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NBA Finals Preview: Answering the biggest questions leading into the Toronto Raptors – Golden State Warriors matchup

It is funny how emotions escalate and dissipate in the blink of an eye in professional sports. The high of climbing atop the Eastern Conference has faded and now another task, one that is even more formidable, emerges. It’s time to snap back to reality. The Toronto Raptors now have one final opponent to overcome…

It is funny how emotions escalate and dissipate in the blink of an eye in professional sports.

The high of climbing atop the Eastern Conference has faded and now another task, one that is even more formidable, emerges. It’s time to snap back to reality. The Toronto Raptors now have one final opponent to overcome in order to reach an ever elusive championship. The Golden State Warriors.

So who are these guys?

Well, in case you have been living under a rock: Golden State are one of the greatest dynasties in basketball history, possessing two league MVPS, four All-NBA players, a former Defensive Player of the Year, another NBA Finals MVP, and are winners of three out of the last four NBA Finals. Yeah, those guys.

“Who knows? It might be a preview of June. They got something really special up there in Canada right now,” Klay Thompson said nearly six months ago. Well, Nostradamus Thompson, June is here and so are the Raptors.

Buckle your seatbelts kids, because this preview is going to be a doozy. I will run through all of the biggest questions revolving around this series, and then disregard all of that information by picking the Raptors to sweep. (Also, make sure to also read Louis Zatzman’s extensive preview here.) Without further ado…

DEFENCE

  • How can the Raptors handle the Splash Brothers?

Stephen Curry and Thompson are the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history. In their seven seasons together, the duo has entirely changed what is imaginable for offences due to their ability to warp the geometry of the court. They set the pace-and-space template that teams have attempted to follow in copycat fashion. But nobody does it quite like them.

The Golden State Warriors have run the least amount of pick-and-rolls in the league for three straight years, instead opting to send Thompson and Curry whirling around screens off-ball while Draymond Green functions as the quarterback of the offence. It is a system that is near impossible to replicate due to Green’s unique ability as a passing big man and the backcourt duos’ shooting range. Thompson and Curry put their opponents into a blender of cuts, slips, and off-ball screens that results in a pureé of open looks; the Warriors led the league in shot frequency with at least 2-6 feet between the shooter and the nearest defender at 42.8 per cent, per NBA.com. That is what happens when you mix ridiculous shooters with precise passing.

The Warriors brand of basketball sure doesn’t hurt on the eyes. In that clip alone, Curry sets an off-ball screen for Kevin Durant, slips it, and then runs straight off of a down screen from DeMarcus Cousins for the open triple. Jamal Murray is left helplessly chasing after him like it’s a schoolyard game of tag. During the regular season Thompson and Curry were first and second in the league respectively on used possessions on off-ball screens. Thompson’s 6.9 possession per game nearly doubled that of third place, while Curry averaged a ridiculous 1.29 points per possession in those situations.

A steady diet of this off-ball chaos is a meal that the Raptors defence hasn’t tasted yet. Toronto has developed on-the-fly defensive chemistry by thwarting heavy on-ball presences in this playoff run; navigating around endless Jimmy Butler pick-and-rolls, stifling Giannis Antetokounmpo’s fury inside, and bodying up on imposing post presences in Joel Embiid and Nikola Vucevic. (I really shouldn’t have put Vucevic’s name in the same sentence as those other players, but I just wanted to remind you all of Gasol sucking the life from him. That feels an eternity ago.) There will be a stylistic adjustment that may take a bit of getting used to.

Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet will likely split time on Curry. Danny Green has also handled Curry duty on occasion and guarded shooters in the regular season, but his minutes are currently up in the air. Van Vleet and Lowry are also the only Raptors that have dealt with significant off-ball movement by being the primary defenders on J.J. Redick during round two. Van Vleet was particularly impressive denying passes and slithering around Embiid screens. Redick shot only 5.7 times per game with Lowry and Van Vleet guarding him, and averaged a combined 24.8 points per 100 possessions less when guarded by both of them.

