No matter how you frame the Toronto Raptors’ game two loss to the Golden State Warriors, it was a disappointment. The Raptors led for a majority of the first half, and the Warriors were losing players left and right – including Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney, added to the already absent Kevin Durant – yet still were able to cross the finish line ahead. Of course, players are trying to be optimistic, but the Raptors had a 2-0 Finals lead slip through their fingers. That’s discouraging.
However, Toronto is accustomed to adversity in this playoff run. They have trailed at one point in each of their 2019 playoff series, and all three of course ended up with the Raptors advancing. The team is laden with veterans, and it’s unlikely that any mindsets will be altered as a result of the frustrating game two loss.
Even if it’s taken as a given that nobody on Toronto is going to move forward with a defeatist attitude, the series is going to be a whole lot more difficult going forward. The Golden State Warriors found a great amount of success defensively in the second half of game two, as Thompson switched onto Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodala picked up Pascal Siakam, and Draymond Green checked Kyle Lowry. Thompson is the Warriors’ best on-ball defender, so he took the Raptors’ best on-ball threat. Iguodala and Green are far better free safety improvisers, so they took positions that allowed more of that. Partially as a result, the Raptors shot below 30 percent from the field in the second half of game two, notching 10 offensive rebounds, and still only scoring 45 points.
The Raptors were happy with the shots they created. Almost every Raptors mentioned post-game that the shots they found in game two were fine. It’s possible that they just didn’t convert on good looks. But they were taken out of their comfort zone. They committed eight turnovers in just the second half, and they went long stretches without scoring. Danny Green made a few 3s, but Toronto otherwise had no dependable source of offense.
In general, Toronto has been quite static so far in this series. Aside from their transition attack in game one – greatly lessened in game two – they have not taken much of the fight to Golden State. The team’s weakside during any action hasn’t moved all that much. Toronto has often bogged down on offense and forced Leonard or Lowry to create something out of nothing with no time on the clock. Part of that is because the Warriors deserve credit for their defense. But part is also because the Raptors have settled instead of forcing the issue. They did not play with as much force in game two as has become normal; they either passed up good looks (it seems Gasol will pass up good shots in approximately 50 percent of games), or didn’t run hard into secondary and tertiary actions, thus letting Warriors’ defenders clamp down on the obvious threats. Toronto’s offense has plenty to fix. There will always be problems to solve in a playoff series, and Toronto has shown every indication that they are able to clean things up when problems do arise.
On the defensive end, Toronto was actually much spottier in game two. The Raptors were frequently beaten by simple backcuts. They trapped Curry 40 feet from the hoop – standard fare – but then pressed up on non-threats to allow easy lobs at the rim. Toronto allowed Andrew Bogut to be the recipient of three lobs, which is basically the equivalent of the Raptors just drinking poison for the taste. The Warriors scored 22 field goals in the second half of game two, and all 22 were assisted. Again, much of that is because the Dubs are excellent on offense, but the Raptors’ vaunted half-court defense started falling apart. Players made weird choices, didn’t attack the Warriors, and were altogether too passive. They let the Warriors play with far too much comfort. When Toronto did dig in, the Warriors would go several minutes without scoring; at their peaks, the Raptors’ defense is probably better than the Warriors’ offense. But the Raptors need to return to that peak to have a chance in game three.
And they won’t have a better chance than this one. Thompson is a gametime decision, but if he plays, he will be limited, especially defensively. Looney and Durant are out. Iguodala remains beat up. If the Raptors are going to take one of the two in Oracle to steal back home court, this has to be the odds on favourite for the Raps.
Toronto Injury Updates
Nothing here for the first time all playoffs and probably only the fourth time all year.
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
Golden State Injury Updates
Kevin Durant (calf) is out. Reports are that he will likely be back by game four. Kevon Looney (collar bone) is out for the remainder of the playoffs. Klay Thompson (hamstring strain) is a gametime decision. Per Woj, the team wants to keep him out, but Thompson himself is lobbying to play. Kerr declined to tell media whether or not he will play. His shooting should be fine, but his horizontal mobility will likely be limited. Iguodala has been limited in practice, and he seemed to hurt his head on a Gasol screen in the second quarter of game two, but he returned and played brilliantly. He isn’t listed on the report.
PG: Steph Curry, Quinn Cook
SG: Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston
SF: Andre Iguodala, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Draymond Green, Jonas Jerebko
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bogut, Jordan Bell
- Toronto’s starting lineup is playing fewer and fewer minutes each game. There are good and bad reasons why. In the start of the playoffs, Toronto’s starters played 20+ minutes each game. It was because they were blowing out opponents whenever they were on the floor, consistently winning their minutes by double-digits. In game two against Golden State, the starters played only 9.9 minutes, which they lost by a staggering eight point. They shot 4-for-17 from the field and committed six turnovers in just those 10 minutes; their mojo seems to be off. Fortunately, Toronto’s rotation is a little bit deeper now than it was at the start of the playoffs, so there are more lineup options. Toronto is able to play their starters only 10 minutes. But winning those few minutes would go a long way towards a stronger series for the Raptors.
