TORONTO – At film session the day after his late-night flight home from Orlando early Monday morning, Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse finished by screening one final clip – a clip that, in his eyes, was most representative of the The growth of the team over the series
Kyle Lowry dribbles left courtesy of a screen from Serge Ibaka from the Raptors’ Game 4 victory. When Lowry attacks the paint, he kicks the ball to a wide-open Norman Powell behind the weak side – only Terrence Ross leaps into the air and snatches the pass with his left hand.
The Magic are off to the races, but if you freeze the frame, something interesting reveals itself. Outside of Ross, who is pushing the ball up the floor, the three figures running with the greatest resolve and stride are Lowry, Ibaka and Fred VanVleet, who is leading the pack. By the time Ross crosses half court, it’s a 1
-on-4 break, with Powell sprinting into view, followed by Kawhi Leonard.
“We were up 19 with 5:46 to go, but we didn’t give them anything, “Nurse says. “This one clip showed how our mindset has changed. Five guys flying in, and they had to pull it out. I said,” There’s no better way to impose your will. ” [Ross] steals it and is thinking dunk, and all of the sudden he has nothing. “
The Raptors have won four straight playoff games, their longest playoff win streak in franchise history. Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images
After dropping the game in the series, the Raptors were attacked by their defensive effort, a rage that fueled a four-game rally – capped by the clincher in Game 5 on Tuesday, at 115-96 win – in which they decimated the Orlando Magic with their defense. Toronto moves on to Philadelphia in the conference semifinals.
Though the Magic came into the postseason as a below-average offensive squad, the Raptors assembled a defensive clinic in their first-round series win. The lockdown of the 7-seed highlighted in a strong reality that was occasionally lost in a season dominated by discussion of Leonard’s load-management program, his pending free agency, the maturation of Pascal Siakam and the midseason acquisition of Marc Gasol.
The Raptors loaded defensively.
The team sports two former defensive players of the year in Leonard and Gasol, a three-time first-team NBA All-Defense winner in Ibaka, an All-Defense second team in Danny Green, a point guard in Lowry who consistently ranks near the top of the league defensively at his most advanced defensive metrics (his backup of split rates highly, too), and Siakam, who might have been better than all of them this season.
Even the best personnel needs to deploy quality schemes, because NBA offenses are a handful. What emerged in the series win over Orlando is a unit that operates on well-honed principles. It starts at the top of the floor where those assigned to the ball really guard the ball. Even when it was Michael Carter-Williams, a guy against whom most NBA defenders will happily run under screens on the pick-and-roll, Raptors defenders fought over him. If regular-season coverage calls are unavailable, don’t expect them to be off the bench when they encounter the Sixers this weekend – likely to be engaged at the point of attack. Augustin in Game 1, the Raptors shut down the Magic’s pick-and-roll game with brute force. After that loss, Toronto yielded a 0.71 points per direct pick – best in the playoff field. They are built in Augustin, with the big man playing up, smothering the action. The Raptors will mix up coverages, with no fear of having guards like Lowry switching into the post, happy to entertain mismatch basketball if the opposing offense wants to disrupt its flow.
“After Game 1, we kind or understood what kind of level defensively we need to play, “Gasol said.” In every game, I think we improved in different areas – and we kept improving. That’s a great sign. “Related
Even though they feature strong, versatile one-on-one defenders all over the floor, the Raptors help willingly, and with great alacrity. This looks like a vintage-era San Antonio outfit that’s decisive about the help it offers, and timely and precise in its recovery. Leonard has long been in the game announcing his omnipresence with authority on defense, and at the sound of the postseason starting gun, he reverted to his exquisite form. He has an ability to both account for his man on the wing, and provide, as a helper, the key disruption of a possession – or vice versa.
Willing help can often yield available 3-pointers to opponents, and the Magic took a ton of them in the five-game series. Fortunately for Toronto, frequency was not matched with accuracy. Against a Sixers team that ranked eighth in 3-point percentage this season, the Raptors might need to be more selective in their help. JJ Redick will be his defender ragged, and Joel Embiid will not succumb to being pushed out of the post in the less Nikola Vucevic was at Gasol.
If there are threats, the Raptors will attend to them – blasting Terrence Ross on the catch or double-teaming Vucevic if Gasol isn’t defending the post. Rotations aren’t ideal, but there is so much confidence in the collective smarts of the defense that these are Toronto’s incur. Such is the luxury of a veteran-charged roster with no weak links.
After his final news conference, Clifford likened the Raptors’ defense to a skilled NFL secondary that can account for individual matchups and open space, citing Leonard and Gasol in particular. It was unlikely that it was unlikely to have been doubled on cuts: “I’m sure that he didn’t like that much.” Indeed, Toronto presents an unlikely brand of defense if you’re a big man trying to carve out space to operate. More than Vucevic, but more appreciative to defenders cramping his style.
The Raptors have endured as much upheaval over the past year as any team in the NBA playoff field – the departure of a franchise star, and new head coach, three new starters and a fourth with a skill set that’s unrecognizable from a year ago. Along the way, that cataclysmic change has produced anxiety, some hurt feelings, massive expectations and, if it has settled, a defense that should concern any opposing offense that has multiple options and contingencies.
At their best, fits Raptors teams overachieved defensively. This one doesn’t need to.