Pre-game news and notes: This could be history

14 mins read

Update: The Warriors are starting Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Durant-Green

Long after game four had ended, and the teams had left the court, Oracle still belonged to the Toronto Raptors. More precisely, it belonged to Canada, as Raptors’ fans chanted ‘Oh Canada’. It’s a hell of a way to go out for what could be the last basketball game ever played at Oracle Arena, as the Golden State Warriors will move to San Francisco next season.

Jurassic Park has had lines since Sunday morning, and that is despite the rain. The city of Toronto is officially gone mad. But the team itself is not buying its own hype.

“Kawhi certainly sets that tone, but so does Kyle, so does Marc, so does Danny — those four guys,” said Nick Nurse on Sunday. “And then I think the younger guys take the cue from them. I think they like playing together. I think they know there’s work to be done. I just think they just know there’s not a whole lot of energy to spend on celebrating before time.”

The team is staying professional and even-keeled. They have had various opportunities to celebrate themselves this post-season, whether Kawhi’s game-winning buzzer-beater in game seven against Philadelphia, or the team’s four-game streak against Milwaukee, or taking both games at Oracle during the Finals. There has been cause for smiles and cheers and jubilation. But Toronto has been poised and quite, always focussing on the task at hand. The job isn’t done until it’s done, and Toronto has been explicit this year about aiming exclusively for a title.

“I think it’s just we’re focused,” said Kawhi Leonard. “We know that it doesn’t mean anything until someone has four wins.”

Toronto is one away. They’ve been the significantly better team through the four games so far, but everything changes now. Kevin Durant will return to the lineup for the Warriors. Steve Kerr initially called it a game-time decisions, but then there were multiple reports that he would play. Toronto will for the first time face the fully weaponized Dubs. The Death Lineup – with Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Durant-Green – will be playable, and the Warriors will have another player who can score against any defense. Furthermore, Durant’s size will be another hindrance for Toronto, who have at times had trouble scoring against teams that throw as much size as possible onto the floor.

“We prepped each game, three, four, and now five, so it wasn’t like it [will be] a total departure of what we were doing. But we put in some clips today, and walked through some stuff,” said Nick Nurse pre-game about how he prepared for Durant.

“He brings everything,” Nurse said of what Durant offers.

For the first time in the series, both teams will have everyone available. Sure, Thompson, Durant, and Looney remain injured and limited, but so too are many of the Raptors hurt. This could be Toronto’s greatest test of the season. But they could close out the series and win in Toronto. Just to be safe, let’s get this party started.

Toronto Depth Chart Updates

Nurse was asked about his team’s health, and he said they’re good.

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 Depth Chart Updates

Kevin Durant (calf) is playing. Lots of reports confirming it. Oren Weisfeld does a great job diving into the implications of his potential return in his gameday post.

