Raptors May Need to Pick Up Pace in Playoff Series vs Nets

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

If the Toronto Raptors really want to start treating the Brooklyn Nets like dinosaurs, they need to get their Flintstones feet on...

Landry Fields, you're up next.

Reports coming from Toronto Raptors' practice today indicate that Landry Fields may be brought out of cryogenesis suspension for some guest appearances tomorrow night guarding Paul Pierce.  The Raptors struggled in this regard down the stretch on Saturday as Pierce tore off nine straight points to finish the Dinos, so it sounds like Raptors' head coach Dwane Casey might be willing to look at some new options.

Apparently Greivis Vasquez let the Fields news slip to reporters, and despite limited playing time this season due to injury, it's not a stretch to see Fields, a versatile defender, out there for stretches tomorrow evening.

But will it help?

The funny thing is that I thought Patrick Patterson did a great job on Pierce for the bulk of his minutes, and before that nine-point stretch, Pierce was having a pretty ugly shooting day.  Fields on paper seems like a more mobile defensive option than Patterson or Amir Johnson (especially since Amir's clearly not 100%) and certainly would seem to be an improvement on the sieve that is John Salmons.  (Salmons was 0 for 1 from the field in 13 minutes but more importantly, a -8 in terms of +/- rating.  The rest of the bench all had "plus" marks.)

Offensively though Fields could be a disaster.  He's shooting 40 per cent from the field this season, including 0 of 5 from long-range, and has a lovely PER mark of 8.6.

While he may contest Pierce in a more effective manner than Patterson, he's certainly not going to be spreading the court with his shooting (something Patterson does very well) and it might be akin to Toronto borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.

However Fields is one of the team's better facilitators, and because of this, he may help on offense even if he's not taking shots.  This might be something Casey is banking on.

One of the major issues on Saturday was Toronto's offence devolving into one-on-five play and contested jump shots because the ball was sticking too much, a good part of this due to Brooklyn's stout defense.  Fields may be able to do some creating from his position so that players like DeMar DeRozan aren't thrust into that role tomorrow night. In Game 1, the Nets threw two, sometimes three guys at DeRozan to prevent him from operating off screens and pin-downs and making him make quick decisions with the ball.  That's never been DeRozan's forte, and as a result, shots were forced and bad passes were thrown on many an occasion.

The Nets scored 17 points off of 19 Toronto turnovers, one of the big reasons they were able to get the win, despite shooting only 4 for 24 from three-point range.

One of the ways Toronto can cut down the turnovers is to get into their offensive sets quicker and get out in transition. A lot of the Raps' turnover issues came when they were attempting to execute their halfcourt offense against a pre-set Brooklyn D.  The Raptors just don't have the personnel to effectively create off the bounce (save Kyle Lowry) and if it looked at times like Toronto was forcing things in order to create scoring opportunities, it's because they were.

It should be noted however that playing at a faster pace is not something Toronto is accustomed to doing.  For all of Lowry's fast-break forays into defenders, and Terrence Ross' open-court dunks, the Dinos last year played at one of the league's slowest paces, averaging 94.4 possessions per game.  Brooklyn averaged even fewer, 93.7 (sixth slowest pace in the league) and in Game 1 put their stamp on the series by dictating pace, and ensuring the game was played to their strengths.

The clubs had 93.4 possessions in Game 1 per NBA.com, right around Brooklyn's average in the regular season, and if this "stamp" is continually imposed, this series might be over in three more games.  The halfcourt mulch thrown at Toronto negates many of the club's strengths, and relegates DeRozan to more of a bystander than focal point offensively. If DeRozan can't attack the rim or get shots in rhythm, a lot of his value as a player is negated.

So how can the Raps speed things up?

The Fields idea is a start, but I'd also like to see more of the Kyle Lowry/Greivis Vasquez backcourt.  The duo did a good job playing off of each other and gave the Nets some trouble defensively.  In fact the line-up of Lowry/Vasquez/DeRozan/Patterson and Chuck Hayes was +3 on the day in about six minutes of action, the second-best mark for a Raptors quintet on Saturday according to NBA.com.  I'm not sure Toronto needs to use this lineup exactly, but some combination of Lowry/Vasquez, with Patterson acting as the stretch 4, should be given a lot more playing time, and should facilitate the faster pace/quicker decisions with the basketball that are likely needed.

(Also, and on a related note, much less John Salmons please!  Most of the lineup combinations with him involved were pretty bad in terms of +/- according to NBA.com, including the brutal Salmons/Lowry/DeRozan/Amir Johnson/Jonas Valanciunas five-some that finished with a -11 mark.  Salmons was forced into action thanks to early foul trouble by Terrence Ross, but he proved incapable of stopping Joe Johnson on defence, or helping at the other end of the court either.)

Another personnel note regarding pace, the Amir Johnson/Patrick Patterson dilemma.  I'm guessing Casey tries Amir again to start tomorrow night's game, but if he isn't effective right off the bat, it's likely going to result in a heavy doses of P-Squared.  While I'm fine with that for many of the reasons mentioned above, the Raptors could really use Johnson's ability to run the floor to help with their transition game.  Patterson is no slug, but there's no question a healthy Amir flying up and down the court or trailing plays to get easy put-backs would be preferred.

Also regarding Johnson, if this series does get stuck in the halfcourt muck, the Dinos could really use his offensive rebounding abilities.  Toronto only had one more offensive rebound than the Nets on Saturday, and one way to negate Brooklyn's halfcourt D is to get easy second-chance opportunities.  Toronto was one of the better clubs in the league this year at doing that, but in Game 1 both clubs had pretty much played to a draw in that category.

Finally, outside of personnel moves, DeMar DeRozan needs to make quicker decisions with the basketball, something NBA.com's John Schuhmann wrote about at length here. Whether it's moving the ball, attacking the rim, or getting to his spots on the court, DD can't get caught holding onto the ball too long tomorrow night if he wants to help speed up his team's attack.

DeRozan is a rarity in the NBA because of his solid mid-range game but the Nets' defensive tactics completely took that away.  As proof, the Raptors as a team were 1 of 13 on shots between 5 and 14 feet in Game 1, an area DeRozan usually does a good chunk of his offensive damage.

DeRozan has promised to be more aggressive tomorrow night but he's going to need some help.

And it may come from Dwane Casey instructing his troops to step on the gas pedal.

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