The Toronto Raptors played a great second half, allowing them to erase a nine point deficit and defeat the Warriors 83-75 at the Air Canada Center last night. Was it the Raptors defense that halted the Warrior attack? Or were there other factors at play? The HQ's Scott Campsall takes a look at how the opportunistic Raptor defense took advantage of some deficiencies in the Warriors' play that allowed them to pull out the victory.
Heading into Sunday evening's matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors, you might have expected a high scoring affair given Golden State's reputation as a team that likes to get up and down the floor, lead by their dynamic backcourt of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry; however, what you actually got was a game that turned out quite the opposite, with the Toronto Raptors outdueling the Warriors and holding them to their lowest scoring output of the season.
On paper, the 83-75 victory for the Dinos has all the looks of a masterful defensive performance, yet in reality that doesn't quite tell the whole story. While there is no doubt that the Raptors did play great D, particularly in the second half, this isn't the same Golden State Warrior team we have grown accustomed to seeing in past years.
Under the tutelage of new Head Coach--and former Raptor--Mark Jackson, the Golden State Warriors have become much more of a half court oriented team on offense. They have played at a slower pace this year, resulting in less fast break points--dropping from a league-best 18.8 per game last season to 12.3 this season--and less total points per game--a category which the Warriors were 6th in last season with 103.4 per game and now sit 10th in the league with 97 points per game.
When you factor in the absence of Stephen Curry from Golden State's lineup last night, then you are looking at a very average offensive team; and to their credit, this is something the Raptors keyed into and took advantage of.
Despite being undermanned, the Warriors got off to solid start and carried a nine point advantage into the half. David Lee lead the way for the Warriors with 16 first half points, but would muster just 6 in the second half as the Warriors saw their lead slowly dwindle.
Toronto came out of the half with a renewed dedication on the defensive end that saw them clamp down on both David Lee and Monta Ellis; the result of which was just an 11 point third quarter by the Golden State offense and a two point Raptors lead.
The Raptors' third quarter comeback was capped off by a massive alley-oop slam courtesy of DeMar DeRozan, which gave them the lead by two heading into the 4th quarter.
The Dinos continued to build on that third quarter momentum in the fourth, adding to their lead which they would never relinquish.
The Raptors got some great defensive efforts out of Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson, who smothered Monta Ellis and David Lee respectively, as well as Amir Johnson and Ed Davis, who were great on and off the ball in the interior.
As Adam pointed out last night, rebounding was a key category in which the Raptors dominated the Warriors. The Dinos had three double digit rebounders in Johnson, Johnson and Davis which lead to their 51-41 rebounding advantage.
Offensively, the Raps were led by Leandro Barbosa and DeMar DeRozan. Barbosa scorched the Warriors defense for 18 points in 32 minutes, while DeRozan shook off a rough outing against the Grizzlies the other night and bounced back with 25 points on an impressive nine of seventeen shooting. DeMar also added 3 rebounds and 4 assists to complete his solid all around performance.
Stephen Curry's presence on the floor was sorely missed by the Warriors who, without a true point guard on the roster, turned to Monta Ellis and Nate Robinson to run the point for the club--a move which didn't exactly work out for Golden State. Ellis and Robinson shot a combined 10-34, managing just 27 points and 8 assists from that point guard spot.
The Raps have now won 3 of their last 5 and have been competitive in each of those contests. Keeping in mind that they are still without their leading scorer, this Raptor club has been impressive in this last stretch of games and much to the dismay of tanknation, actually looks primed for a good second half of the season.
If the Raptors are going to continue their improved play and pull out a victory against the 3rd place Magic, here are some of the things they are going to need to accomplish:
1) Close out on Shooters: The Magic are the 3rd best three-point shooting team in the league in terms of percentage, and they make the most three-pointers per game in the NBA. Otis Smith has built a capable group of three-point shooters around Dwight Howard, a group that includes JJ Redick, Ryan Anderson, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson.
Given the proficiency with which these guys shoot the ball, the Dinos are going to have to make a concerted effort to provide help, and close out on shooters effectively. In order to slow down the Magic shooters, Dwane Casey may opt to body up Howard with Aaron Gray or Jamaal Magloire in single coverage which would make it easier for the perimeter players to stick with the shooters.
2) Stop Ryan Anderson: This may sound a little strange considering the Magic have Dwight Howard on their team, but stopping Ryan Anderson may be the key to the game for the Raptors. Dwight Howard is freak of nature, and he is going to get his game off one way or another, but if the Raptors are going to come away with the win they are going to have to stop the supporting cast, and that starts with Ryan Anderson.
Anderson has been somewhat of a Raptors killer in his career. Although his scoring average is a modest 11.5 points per game, he is shooting 46 % from beyond the arc in his ten career games against the Raps, playing primary the stretch 4 position--a spot which the Raptors have had trouble guarding in the past.
The solution here may be as simple as going small and allowing James Johnson to guard Anderson, but that will depend on what kind of rotations the Magic decide to go with.
3) Keep DeMar Rolling: DeMar DeRozan has been looking much better offensively of late. He is averaging 18.6 points per game in his last 10 contests and is playing at a level reminiscent of his solid play during the second half of last season.
The problem for DeRozan has been his inability to string together more than 2 or 3 solid offensive games in a row, something that will surely be a challenge again tomorrow night against the Magic.
The fact of the matter is that the Raptors are a much better team when DeRozan scores and with Andrea Bargnani still out of the lineup, he is going to be counted on to put the ball in the basket on a consistent basis. If he fails to do so, his future with the organization will continue to be questioned.