First up, here’s Es with the three points:
Basketball is a game of runs, they say. Especially in today’s pace-and-space game, with the prevalence of 3-point shots, significant runs, in any lob-sided game, are inevitable. And so, when the Brooklyn Nets outscored the Raptors 35-22 in the third quarter of Game 1 of their playoff series on Monday afternoon, after the Raptors trounced the Nets by 22 points in the first two quarters, I (like most Raptors fans probably) really wasn’t worried.
In playoffs of years past for the the Raptors, perhaps the Nets comeback effort in the second half may have seemed more significant than what it seemed like in Game 1 this time around. Because this time around, it felt like nothing; like an annoying bug that could be swatted by a giant at any time. And as the rest of the game showed, when the Raptors turned it on, the Nets simply couldn’t respond.
With that, we enter Game 2. Now, let’s not pretend like the Nets aren’t at all capable of beating the Raptors in any given game. Brooklyn will no doubt be coming into the game with some added motivation from their defeat in Game 1. And an afternoon game can sometimes be a trap for a favoured team. But in a pure basketball sense, assuming both teams are healthy and engaged, the Raptors have the edge in basically every conceivable way.
Nick Nurse will likely stick to a similar starting lineup this afternoon as Game 1 – a lineup that basically dominated both ends of the floor in the first quarter. And for the game, the lineup had a net rating of +9.4 (point differential per 100-possessions). Maybe Fred VanVleet doesn’t go 8 for 10 from beyond the arc again – but, maybe he does stay hot to an extent? We certainly saw Fred remaining hot for extended stretches during the playoffs last year, right? The guy shot better than 47% from beyond the arc throughout the conference finals and NBA finals last year. And unless the Nets decide to trap Fred – leaving guys like Lowry or Pascal unattended – he’ll be able to generate the sorts of looks he likes and probably shoot a pretty good percentage.
And even in case if Fred doesn’t go off, the Raptors might be able to count on a better night from either Pascal (who had 18 points in Game 1, but shot at a pretty bad clip) or even Kyle Lowry (who had an all-round great game on both ends nonetheless and was a +26, but still could have had a better shooting game). The reality is that from the top down, these shorthanded Nets, who are missing nearly half their roster, can’t match up against the Raptors. The Raptors have the the inside and outside edge, and can also overwhelm the Nets on the defensive end. While the Nets’ primary offensive option Caris LeVert was mostly held in check in terms of his shooting efficiency in Game 1, even if he does get going in Game 2, Nick Nurse always has the option of putting a bigger defender like OG or Pascal on him, which would it make it seriously difficult on LeVert, who’s primarily an off-the-dribble guy, to be effective.
Other than LeVert, the Nets certainly have capable offensive options with shooters like Joe Harris, Garrett Temple and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. And if there’s one area in which the Nets might be able to make up some of their shortcomings, it would be from beyond the arc, where they attempted the fourth most three pointers in the league during the regular season. i.e. they’ll have to create variance in potential outcomes by shooting long-distance shots. But with some of their best shooters in Irving, Durant, Dinwiddie, and Taurean Price all not playing, the Nets just won’t have the shooting efficiency they’ll need.
Furthermore, nobody on the Nets is the type explosive offensive talent that gives the Raptors any sort of trouble. Whether it’s LeVert, Harris, Temple, or TLC, their games rely on a functional offensive system where they can be contributors – it’s just way too much to ask of them. And the Raptors have more than the requisite level of defensive potency to stop any sort of action the Nets would have to execute in order to generate quality shots – when they’re dialed in defensively, Toronto’s ability to rotate and be in-sync defensively is simply the best in the league.
While this series may not call for the level of game-planning that Nick Nurse and the coaching staff will have to face later in the playoffs, the Raptors should have a few tactical objectives this afternoon beyond just winning the game, and limiting the starters’ minutes while doing so.
The first objective is pretty obvious – that is to get Pascal going, specifically in the mid-range. It’s well documented that Pascal’s bubble experience so far has been, well….not amazing. He’s shooting under 40% from the field, and doesn’t seem to able to get his spots as easily, whether it’s via his patented spin move in the post, or via the mid-range, which has gone missing so far from his game. Another area he’ll need to get better at is getting to the line – he’s only shooting 4 free throws a game since the re-start. So, if Fred or Kyle or anyone else is hot, keep ‘em going of course, but getting Pascal a few more shots (with the objective of establishing a varied offensive attack through him) would be a beneficial strategy for the long-run, when the Raptors will face stingier defenses and situations where late-clock and late-game shot making will be crucial.
The second objective for the Raptors should be to work on their half-court offense, and specifically their 2-point scoring efficiency (is that even possible at this point?). Hiding amongst the gaudy offensive stats the Raptors put up in Game 1 is the fact that less than 30% of their points came from 2-point field goals (and in the 8 seeding games, that number was about 40%). Even in today’s 3-point-focused league, the average (also true for the elite teams) is about 50%. This shows that the Raptors have clearly been very reliant on their 3-point stroke as well as their overall ability to draw shooting fouls, relatively speaking. But as the playoffs start to present more formidable opponents (who will defend the 3 better and will foul less), the Raptors’ mid-range and 2-point scoring ability will be essential – to some extent, this burden will be on Pascal (as described above), but guys like OG, Norm and Terence Davis (as slashers) will be critical as well. We saw flashes of brilliance from OG in Game 1 off a dirty spin move that he looked like he borrowed from Pascal – can he get this sort of an in-between game going consistently, though? That’s the question – and if he does, the Raptors can truly thrive. The more the Raptors can consistently get a varied offense in the mid-range and field goals close to the basket, the better off they’ll be in the long-run. For now though, let’s just hope the Raptors don’t mess around and just finish this game so we get a sweep asap.
Tip-off: 1:30 pm EST
Radio: TSN 1050
PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, Paul Watson
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Dewan Hernandez
- Patrick McCaw (knee) – day-to-day
- Oshae Brissett (knee) – out indefinitely
PG: Caris LeVert, Chris Chiozza
SG: Garrett Temple, Tyler Johnson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
SF: Joe Harris, Justin Anderson
PF: Rodions Kurucs, Lance Thomas
C: Jarrett Allen
- Jamal Crawford – (hamstring) – out indefinitely
- Michael Beasley, Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant – not in the bubble currently