Raptors News

Pre-game news and notes: Do the Warriors have more?

Update: the Warriors are going to start DeMarcus Cousins at center.

The Raptors have to feel like King Theoden, of Lord of the Rings, when he was shocked his opponents didn’t have more to throw his way. The Golden State Warriors really didn’t have much to muster in game one, couldn’t throw anything at Toronto that stuck.

Golden State was woefully underprepared for game one. They sold out to stop Kawhi Leonard, and they seemed shocked that Toronto’s supporting cast could also play the game of basketball. That’s what you get when you repeatedly face LeBron James in the finals; you can forget that a superstar’s teammates can also be good.

And Toronto’s supporting cast was brilliant. Pascal Siakam finished with 32 points, and he was unstoppable. The Warriors gave him more space in the paint than he’s had all playoffs, and he capitalized on the weak backend of their defense. If the Dubs thought that Draymond Green could stop Siakam without any help behind him, they were in for a rude awakening. Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet scored efficiently. Danny Green rained fire from deep after the Warriors declined to guard his corner-to-corner cuts. The Bucks at least made an effort to stop Green, but the Warriors, I imagine, wrongly assumed his cold streak would continue with no added effort from themselves.

The Raptors’ supporting cast could be so effective because they acted without hesitation. Marc Gasol said after the game that in preparing for the series, they saw how the Warriors blitzed Damian Lillard, and the Raptors expected Golden State to do the same to Kawhi Leonard. Gasol was brilliant passing immediately after receiving the ball on the short roll. The Raps made immediate decisions after receiving the ball, keeping any advantages alive. Toronto handled blitzes and traps as well as any team can, as they created quality looks with ease. Much of that has to be due to Toronto’s focus on continuing to play on offense, rather than trying to bog down and attack a switch. Nick Nurse went into some detail on Saturday.

“We use a term ‘keep playing’ on offense. That means that we don’t like to react a lot of times to switches. When there’s a switch made, as I mentioned, we have a switch offense that we play. But a lot of it is to just keep playing, and not let a switch stop your offense and try to overanalyze a mismatch or bog down and wait 10 seconds to try to post feed against a smaller guy or whatever, because all it does is send you into a low-shot clock situation, which are low-percentage situations. We like to just keep playing.

And it’s easier to do now because everybody switches. They’re switching every night of the year now. Five years ago, it wasn’t like that. Now you’re seeing it so much, your guys get a whole hundred games a year to get used to that.”

Just as impressive, Toronto’s defense was impenetrable. Despite a transcendent shooting night from Steph Curry, the Warriors managed only 83.9 points per play in the half-court, per Cleaning the Glass. Their 20 second chance points kept them afloat. But Toronto played as a single seamless unit, forcing Golden State’s inferior offensive players to create offense. They couldn’t.

Of course, King Theoden was shocked and driven to the point of defeat when the other side blew up his defenses and nearly won the battle. It turned out, his opponents had plenty more to throw his way. Golden State does as well, with or without Kevin Durant on the floor. The Warriors are a dynasty for a reason, and they will be better in game two. The Raptors will need to weather the storm that’s surely coming.

Toronto Injury Updates

OG Anunoby (appendectomy) is playing! Welcome back OG. It’s difficult to say if he’ll be used in the rotation. Nurse said, “I don’t know if [Anunoby being activated] changes things much… I don’t probably see much of a chance to play him.” Nurse did say he may see a spot for Anunoby in the rotation later in the series.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin

SG: Danny Green, Patrick McCaw, Jodie Meeks

SF: Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, Malcolm Miller

PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby

C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Eric Moreland

Golden State Injury Updates

Kevin Durant (calf) is out. Reports are that he will likely be back by game four. Iguodala has been limited in practice, but he’ll continue to start and play. He’s been held out of drill work, but Kerr isn’t expecting any limitations in the games.

On a side note, Kerr continues to refuse to name his starting center, and he say’s he’ll continue to do that all series. Looney is really only used as a placeholder here, because I have no idea who Kerr will start. Bell started in game one, and Kerr seemed to like his quickness at the position. It’s tough to know anything other than that Looney will play the most minutes.

PG: Steph Curry, Quinn Cook

SG: Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston

SF: Andre Iguodala, Alfonzo McKinnie

PF: Draymond Green, Jonas Jerebko

C: Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney, DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bogut