PG: Steph Curry, Quinn Cook

SG: Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston

SF: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Alfonzo McKinnie

PF: Draymond Green, Jonas Jerebko

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

Rotation Notes

  • Once again, the Raptors’ most-played lineup in game four was the starters with Fred VanVleet in Danny Green’s spot. They played 15.1 minutes, which Toronto won by four points. They shot poorly from the field but hit just enough 3s to put the game out of reach. Kawhi Leonard’s two consecutive pull-up triples to start the third quarter, especially, put the game out of reach for the Warriors.┬áToronto has now started VanVleet in the beginning of the third quarter for two consecutive games. He has been truly elite, and Steph Curry has been bothered when VanVleet is his primary defender. Per, here are some numbers that indicate VanVleet’s incredible effect on the game on the defensive end.
    • Curry’s percentage split with VanVleet OFF the floor: 62.1 from the floor / 53.3 from deep.
    • Curry’s percentages split with VanVleet ON the floor: 32.2 from the floor / 25.9 from deep.
  • The actual starters played only 10.8 minutes, and they broke even in that time. The defense was solid, the group actually went 0-for-7 from deep in its time together. The poor shooting was a general trend, as Toronto went 10-of-32 from deep over the whole game. To break it down a little bit further, though, the first half (2-of-17) was dramatically worse than the second half (8-of-15). Danny Green cooled off a little bit, finishing the game 0-of-5 from deep, but he’s hit enough that the Warriors will respect the heck out of him. At this point, he still offers plenty of spacing and excellent defense, regardless of whether his shots are falling or not.
  • Serge Ibaka was a true force. His defense, offensive rebounding, shooting, and much more were all godsends for a Raptors team that played well but couldn’t bridge the gap for the entire first half. He finished with 20 points off the bench, second on the team behind only Leonard. He was part of some of Toronto’s absolute best lineups.
    • A group of VanVleet-Powell-Green-Leonard-Ibaka won its 3.3 minutes by eight points. It was pure fire. It may seem like a random grouping of guys, but it did a number of things well. It played faster than any other Raptors’ lineup, and it didn’t commit a single turnover. When Toronto keeps the Warriors out of transition, but still gets out and runs itself, it’s almost impossible for the Raptors to lose.
  • Patrick McCaw played 1:54 minutes. His defense is valuable, but he isn’t versatile enough to threaten the Warriors as much as every other Raptor in the rotation. Toronto lost McCaw’s minutes by three points, which isn’t McCaw’s fault, but he probably shouldn’t be in the rotation. If you break down the lineup numbers into two-man groups, the Raptors had only six units that lost their minutes on the court. five of them had Patrick McCaw as one of the members.
    • The other two-man unit that lost its minutes? Ibaka and Gasol moonlighted for 1.5 minutes together. It doesn’t make as much sense against this Warriors team as it did in the past few rounds, even if Toronto can survive short stretches. Ibaka going super saiyan helped, but don’t expect to see the twin towers together as a staple going forward.


  • This is Kawhi Leonard’s stage. Game four was one of the greatest performances, on one of the biggest stages, of all time. He’s had an incredible playoffs, but 36p-12r-2a-4s-1b-0t on 50/55.6/100 shooting splits is some other kind of wonderful. His two pull-up 3s to start the third quarter was some kind of cold that froze the Warriors in place. With Durant playing, this is another test. After guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference Finals, Leonard hasn’t had a natural matchup in the Finals. He’s split his time between Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, but neither is an elite intiating scorer. Curry is a little too quick for Leonard, whose strength isn’t as important in that matchup. Durant is another test entirely, and Leonard will finally get his playoff chance to guard the best scorer, maybe, in history.
    • From the other perspective, woah, poor Durant. This is setting the stage for him to be derided if he can’t get the job done, ahead of free agency. And he’s a guy who will clearly still be limited, physically, and who hasn’t played much basketball, if at all, for a month. And he’s going to be thrown out onto the court against Kawhi Leonard, potentially the greatest defender in NBA history. What a stage, but there is a lot more for Durant to lose than to gain here.
    • On the other end, who does Durant guard? I would imagine that Thompson will probably remain on Leonard, against whom he’s done a decent job. Curry will probably stay on Green. Does Durant guard Siakam? That’s a tough ask coming back from a calf injury. Lowry is another option, but I seriously doubt the Warriors want Durant run through the pick-and-roll wringer. The Warriors could put Durant on Gasol, who is not the post scorer of yore, but Gasol is an absolute banger. My assumption would be that Durant starts on Siakam, who is his natural matchup, and lets Draymond Green guard Lowry, but it’s tough to say. Siakam would probably run at every opportunity.
      • Furthermore, if Siakam does run at every opportunity, that means Durant would be cross-matched on most possessions anyway. The Warriors like to switch, especially with Durant on the floor, so I’m probably overstating the importance of original matchups. But there’s no natural fit.
  • The possession battle is, as always, a key predictor of success. Especially so because the Warriors are so ridiculously efficient scoring after offensive rebounds and in transition. In game four, Toronto committed only nine turnovers while limiting the Warriors to eight offensive rebounds. The result was that the Dubs combined for 21 points off of turnovers + second-chance points, what I’ll call extra possession points. They averaged 28.8 extra possession points in the regular season and have averaged 32.8 in the playoffs. Toronto holding them to only 21, while scoring 27 extra possession points of their own, is a huge win. If the Raptors could win that battle again in game five, it could really swing the game.
    • With Durant back, repeating this will be difficult for Toronto. “The idea tonight,” said Kerr pre-game, “is let’s get back to who we are.”
  • Refs tonight at James Capers, Jason Phillips, and Ed Malloy.

The Line

  • Raps are -2.5. The over-under is 212.5.

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