Now, Curry is different beast entirely. If J.J. Redick is intermediate level difficulty to chase around then Curry is the final boss in the video game, a baby-faced Bowser if you will. In their one meeting this year, Curry did only shoot a collective 1-8 from the floor with one assist and three turnovers in the 49 possessions Van Vleet and Lowry guarded him. This is literally the smallest of small sample sizes and Curry missed open looks during a signature Warriors ‘we ain’t interested’ mid-season game. But it can’t be entirely disregarded– both Toronto point guards have ratcheted up their individual defence threefold in this playoff run.

The tougher question will be who Nurse puts on Thompson. It will most likely be the struggling Green, although his time on the floor will be entirely dependent on if he can finally drain a shot or two. Powell is a logical replacement, but he is only averaging 17 minutes per game in the postseason as Van Vleet’s unconscious shooting has returned. If Green is yanked in favour of Van Vleet, then a mismatch really presents itself. Green has been solid, not prolific, defensively in the postseason but neither Raptor point guard shares his size to deter Thompson’s shot in the slightest. Thompson is a sneaky 6’7″ with a rapid fire shooting release that is positioned far too high for Lowry or Van Vleet to affect, even if the former does his flailing starfish closeout! Pascal Siakam has the size and speed necessary to handle Thompson but he and Kawhi Leonard’s ball-hawking may be better used elsewhere on the floor.

A majority of the attention will rightly be placed on neutralizing the two-time MVP, Stephen Curry. But many teams become exposed when they don’t possess another requisite guard defender to deal with the second best shooter in the NBA.

  • What about switching defensively? Haven’t the Raptors gotten really good at that?

There is no doubt that Toronto’s ascendancy to elite heights in their half-court defence has been due to their switchiness. They have also demonstrated a deft ability to help and recover, survive on perceived one-on-one mismatches, and move synchronously as a swarming, interchanging unit. Communication and being on the same page is half the battle with team defence. The other half is athletic talent and doggedness, something that the Raptors have in spades. Lowry is a ball of kinetic energy, leading the playoffs in offensive fouls drawn and second in deflections despite his 6’1″ frame. His equally undersized running mate, Fred Van Vleet, has shown a kernel of Lowry’s tenacity which was the sole reason he managed to stay on the court during his slump in the first two rounds. Leonard and Siakam are physical marvels that are perfectly wired to defend any shape, size, or speed. Gasol’s physical presence and basketball IQ has tied the defensive end together. He is the eyes of the defence that assesses potential threats and barks out commands while deploying himself in the line of fire. This is not to disparage Gasol’s teammates; Leonard, Lowry, Green, and Siakam are all defensively intelligent and instinctual in their own right, Gasol is just situated with a broader vantage point.

Their closeouts are vicious. Each individual is far more aware of their teammates capabilities and limitations, which causes the correct decision to be made as to whether to help, switch, or stay at home. The Warriors will field non-shooters that the Raptors can help off of — something they mastered each round — but they also aren’t entire offensive zeroes like Jonathan Isaac or Ben Simmons. Those non-threats will swivel into a new screen or dart for a back-door cut. They stay in constant motion, a far tougher guard than the statuesque Simmons.

The Raptors have willingly switched from 1 to 4 between their guards and wings, proving to be impenetrable. Their ability to switch an ungodly amount without getting flustered is an overlooked skill– the Warriors thrive off of frying their opponents brains after stringing together three different quick-fire sequences. That ability to pass Curry on to the next defender without allowing a modicum of space is essential in denying outside shots. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest that Toronto could trouble Golden State offensively, thus far they have squeezed the life out of their opponent’s offensive efficiency.

Nick Nurse and co. will certainly be reviewing film on the one team in recent history that did limit the Warriors with savvy switching, the 2017/18 Houston Rockets. The most devastating switch Houston had to contend with was Durant sealing off Chris Paul down low. Without the presence of Durant, the Raptors can be less fearful of getting the slight guards stuck in untenable situations; Lowry will hold up against any non-Durant Warrior in the post. The greater worry will be with Curry.