Rotation Notes

  • The starters played only 14.9 minutes, which is low considering they were in the high 20s early in the playoffs. But because Gasol was in foul trouble for much of the game – and indeed fouled out in the fourth – and Fred VanVleet was Toronto’s best defensive option on Curry, the starters were limited. They were still quite solid, though they finished a -2 in the game. I thought it could have been much better, as they created great looks, and held the Warriors to difficult looks. The process was great, even if the results were slightly below average. Expect the starters to play even more minutes going forward, as they proved at least that this will be a much better series for this group than Milwaukee.
  • Toronto’s second-most used lineup had VanVleet in for Danny Green. This has been Toronto’s preferred closing lineup for much of the year, and especially since VanVleet has exploded offensively. Then went +5 in seven minutes.
    • VanVleet in for Siakam (with the other four starters), and VanVleet in for Gasol (with the other four starters) were also big positives in small minutes. Toronto will always be great with four starters, and VanVleet can replace anyone to offer more shooting, initiation, and defense. The Raps were a +11 with VanVleet in the game, a team high, tied with Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard.
  • On the other hand, Nick Nurse used some strange lineups, and they did not have a huge amount of success. Nurse said pre-game that he would extend the rotation to get a feel for the series, and boy did he (and also Kerr. There were times when both teams had bizarre lineups on the court that felt like a race to the bottom.)
    • VanVleet-McCaw-Green-Leonard-Ibaka is a weirdo group that should have success in transition because of its switchable, turnover-forcing defense. Instead it shot 100 percent from the field, including a pair of 3s, while still getting outscored by three points. The offense was just miserable, and they turned the ball over twice. In general, playing lineups that can’t score and need to rely on forcing turnovers to create offense is a bad idea, and this group falls firmly under that category.
    • Likewise Lowry-VanVleet-McCaw-Siakam-Ibaka were -2 in two minutes. McCaw wasn’t bad, and he even made a no hesitation triple to beat the shot clock! But his presence severely cramped the team’s offensive spacing. He finished a -3 in seven minutes played, which was a team-worst. Not to criticize his effort, which was actually great, but it’s tough to envision a successful role in this series for him.
      • Nurse choosing to give many of Norman Powell’s minutes (he finished with only 4:35 played after averaging 23 minutes per against the Bucks) was strange on the surface. But the Bucks give players runways, and Powell is an elite finisher when he doesn’t have to change direction while attacking the rim. The Warriors rely much less on help defense, and they get into bodies with more gusto in the first line of defense. That is not great for Powell. McCaw also gives the Raptors a small edge on defense, particularly with his ability at swimming around screens, over Powell. Powell actually got screened off of Curry fairly easily, giving Steph plenty of daylight from deep. So playing McCaw over Powell made sense in the aggregate, even if McCaw diminished the Raptors’ spacing.

Assorted

  • Marc Gasol is the best defensive big the Warriors have faced yet this postseason. Gasol is always in the right position, and he’s so smart at sniffing the difference between real actions and fluffy set-ups. Nothing catches him off guard. Plus he’s a slab of granite with meaty bear traps for hands. So, yeah, he was good on defense. He was great on the perimeter, great around the rim, and just great.
    • A note about defensive intelligence. Some players require brute force to stop, like Giannis Antetokounmpo. But most of the Warriors’ players are best defended with intelligence. The Dubs have such funky offensive sets, with so much scripted chaos, that even good defenders can get lost in the shuffle. It happened to the Raptors a few times in game one. But the Raptors have physical defenders, and athletic defenders, but most of all they have smart defenders. Golden State isn’t going to outthink them.
    • More about the Raptors’ defense: when Leonard guarded Draymond Green in game one, Golden State really had no offensive flow. Leonard can take anyone out of the play, and Green is the engine that makes the Warriors’ run. Many defenders cheat off Green in unintelligent ways, allowing him to screen for Curry or Thompson and spring them for off-ball triples. Leonard is Green’s intellectual equal, which is rare to find. He is able to punish Green for his weaknesses without opening other holes on the court. I thought Leonard might see some time on Curry, but it’s probably a better usage of his time to spend more possessions on Green. Per nba.com, when Leonard was Green’s primary defender, the Warriors scored only 0.83 points per possession.
  • An offensive rebound from the Warriors spells almost absolute doom. They finished with 20 second chance points on only 9 offensive rebounds, good for 2.22 points per. Curry is the league’s best at relocating to an open spot after an offensive rebound, and not even the best defender can track him in those situations. He had eight second chance points on his own. Toronto needs to choke off those offensive rebounds, as they’re pure death.
    • Toronto has become a better defensive rebounding team as each series has progressed. They were significantly better after the half in game one, as Golden State notched seven offensive boards in the first half and only two in the second. I expect the Raptors to become much better at limiting the Dubs on the offensive glass the later this series goes.
  • Toronto proved that if GS blitzes Leonard, and takes him out of the game, the Raptors will still be able to score consistently. That’s a major piece. The Warriors will have to change their defensive approach for game two, which they admitted post-game. That’s the first move in the chess game.
  • ¬†Danny Green stepped up big time. His job running the baseline and creating space in the corners was brilliant. His confidence was back, as was his stroke. The crowd exploded with his makes, chanting his name after his second from deep.
  • Refs are Scott Foster, Tony Brothers, and Ed Malloy.

The Line

  • The line opened and stayed at Toronto -2. That’s interesting because the after the Raps beat the Bucks at home, money actually moved in the other direction, favouring the Bucks in the next one. We know how that turned out. Here, the money remains on Toronto, with the line actually shifting further in their direction. Over-under is 213.

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