D.J. Augustin’s 25-point Game 1 performance against the Toronto Raptors felt like a distant memory.
The Magic point guard not only had a hot hand but the Raptors defense let him have too much space at the perimeter to make those shots.
For reference, here is the Magic shot chart from Game 1:
Orlando’s success from beyond the arc changed when Raptors head coach Nick Nurse made a defensive adjustment. Protect the perimeter and block the passing and shooting lanes.
Game 4 demonstrated a complete Raptors defensive victory. Their 107-85 win over the Magic not only gave Toronto a 3-1 series lead heading back home but also showed their defensive ferocity as a team.
The Magic’s shooting chart for Game 4 looks a lot different:
“In Games 2, 3, and 4 we’ve gone out there and guarded,” Nurse said after the game. “That is who we need to become every minute of every game.”
The Raptors finished the 2018-19 regular season ranked fifth in the NBA in defensive rating (106.8). While it was clear that this team possessed an elite defense, it needed to show it in the playoffs.
The size of the Raptors in the post was too much for the Magic offense to handle. It’s easy when Nurse can roll out Marc Gasol as a starter, followed by Serge Ibaka off the bench. Their physicality allowed the pair to block passing and shooting lanes in the paint while grabbing loose balls on the glass. Ibaka and Gasol combined for 14 rebounds, preventing the Magic players from having success in the paint.
It’s not just the size of the Raptors big men that translates to an effective defense. When the five players on the floor are communicating and using their feet, the defense is in sync.
— SportsCentre (@SportsCentre) April 22, 2019
From the opening tip of Game 4, the Raptors starting five guarded the Magic players with intensity. In the first two minutes, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard combined for three steals.
Forcing the Magic to create turnovers allowed the Raptors to get out in transition, where they can dictate the pace and scoring on offense. No better iteration of the tight defense than in the third quarter, when Danny Green forced a steal on Magic small forward Evan Fournier. This led to Green passing to Lowry in transition, who found Leonard inside for the slam dunk.
The lock-down Raptors defense also generated a plethora of blocks. From Ibaka denying Aaron Gordon in the post late in the first quarter to Gasol blocking Augustin’s three-point attempt with 2:12 remaining in the second, it highlighted the relentless defensive intensity the Raptors brought on the Magic leading scorers.
“Marc is really good inside and so is Serge,” Nurse said. “It’s a tough proposition, two really good defensive centers for the whole 48 minutes.”
The history books will show that the Raptors forced 17 Magic turnovers, holding the team to 42 percent shooting from the field and 21.2 percent from three.
Game 4 showed what the Raptors can be as a cohesive defensive unit, particularly against opposing lineups with length.
The squad came a long way in just three games from the team that allowed Augustin to convert a game-winning three to start the series. Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s unfortunately that we couldn’t use betting companies to convert knowledge into cash for this one. Next one, though.
**NOTE: Game 5 of the Raptors/Magic series will reair Tuesday, March 24th on Sportsnet at 8pm EST**