Houston possessed far less defensive talent than this iteration of the Raptors but they intimately knew their opponent to the nth degree. The hope will be that the Raptors can rely on individuals and their system as they become more comfortable with their opponents tendencies. They have been exceptional switching and helping in on-ball scenarios, but dealing with off-ball actions is a whole different cookie. The other part of this conundrum is knowing when not to switch. The point of the Warriors offence is to produce a mismatch or miscommunication somewhere along the possession that will garner the space needed to let their shooters shoot. Defenders have to track Thompson and Curry pinging back-and-forth until that fatal lapse in concentration. The biggest test for Toronto will be not getting befuddled in those split-actions, screens, and hand-offs. In the last round, these split-second decisions became overwhelming for Portland.

Damian Lillard and Al-Farouq Aminu get mixed up on Curry’s down screen, both momentarily following Alfonzo McKinnie. That momentary blip? A wide open three. In hindsight, it is clear that Lillard should have stuck to Curry, but in the moment they are snapshot decisions.

I should also point out that I have started with a heavy Thompson-Curry emphasis here because who the heck knows who is going to round out the rest of the starting unit?? Kevin Durant remains doubtful, Andre Iguodala’s availability is uncertain, while Cousins finally returned to practice on Friday. Steve Kerr rolled out a different starting lineup in every game against Portland. Not only is the Warriors playing style unpredictable, so too is their personnel.

First, we will look at guarding the most recent Warriors, without arguably the best basketball player in the world.

  • What is different about guarding the Warriors sans Kevin Durant?

At their core, the Warriors remain the same team with the same principles with or without Durant. He is just the ultimate bail-out option as this generation’s greatest pure scorer. However, Curry obviously becomes a far more influential figure without Durant, especially as an on-ball presence.

Golden State spammed the Rockets and Trailblazers to death with Curry-Green pick-and-rolls. Everyone knew what was coming, but defending it is an entirely different proposition.

When executed to perfection, their two-man game is nearly unguardable. In this instance Green slips the screen, confusing the Rockets defenders as to whether to switch or not, and Curry pounces on their indecision by blowing by Paul. The usual rim protector, Clint Capela, is unable to be near the basket as he is preoccupied with switching onto Thompson off-ball. Curry then really started to have some fun once the defensive switch did occur…

… and if he wasn’t beating the defender off of the dribble, then he leaned on the best jump shot the world has ever seen.

Curry has taken his game to another level in Durant’s absence. He has cranked up his pick-and-roll usage from 5.1 possessions per game in the regular season to 7.4, and his efficiency has shot up from 1.02 points per possession to 1.18. He is cooking opponents despite a myriad of defensive schemes.

Don’t forget Green’s role too. His playmaking ability as the roller is unparalleled and he is almost always presented a numerical advantage given the defensive focus on Curry’s shotmaking. Green dissects the scrambling defence with either a lob to Kevon Looney, a pass to an open Thompson, or driving to the rim himself. It truly is a matter of picking your poison. Green has awoken these playoffs– averaging an absurd 1.38 points per possession as the roll man in pick-and-rolls, nearly doubling his regular season average of 0.78. Since Durant’s injury, Green is averaging 14.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game.

But Toronto have quality pick-and-roll defenders. Van Vleet, Green, and Lowry have all allowed under 0.79 points per possession defending the pick-and-roll ball handler. They simply do not die on screens. The Raptors will also be throwing either Leonard or Siakam on Green, presenting a very capable and handsy secondary defender. They could aggressively trap Curry to get the ball out of his hands and have the weak side defender fly towards Green — which could occasionally work — but the Warriors thrive in that chaotic environment. It requires pristine help rotations by whatever defender is on the other Warriors non-shooting threat. However, once you get stuck with second and third rotations the Warriors have you right where they want you.

