Pre-Game

Gameday: Raptors @ 76ers – Game 4, May 5

Although the Raptors have been here before– having trailed 2-1 against Milwaukee, Miami, and Indiana in recent years– they’ve never quite been here before. In those mediocre matchups of years past, it certainly felt dire, but never quite like this. Going “all in” to acquire and convince pending free agents Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker to stay isn’t in the same stratosphere as this.

Now, that’s not to say a potential 3-1 deficit is insurmountable– anything’s possible with Kawhi Leonard on your team– but with only 11 teams in NBA history ever overcoming such odds, it’d be a tall order, to say the least.

Regardless, the biggest question entering tonight is whether or not Leonard and Pascal Siakam (if he plays) are going to get some help. Through three games the Raptors two main threats are shooting 56.5 percent (70/124) from the field, while the rest of the team sits at a paltry 30.4 percent (39/128). Although Kyle Lowry and Danny Green performed well in games 2 and 3, respectively, the rest of the roster was horrific. The Raptors need multiple tertiary threats to step up offensively if they want to steal game 4. If Siakam is out or limited, they might need all of them too.

Unfortunately, a large part of ‘stepping up’ offensively is actually shooting the ball– something many Raptors were averse to in game 3. In particular, Lowry and Marc Gasol need to rediscover their aggressiveness. After posting usage rates of 19 (Lowry) and 16 (Gasol) in the regular season, their passivity on offense has reduced those rates to 17 and 12, respectively, in these playoffs. Game 3 may’ve been rock bottom with the two combining to go 4-16 from the field for 14 points. Forty percent of your payroll generating 15 percent of your offense isn’t going to cut it.

Certainly, Philadelphia’s absurd size has a role to play in this. Lowry isn’t pump-faking as often if it’s Evan Fournier closing out instead of Ben Simmons. And Gasol isn’t passing up shots like this if Nikola Vucevic is closing out instead of Joel Embiid. But, both of the veterans have acquiesced to Philly’s strategy of making them non-factors. That needs to change.

However, Nick Nurse’s quote in the press conference following game three is encouraging, saying “It felt like a lot of guys passing up shots. There were a couple possessions where I was like, ‘There it goes up’ and four more passes would go by. It seemed like every guy that had it was open and he’d move it to the next guy… Just go ahead step into it and lace it up.”

And Lowry spoke at length to ESPN about the change the team needs in their approach, saying “We’re just being very — we’re passive. We’re too passive to a fault.”

Based on these quotes, among many others, the Raptors appear acutely aware of the repercussions to their reluctance to shoot, so one can only hope that recognition leads to results going forward.

Another thing to watch for tonight is how Nurse manages his underwhelming bench. Through three games, Nurse has stuck with a similar strategy of mixing his three key reserves (Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka) in to bridge the gaps separating the 1st-2nd and 3rd-4th quarters. And, as I’m sure you readers are aware, it’s gone horrifically thus far.

To let you know just how horrifically, after averaging 36.2 points per game in the regular season, the Raptors’ bench has combined for 30 total points this series on 26 percent shooting. Sixers’ reserve James Ennis has 34 points himself this series. Even worse, in the 73 minutes that even a single bench player has been on the court, the Raptors have been outscored by 32 points (they’ve outscored Philly by 18 in their 71 starter-only minutes).

Sure, you can’t play the starters the entire game, however, it’s become abundantly clear that some tinkering is necessary. The easiest adjustment to make is cutting out all the minutes that VanVleet, Ibaka, and Powell share the floor from the rotation, locking those minutes away, and throwing away the key. Nurse has actively reduced the trio’s shared minutes throughout the series, but even in the mere seven minutes they shared the court together in game 3, the Raptors posted a net rating of -18.8. Until they rediscover some semblance of competency, anything more than occasional spot minutes for the three together going forward is inexcusable.

(For a deeper dive into the bench’s struggles check out the always-excellent Anthony Doyle‘s piece from yesterday.)

Other adjustments to keep an eye out for are:

  • How do the Raptors handle the Sixers’ newfound Jimmy Butler-Embiid (occasionally, Harris in Butler’s place) middle pick-and-roll?
    • After running the least pick-and-roll in the league during the regular season, Brett Brown has amped up his team’s usage of basketball’s primary action, and to great success.
    • This change by Brett Brown is primarily due to the increased proportion of possessions in the halfcourt during the regular season and his point guard Ben Simmons’ average ability in such possessions (Simmons’ usage is down 5 percent in the playoffs relative to the regular season mainly because of this tactical adjustment).
  • What does Nick Nurse think up to get Gasol going?
    • ESPN’s Zach Lowe noted following game three that Gasol’s elbow touches per game are down from 6 in the regular season to less than 4 in the playoffs. Good for half his rate in Memphis. Perhaps having Gasol operate from the elbow more often could spark his aggressiveness (a guy can hope, can’t he?).
  • Leonard’s minute total.
    • In what is arguably the stat of the postseason thus far, the Raptors own a pathetic 54.1 offensive rating this series when Leonard sits. For comparison’s sake, that’s a whole 25 points worse than the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offensive rating in the 2017 playoffs when MVP Russell Westbrook (NBA histories’ closest analog to the Jon Snow meme) was on the bench.
    • Leonard is averaging 38.9 minutes for the series thus far, with the Raptors posting a solid 110.0 offensive rating in those minutes. Considering the severity of the situation, Siakam potentially missing the game, and the care with which his load has been managed all year, it’s all but certain Leonard sets his Raptors-high in minutes tonight.
      • When asked about Leonard’s potential minutes for game 4, Nurse denied the possibility of a full 48, but noted that “There is no ceiling.” Raptors fans can only hope.

GAME INFO

TV: TSN | Tipoff: 3:30 EST – Betting info for the game including online casino Сanada.

RAPTORS UPDATES

Pascal Siakam is listed as doubtful (right calf contusion). OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is out. “I don’t think there’s anything close at all,” – Nick Nurse. Chris Boucher is not expected to play.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin

SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Jodie Meeks

SF: Kawhi Leonard, Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Miller

PF: Pascal Siakam

C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Eric Moreland

76ERS UPDATES

PG: Ben Simmons, TJ McConnell

SG: JJ Redick, James Ennis III, Shake Milton, Zhaire Smith

SF: Jimmy Butler, Furkan Korkmaz, Jonathan Simmons

PF: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott

C: Joel Embiid, Greg Monroe, Boban Marjanovic

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