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Limiting Kemba and Reaping the Rewards

Kemba Walker's been a danger on the ball. Game 4 was a different story as the Raptors shut down his ability to hunt for offense.

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Of the many dangerous moments the Raptors have faced in this series, many have featured Kemba Walker on the ball. In Game 4 they suppressed his shot totals, and his ability to hunt for his own offense.

No more relying on missing easy looks like in Game 2. We’re talking real, affecting defense. So, how did the Raptors dissuade Walker from hoisting often, and most importantly, from doing so near the rim? How did they muffle the man who eviscerated them in the clutch in Game 2, and nearly did the same in Game 3?

 

After the Raptors allowed Walker to shake loose for 6/8 shooting in the fourth quarters of Games 2 and 3, they switched up. The Raptors identified the type of shots they could give up, and more importantly, who was going to shoot it. The answer: above-the-break threes, and preferably Jaylen Brown taking them.

Walker makes a great read on Siakam and splits the screens for a 1-on-1 downhill vs. Gasol. Great contest from Gasol, but a better finish from Walker. This was commonplace in the first 3 games, and the Raptors worked hard to eliminate the gaps he likes to punch through later on. 

You can read Michael Pina’s breakdown of just how potent Kemba’s double screen actions are here, but you can also appreciate how the Raptors sell out to stop it. Brown’s poor shooting and decision making all game long enabled the Raptors to pick on him late. They load up on the strong side of Kemba’s attack, he gives the ball up to Tatum, and he surveys the floor. Siakam tags Theis super aggressively on the roll, and the only place for the ball to go is to Brown. Which is exactly where the Raptors want the possession to end. 

And here 3 guys step up towards Walker with length. The obvious pass out of it is Brown who’s sitting in Walker’s line of sight, and he hoists up a brick. Obviously, Walker could have probed a bit further and *maybe* lobbed to Theis on the run, but that’s the benefit of presenting players with aggressive defensive looks – they don’t always respond with the best decisions. Even after they grab the offensive board (one of the best ways to score) Lowry collapses off of Brown to help on Walker, and Brown lays another brick. 

One of Nurse’s best in game adjustments in some time, and it bore fruit immediately. Absolutely genius to defend not just with the purpose of getting the ball out of Walker’s hands and neutering one of the Celtics most potent plays, but also with the express purpose of funnelling the ball to Brown, who was struggling mightily. It’s this in game recognition that becomes the lifeblood of the Raptors defense. A unit that can identify things on the fly and apply the fix moments later.

Taking a play that the Celtics ran over 8 times a game in the regular season (and by the looks of it more often in the playoffs) and nipping it in the butt is exactly what the playoffs are for. What do they like to do on the court? Can we take it away? What are we sacrificing? Okay, let’s sacrifice that.

The Raptors were aggressive in other areas, too. It wasn’t just the double screens, but the high pick n’ roll that the Raptors were far more likely to press Walker on. In a game where the Celtics were 7/35 from downtown, the Raptors helped off the corners liberally and chased over the top, squishing Walker into the middle. In this particular game, the middle is exactly where you want Walker, and the Raptors loved watching Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye, Brown, and Marcus Smart unloading from downtown. The Raptors range was vast when it came to closeouts, Siakam put on the cape, in particular. For Game 4, that was enough. This is also another reason why Siakam’s offensive struggles are easy to overlook at times. His range defensively adds a lot to the Raptors versatility on that end.

The Celtics will no doubt be cognizant of this going forward – things go stale quick in the postseason – and Walker will be a bit quicker in identifying the best option, whether that’s a newly potent Brown, or harder rim runs. Maybe the Celtics will bring more ball handlers above the break to attack the Raptors defense from there instead of the corners. They like to send the screeners off for flair screens for their ball handlers after the initial action – they have options, and at the very least they have the Raptors defense in motion. However (comma) the Raptors list of defensive adjustments grows longer, and that can’t be anything but encouraging. Especially since the series has worked itself into a best of 3.

Just a heads up, Vivek Jacob has a breakdown on Serge Ibaka’s game 4 coming at 1pm EST, so if you’re interested in that, come back later and give it a read.

Have a blessed day.

 

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