“To even have a chance against a team like Golden State, you have to make a point of not being put into rotations. They’ll kill you that way,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said.

I would be more willing to switch as I believe Siakam and Leonard are able to hang with Curry one-on-one, plus having Lowry defend Green on the block is fine. (There is also a possibility that Lowry straight up guards Green at some points.) However, Green’s passing out of the post is lethal and now the bigger Raptors defenders will then be forced into chasing Curry off-ball.

It would be prudent for Toronto to mix up their defensive coverages. The Warriors are too smart offensively and will dissect the same look if repeated over and over. The Raptors have the personnel to be aggressive on occasion and it has worked in every other series, there is just far less margin for error even if their scrambling help defence has been jaw-dropping.

  • Can the Raptors centres hang?

Switching 1 to 5 would be ideal, but the one area where Toronto have been reluctant to switch is with Gasol. The Spaniard does not want to be dealing with an isolation dance-off against smaller guards. The Raptors have addressed this in two different ways: dropping Gasol heavily in pick-and-roll against Philadelphia, and using him to attack D.J. Augustin up high aggressively against Orlando.

I was hesitant about Marc Gasol’s longevity in the Milwaukee series due to the nature of their spacey, three-point heavy offence veering him from his comfort zone, but he completely proved me wrong. Gasol managed to wall off the paint, help on Antetokounmpo, and still recover out to three-point shooters. Now, in this series he will not be primarily guarding a shooter like Brook Lopez, but one will always be in close proximity to him given that his opponent will be a screener.

Gasol will likely be defending [insert random Warriors centre here], but I’m going to look mainly at Looney as he has emerged as the most talented big on their roster given Cousins’ injury. Curry loved to use Looney as his screener against Portland because their bigs were frightened to leave the paint. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the end result of Enes Kanter and Meyers Leonard dealing with Curry in space.

In Gasol’s past encounters against the Warriors, he also sagged in coverage when guarding Looney. It didn’t produce positive results. Gasol must show high in this series to at least contest a Curry three while the on-ball defender battles through the screen and tries to stay attached to Curry’s hip. If the Raptors are resilient enough initially, they can hold up against this action. Looney is a non-threat as a roller and the off-ball defenders in Leonard and Siakam will have to let their presence be felt in the passing lanes. They demonstrated this cohesiveness to perfection against Augustin in round one.

Although Durant’s absence grants Curry more on-ball duties, it does not mean that he and Thompson aren’t going to remain in perpetual motion. These are the tougher decisions for Gasol to make. If he stays at home, then this happens:

Thompson is incredibly gifted at feeling pressure before it arrives. If Gasol helps, they are susceptible to Thompson’s signature touch pass to the rolling Looney. Granted, in this matchup Gasol is now armed with far better wing defenders than his former Grizzlies teammates, but it is going to be the most stressful part for their defence that will dictate Gasol’s ability to stay on the floor.

If your centre is struggling to keep up with perimeter play then he has to be punishing smaller opponents offensively. Gasol’s role with the Raptors has been very perimeter-oriented and — despite the passing acumen he has brought — he won’t punish Golden State on the offensive glass. Serge Ibaka has had moments of momentum-shifting crashes on the boards but it may not be enough to offset drastically swing a game.

Houston were forced to pull their versatile centre, Capela, off of the floor as he couldn’t survive defensively and they decided to match the Warriors small-ball lineup. The Raptors are able to play small-ball (something our podcast host Samson Folk has fantasized over) but I’d be cautious to try and beat Golden State at their game. Toronto have not played a single meaningful minute of playoff basketball without a true centre on the floor and I’m not sure if now is the time to do so. The Raptors backcourt outside of Lowry and Leonard have been inconsistent at best and removing a centre would bump up their minutes considerably.

  • Where can Kawhi be most useful?