- The starters played excellent defense to start the game, but they just couldn’t score. They attacked DeMarcus Cousins over and over again, and with Looney out, Cousins will continue to play the majority of minutes for the Warriors. He is a huge, physical body, but the Raptors have to be able to beat him in space. Expect the starters to be more aggressive in game three, as they settled for pull-up jumpers on practically every possession to start game two; only two of their first 13 plays involved an actual paint touch. I’m sure solving the starters’ woes will start there.
- VanVleet-Powell-Green-Siakam-Ibaka played 7.2 minutes and won them by eight points. They didn’t shoot all that well, but they played ferocious defense and hit the offensive glass. Siakam is not enough to bolster four bench players, but these lineups are always a little tighter with Green on the floor as well. VanVleet and Powell have become more and more playable next to each other as the playoffs have gone on; it’s amazing what a balm can be hitting one’s triples.
- Leonard at power forward remains an excellent look for Toronto. Lowry-VanVleet-Powell-Leonard-Gasol has been a successful lineup all playoffs, and it won its few minutes by three points in game two. In this physical state – limping, not as explosive, and more likely to lean on his strength on offense – Leonard is more dangerous on offense as a power forward than a wing. Surrounding him with shooting and initiation allows the Raptors to create potentially their most dangerous offensive unit.
- On the Golden State side, the starters of Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Green-Cousins were outrageously good. They went +21 in 13.7 minutes, shooting over 50 percent from deep. The Warriors will need to rely on this lineup to a huge extent with Looney and Durant out, as it offers at least a semblance of shooting beyond the splash brothers, with every player at least willing to gun from deep. It’s a defensive powerhouse as well, especially if the Raptors’ ball-handlers aren’t willing to attack Cousins on a switch and get all the way to the rim. This is the Warriors’ best unit, and their version of the death lineup, which Kerr insinuates he will not play without Durant available. This is the lineup Toronto needs to be game-planning for, and this is the lineup they’ll need to beat in order to win a championship. Tall task.
- If, on the other hand, Thompson does not go, this lineup will probably remain the most-played, but with Quinn Cook in for Thompson. Cook is a streaky shooter, as Toronto discovered in game two. He’s a more versatile shooter than Alfonzo McKinnie, so my guess is that Cook earns a bulk of Thompson’s minutes if the latter can’t play.
- The box-and-one defense was incredibly successful over the final few minutes of game two. Steph Curry famously called it “janky” in his post-game interview, and nearly everyone has been asked about it since. Here’s a variety of critical characters with varying thoughts on the defense.
- “I didn’t look at it as anything but what Coach said to do,” said Lowry. “I don’t know if it worked or not. I don’t know the numbers or whatever it was. But it was pretty innovative. The first time a team has probably ever played box-and-one in the NBA ever. So you give Nick Nurse credit for that. But I guess you can call it janky.”
- “I was like, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about going box-and-one; what do you guys think?'” recalled Nurse. “And they were like, ‘well, what does that look like?’ I drew the box up and who would be where. They kind of liked the looks of Marc and Kawhi being down and Kyle up and Fred chasing. Kyle was kind of the one that said, ‘Yeah, man, that will work, let’s go.’ That kind of lets you, I don’t know, share the responsibility a little bit. We all are on the same page and we leave the huddle and we’re all good with it. So that helps.”
- “Klay definitely wasn’t on the floor at that time,” said Leonard. “There’s no telling when KD’s going to come back either. So I don’t think it will work [going forward].”
- Leonard is probably right that it won’t work going forward, and the Raptors will probably not use it again. But the Warriors certainly spent time solving it between games, so it’s already a win in that sense. Nurse has plenty of creative zones, and the Raptors had one of the best zone defenses during the entire regular season, and they used it fairly regularly. Toronto could still use some zone, especially if Golden State continues to use lineups with minimal shooting. But zone usage has probably already hit its high water mark in this series.
- Steph Curry is the Warriors’ only weapon when Klay Thompson isn’t in the game. He’s the only player who can create his own shot, and he’s the only one who can create an advantage upon which the offense can capitalize to create easier shots for teammates. Even in game two when his shot wasn’t falling – he finished with 23 points on 6-for-17 shooting – he sowed havoc in the Raptors’ defense. Toronto was correct to continue paying him attention, but they may have overreacted to his threats. Namely his off-ball threat, where he notched a game-high four screen assists. The Toronto Raptors finished with five screen assists, so that alone is evidence of Curry’s off-ball ability. But the Raptors need to toe the line better of reacting well to Curry’s threats well still acknowledging the other four players on the court.
- The box-and-one was actually a great way to do this. VanVleet was Curry’s primary defender, and wherever Curry went, the zone would provide another body. But the other three players knew their spots, and they were responsible for the rest of the court. The zone sort of mandated that Toronto pay more attention to Curry’s teammates, which limited Curry’s off-ball threat.
- Refs in this one are Marc Davis, David Guthrie, and Kane Fitzgerald.
- The Warriors are favoured by 4.5. This makes some sense, as they won the last one, and they’ll be at home. But with the variety of Warriors’ injuries, you have to wonder if this may overstate the Warriors as favourites. The over-under is 213.5.