Monday night sucked. The result sucked, Kevin Durant’s injury sucked, the crowd’s reaction sucked, the lack of energy from then on out sucked, and the late game choke job most definitely sucked. Over the past two days, everyone is keenly aware of the totality of suckage that occured during Game 5.
It’s hard to zoom out as a viewer once you are firmly immersed in the spectacle of a game. Each play feels like a life or death scenario at this stage. But, the Toronto Raptors are still firmly in the driver’s seat despite their missed opportunity on Monday. That’s the great thing about a 3-1 lead is that you get another two kicks at the can!
With that being said, let’s get to some more fun stuff. This will stick to what actually happens on the court because: a) I have no inside medical opinions on the injury front, and b) I am not nearly qualified to analyze the tribalistic nature of sports fandom nor the herd mentality and am frankly more interested in understanding why Pascal Siakam sat for the final nine minutes of the game. Hopefully, this can help bring a focus back to basketball, because basketball is awesome. So, what are the biggest points heading into Game 6?
Boogie’s defensive liabilities
DeMarcus Cousins had the look of a man that was not going to need to take a shower after the game. After two disappointing performances at home, Steve Kerr and the rest of the basketball viewing population deemed that he didn’t look up to snuff. However, the Durant and Looney injury debacles thrust him into action and he provided an immediate offensive spark. The juicy 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting pop out on the box score, but his four defensive fouls paint a more accurate picture of Cousins impact on this series. He remains an utter no-show defensively against Toronto.
Cousins’ legs seem to part ways with him once his minutes load begins to hover around the 20 minute mark. This is dangerous territory for the Warriors. If I’m Nick Nurse I am demanding that Kyle Lowry or Kawhi Leonard relentlessly attack Cousins in the fourth quarter.
Keep on rolling!
Not only did Toronto find success in the pick-and-roll against Cousins, they have been very productive the past two games by opening proceedings with Marc Gasol rolling to the rim aggressively. In doing this, it makes the Leonard-Gasol pick-and-roll less rote and predictable which is essential against a Warriors team that been equally as varied in their defensive coverages.
In the clip below, when Draymond Green showed at the free throw line to prevent Kawhi Leonard from getting into the paint, Gasol’s dive inside gave him great position in the low block and left Green unable to recover with his textbook bait-and-switch one on two defensive savvy.
In the cases where Golden State did switch the screen, Gasol maintained a strong inside position on his new defender which gave him massive separation as he made his way to the rim.
The Raptors closed Game 4 and opened Game 5 with a diverse pick-and-roll game with both Ibaka and Gasol. They have to get back to that level of execution to closeout on the road, especially given how well Ibaka in his centre minutes over the past two games.
Lowry’s foul trouble has a ripple effect
As has been covered on this site over the past few years, Kyle Lowry is the plus-minus king. The team is just discernibly worse without him on the floor. This makes it all the more frustrating when he falls into the foul trouble trap. Lowry’s 28 minute foulout in Game 2 derailed Toronto’s chances of winning. Likewise, his foulout in Game 3 of the Milwaukee series could have put the Raptors on the brink of elimination if not for Leonard’s one-legged heroics.
Even in Game 5 — one in which which he didn’t accrue six fouls — the subsequent rotations Nurse was forced to implement because of his two early fouls had a small, but important, impact on the night. Lowry typically runs the entire first quarter, however he was replaced by Green with just over two minutes remaining and the Raptors went minus-3 in those minutes. The same thing occurred in the second quarter; after Toronto grinded their way back, Lowry picked up his third foul and sat the rest of the quarter. The Raptors went minus-3 in that minute of play with McCaw in his place.
Side note – why did Nurse decide to go with McCaw there? It’s unreasonable to expect a player to perform that cold. VanVleet had three fouls, but surely Powell can do 95 per cent of the defensive job McCaw can and actually has a few minutes of gametime under his belt.
These moments are miniscule but the margin for error is next to none if you want to win a championship.
Toronto also has to crush Golden State during transitional minutes. They are the deeper team, but couldn’t make the Warriors pay with Stephen Curry and Green off of the floor. It is tough tying the Thompson-Cousins-Cook-Bell-Livingston lineup for the opening two and a half minutes of the fourth quarter.
Where did Pascal go?
This really wasn’t a good time for Pascal Siakam to lay an egg. Other than his blow-by on Durant on an isolation possession, there wasn’t much to celebrate. The worst part was Siakam’s three-point shooting, an area that has waned during the postseason. It is noticeable when Siakam does not have confident in his outside shot; there is a moment of hesitation, his feet aren’t square to the hoop, and the release is flat.
However, in other games Siakam has used different areas, be it in transition, using his defensive versatility, or hustle plays, to contribute to winning. In Game 5 everything just felt amiss. On Curry’s first triple Siakam was in no man’s land, simultaneously failing to close his shooting space while not guarding the rolling option in Green. Siakam had another lackadaisical defensive effort in the opening exchanges allowing Green to blow by him towards the paint. Siakam’s inability to even pressure Jordan Bell on an iso possession signified the void of energy that encapsulated his night:
There is much debate over Nurse’s decision to sit Siakam for the final nine minutes of the game. Nurse likely wanted more shooting on the floor with Powell, and then Green, theoretically providing that spacing despite going a collective 0-for-5 from deep. Still, it just felt weird without Siakam on the floor in those crucial minutes. Time and again, his effervescent energy has sprung the team to life in the biggest of moments. Sometimes a guy just doesn’t have it, and this may have been the case for Siakam even if he did close out the game.
Regression to the shooting mean
The Raptors have had a few shooting clunkers over the postseason and Game 5 was up there for the worst of the lot. Toronto shot a woeful 25.8 per cent from deep, but even more shocking was the eye-watering 9.1 per cent from either corner which is the easiest shot from behind the arc. During the regular season Toronto averaged 42.1 per cent from corner threes which was fourth best in the league, per Cleaning the Glass.
Although regression is not guaranteed, especially with such a small sample size, it’s hard to envision another shooting display that poor. Golden State have been subpar defensively and don’t possess the same length as the Raptors’ previous opponents to cause added stress on jump shots. On the flip side, the Warriors 20-for-42 shooting night actually felt very sustainable if Toronto continue to play with that lackluster defensive intensity. The Durant 3-for-3 addition may skew things a bit, but Thompson and Curry nailed their shots and were offered far too much space to do so.
Final fun fact: Whichever team has finished with a higher offensive rebounding percentage has gone on to lose the game. I was originally pleased to see that the Raptors upped their offensive rebounding rate to 35.3 per cent, but maybe it is a bad omen!
We are blessed to get to watch a monumental Game 6 against the two-time defending champs in their final game at the Oracle. Let’s continue to enjoy the awesomeness that has played out on the court.