So I’ve fawned over the Warriors’ majestic offence long enough here. We should probably acknowledge that Toronto possesses the best defender in the league. Kawhi freakin’ Leonard. I knew this dude was built different, but his virtuoso defensive performance on Giannis Antetokounmpo was something to behold. He is the queen on the chessboard that can destroy others in whatever fashion he pleases. Now Nick Nurse has an interesting proposition as to where he should deploy the two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Again these initial matchups must be taken with a grain of salt given Toronto’s willingness to switch in the half-court and cross-match in transition, but the consensus opinion has been that Leonard will matchup with Iguodala and roam off of him to become an extinguishing defensive force. The idea would be, given Iguodala’s minimal impact offensively, to have Leonard lurk off-ball in a similar fashion to his masterclass when guarding Simmons in the Sixers series.

However, I would be intrigued to see if Leonard could rattle the flow of the Warriors’ offence by primarily guarding Green. In his defensive prime, Leonard could entirely remove a player of his choosing from the game. He forced Antetokounmpo into shooting 35.3 per cent and score 20.3 less points per 100 possession when guarding him.

Taking on Green will also get Leonard close to the action on the aforementioned Curry pick-and-rolls; Leonard is one of the few individuals smart enough to read the two-man movement, capably handle the switch, and also be ready to apply significant pressure on traps. The biggest concern would be fatigue — handling that many pick-and-rolls is taxing, especially when Leonard is required to handle an absurd 32.1 per cent usage rate. Leonard’s shutdown abilities are usually used to prevent a scorer from heating up. That is not what makes Green special; he could go an entire game without even looking for his own shot and still slaughter you. It would be interesting to see if Leonard could stifle his vision and passing options with his textbook on-ball defence. On the flip side, he may be more useful reading Green’s eyes off-ball and swooping in passing lanes.

Siakam is also no slouch. Nurse will likely toggle between his wings handling Green and ‘resting’ on Iguodala. Putting Toronto’s quickest player in Siakam on Green is also beneficial in transition where the Warriors centre loves to fly down the court and catch his opponent unawares, but I’m sure they will cross-match with whoever is nearest try to initiate contact on Green and slow him down in dire situations.

The other significant part of Leonard’s game is his ability to apply defensive pressure yet remain averse to fouling. Other Raptors must follow his lead in this regard, especially if they hope to confine the Warriors to the half-court similar to their handling of Milwaukee last series. Golden State were 28th in the league with 20.4 free throw attempts per game and 11.3 of those came courtesy of Cousins and Durant, whose status in the opening two games remains unclear. Therefore, if Leonard and the Raptors can begin to physically smother the Warriors at home, Golden State may struggle to use the charity stripe as a bail out option. Toronto can win in ugly, slow games and the last team to dethrone this dynasty, the 2016 Cavaliers, did it in a similar fashion.

  • Sweet! So what about when the two-time Finals MVP returns…?

This answer is pretty simple, you throw Leonard on Durant and hope for the best. Leonard is one of the few players that makes Durant break a sweat. It also simplifies matchups and the Warriors dizzying attack is slightly more comprehensible as Durant will absorb more isolation possessions.

As someone with a rooting interest in the Raptors prevailing, I’d rather not see Durant return. But there is no doubt that two mega-stars going shot-for-shot would make for a tantalizing viewing experience. Their showdown in December was one of the highlights of the regular season.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUeHT9Lf1l8

Overall, Durant returning is obviously not good news for Toronto. The only positive theory I could come up with is that he returns not 100 per cent, screws up the old chemistry of the ‘OG Warriors’ that was reemerging, and tensions arise. That is some serious fanfiction I have had to conjure there. We will cross the Durant bridge when we get there.

OFFENCE

  • Can the Raptors get back to their regular season ball movement?

