mozgov (knee) remain out.

PG: DJ Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams, Jerian Grant

SG: Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross

SF: Aaron Gordon, Wesley Iwundu

PF: Jonathan Isaac, Jarell Martin, Amile Jefferson

C: Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch

Rotation notes

  • I know I’m a broken record here, but Toronto’s starters have Godzilla’d their minutes. They finished +13 in 22.3 minutes in game four, which brings their total to +60 in 76 minutes. Toronto is looking to play their starters for 20-22 minutes per game, and they can expect to win those minutes by double-digits. That’s an outrageous advantage.
  • If I’m looking for any one thing in game five other than a win, it’s a bounceback game from Fred VanVleet.  He did finish game four with 9 points on 4 shots – solid – but his offensive choices were questionable. He is over-dribbling and forcing his own offense to the detriment of his teammates. He is looking to drive when he should be passing, or looking to pass before he’s opened an advantage for the offense. He is supposed to be Toronto’s best bench player who can replace the stars for stretches or play alongside them. Through four games, he hasn’t been.
    • Among the top-8 guys, or Raptors who have seen more than 5 minutes a game, VanVleet has been the worst. He has the lowest offensive rating, and he’s been the only Raptor to have been outscored in his minutes on the floor. That’s despite Toronto outscoring Orlando by a ridiculous 53 points. So, yeah, not great.
    • The answer could be for VanVleet to get more minutes alongside Lowry. They’ve always been terrific together, but it’s been pronounced in the playoffs. With VanVleet and Lowry together, Toronto has outscored Orlando by 10 points in 60 minutes. Not great, but enough to tread water. With VanVleet playing without Lowry, Toronto has been outscored by 20 points in 36 minutes, which is a disastrous rate. Nurse needs to keep VanVleet off the ball in later rounds.
  • Nurse continues using only Leonard as the backup power forward. Outside of his weak game three, Leonard has dominated in those minutes. The most-sed lineup, Lowry-VanVleet-Powell-Leonard-Ibaka, is now +17 in 20 minutes over the series. That tiny lineup is undersized at all five positions, but they’ve held their own. Leonard just feasts with enough shooting surrounding him.
    • On the whole, Leonard was pretty, pretty bad throughout the whole year in bench lineups. In regular season lineups with Leonard but without Siakam or Green, the Raptors were outscored by 81 points over 204 minutes. Not great. Him thriving alongside Lowry and the bench opens up fantastic rotation options for Toronto.

Assorted

  • Unrelated to the game itself, but Nurse had some glowing words about Siakam before the game when asked if he expected this level of improvement:
    • Well, we thought he was gonna be much improved this year coming out of the season and the summer that he had and just the way he looked every time we went to see him this summer. And then training camp, etc, it just looked like it was gonna happen. But I’m not sure anybody saw this coming. If anybody said the guy was gonna do what he’s doing in the playoffs a year ago from now, they were really being optimistic.”
  • Scott Foster will be on the crew.

The Line

Vegas can smell the blood in the water, too. (Obviously. Vegas can always smell blood.) Toronto is -11, but they drifted up to -12 earlier in the day, so some money has been coming in on Orlando’s side. The over-under is 206.

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