Toronto have been stymied by some supersized, and frankly incredible, defences. The intensity that the Sixers played with on that end was palpable and Milwaukee proved to be a well-oiled machine. As a result, the Raptors passing numbers have dropped and their assists per game has dipped from 25.4 in the regular season to only 20.9 over the last two rounds. Now, this is to be expected to some degree and Leonard’s shotmaking has nullified the decline in ball movement. The inconsistency from the Raptors bench and shooters also played a part in the stagnant offence against Philadelphia; Leonard rightfully couldn’t reliably trust shooters and decided to put the team on his back.

However, during the Eastern Conference Finals Toronto rediscovered their outside stroke. They averaged just over 14 triples per game at an efficient 37.4 per cent, surpassing their regular season averages in both marks. Milwaukee willingly gave up open looks to protect the rim and to overload on Leonard, creating more space for passing opportunities and a perfect recipe for the role players to regain confidence in their shot. The Warriors will similarly allow opponents to shoot from deep – they conceded the 6th most three point attempts in the league this year.

More important than the team’s general ball movement will be Leonard’s passing specifically. His ludicrous shooting has created a gravitational pull around him that sucks in defenders, making his ability to read and respond to double teams essential. The magnetism of Leonard’s offence is enough that now only a pass or two is required to generate an open look. Teams are looking to get the ball out of his hands at all costs and Leonard’s recent playmaking has been the best of his career, posting 16 assists in the last two games. Just look at the freeze frame on his assist to Van Vleet!

Speaking of which…

  • How will the Warriors defend Leonard and what can he do to respond?

Golden State heavily used a trapping scheme to take the ball out of both Lillard and James Harden’s hands the past two rounds. It is something they have been hesitant to rely on in the past, as it strains the backside of your defence, but this postseason they fully committed to it.

The Warriors are usually a switch-heavy team, but in the last few years opponents have had success targeting Curry. Harden and LeBron have gone out of their way to hunt down Curry, involve him in the pick-and-roll and maneuver in a way that generates a one-on-one. Last year, Harden gave Curry fits — the Warriors would send him to hedge hard and quickly recover (similar to Redick against Toronto) but Harden would simply re-screen or bulldoze through Curry’s attempt to ‘tag’ him high up the court. This season, Curry and a secondary defender flew at Harden in those actions to prevent the switch from occurring.

Leonard is equally capable of dominating Curry if those switching situations arose, which is why the Warriors will likely throw a similar trapping response. Given that Curry will be hidden on Danny Green, I’m not confident that he is a strong enough playmaker as the rolling release valve to expose an aggressive trap, especially given Draymond Green’s otherworldly ability to guard two players at once while retreating. One caveat that may lend to the Warriors keeping Curry on the hedge and recover is that Leonard isn’t quite the pick-and-roll maestro that Harden is. Harden literally tangles defenders within a web of screens until targeting his chosen prey.

Instead, Leonard should poke and prod to find where the Warriors are willing to concede a switch. A Leonard/Gasol pick-and-roll which brings the centre, presumably Looney, into the fray is an interesting proposition. Firstly, the Warriors were actually willing to let Looney dance with Harden on isolations. The results were middling at best; Harden shot 55.6 per cent from the field and averaged a gargantuan 43.8 more points per 100 possessions with Looney on him. Paul and Lillard didn’t have as much success isolating Looney, but Leonard’s sheer physicality leans more towards Harden style than those diminutive guards. Although, looking at what Leonard did in his only outing against the Warriors earlier this year may cause Steve Kerr to hesitate on leaving his centres on an island…

Those were Leonard’s first three buckets of the night.

Now, if the Warriors remember that onslaught in late-November they will probably be more inclined to trap that action as well. Enter Gasol. Now Toronto possesses one of the best passing bigs in league history to exploit a 4 on 3 mismatch. Although Gasol’s offensive aggressiveness has been up-and-down, I’d suspect that he could dice a scrambling defence with that numerical advantage.

  • Should the Raptors slow this thing down and go mismatch hunting?

Maybe. However, the Warriors are so damn good at getting Curry out of unwanted defensive matchups. They will even pre-switch him onto another player once he senses his opponent heading upcourt towards a pick-and-roll.

Another thing: the Raptors need waaay more than just Leonard to produce offensively in order to win this series. Going mismatch hunting can be tedious and sap the clock, leaving mere seconds to shoot. That’s a lot of pressure on the other guys. It’s also not a huge portion of Toronto’s DNA. In the previous series, Milwaukee were so distracted in getting the individual matchups they wanted that they often veered from their own offensive identity.

I also trust Leonard against Iguodala one-on-one. Toronto should force the Warriors to adjust first defensively before they throw their counterpunch. This Warriors’ defence was middling for much of the regular season and, although battle-tested, don’t possess the same size and strength of the previous two teams the Raptors have faced. They are a far worse team at protecting the rim which Lowry and Siakam should salivate over after facing behemoths over the past month.

Still, the methodical destruction that Leonard has imposed on his opponents is worth noting. The grinding pace that he has had the Raptors playing at is very similar to the Cavaliers style when they knocked off Golden State in 2016 and the Rockets pushing them to the brink in 2018. If he and the Raptors can score somewhat efficiently in the half-court (which is a big ask) and minimize transition opportunities then there is a formula for success.

However, Kerr sent many different disguised blitzes to stifle Lillard last round. If they send heat at Leonard early, Toronto must take advantage of the mismatches quickly. Slowing it down for slowing it down’s sake is not necessarily beneficial.

  • Side note – Will Danny Green hit a shot?

Man, I sure hope so. Green’s shooting slump has come at the most inopportune time. As I mentioned earlier, his defensive contributions will mean so much for the matchup but if he continues to be ice-cold then it simply won’t be possible to keep Green on the floor. Some of those looks he got in Game 6 were perfect scenarios from the ‘How to get Danny Green to heat up’ playbook and he still missed.

I will hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. Thankfully, Van Vleet put together the greatest three game shooting stretch in history to lessen the blow of it all.

  • Will Siakam finally get to not be guarded by an All-Defensive level player?

Umm, no. Instead his matchup will likely be Green, and I have a suspicion that the Warriors will sag off of Siakam after seeing how Embiid and Antetokounmpo stifled him.

Nurse responded to opponents ignoring Siakam’s outside shot by using him more actively as a screener in order to draw Antetokounmpo and Embiid away from the basket, where they are strongest. However, Green is an ace defensively across the entirety of the court. The Warriors don’t need him posted under the rim.

Again, taking advantage of Golden State’s switchiness may be beneficial to get Siakam onto more preferable matchups. The DHOs and off-ball screens he set in the past two series won’t have the same effect, but they will likely draw either Thompson or Curry onto him if the switch does occur. For example, if Curry is guarding Lowry then this common set that the Raptors use may come in handy.

If Siakam lands that screen after Lowry slips out of his own pick-and-roll action with Leonard, then his man should presumably race out to deny Lowry an open three. With that, Siakam can seal the smaller defender on him as he naturally rolls towards the paint for post position.

The creativity in which Nurse gets Siakam involved will continue to be an essential piece of the Raptors executing offensively.

One Final Note (If you made it this far… I don’t know whether to be impressed or disappointed)

The Toronto Raptors have been able to succeed in these playoffs due to their malleability. They have come up against a variety of opponents and have read their tendencies, digested them, and adapted accordingly, all while not fully abandoning their own identity. Adjustments will inevitably occur in this series as well, but Toronto cannot afford to start as slowly as they have in every other series. LeBron James was the master of taking an early L only to dissect his opposition in the following matches. However, not even James was able to get through this buzzsaw of a basketball team. So far the Raptors have failed to start a series with a 2-0 lead.

The Raptors must jump on Golden State early and take advantage of every second that Durant does not step on the floor. Once he returns its a whole different ball game, but if Toronto can catch the Warriors on their heels early then it may be too late for the defending champs.

VERDICT: If Toronto can win both at home without Durant, then Raptors in 7. If not, then Warriors in 6… screw it, Raps in 7.