Apologies for the late preview today. We had some scheduling difficulties but hey, we're off and running now.
In a few hours the Toronto Raptors face the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 of their first round NBA playoff series, the Dinos down two games to one. The Raps made a valiant comeback in Game 3 on Friday night, but it was too little, too late, and now the Raps face a must-win game to avoid going down 3 to 1 in the series, and heading back to Toronto with their backs firmly pressed against the wall.
To avoid such a situation?
Here are our three keys:
1) Wing play/rotations. I've grouped these two together as Dwane Casey needs to not only get something of value from his trio of Terrence Ross, John Salmons and Landry Fields, but he must use them correctly depending on how each is performing. That means a quick hook for Ross if he's struggling early (I'm not yet in favour of altogether replacing him in the starting lineup), and same goes for Salmons if he's ineffective as a replacement. (I'd prefer not to see Salmons at all but I get it. Fields basically refuses to shoot and Ross has been even worse.)
Getting a solid outing from Ross is especially key. As John Schuhmann of NBA.com noted this morning, the Raptors defense is allowing a ridiculous 117 points per 100 possessions with Ross on the floor so he simply needs to be better at both ends. It's not an easy task though considering Ross is used to checking the smaller, more fleet-footed guards of the league, whereas Johnson and Pierce overpower Terrence with size and strength, and still have an arsenal of jab steps and fakes to keep him off balance.
So if Ross struggles, what are the options here? Kyle Lowry/Greivis Vasquez combination. They're not the best defensive duo together, but their offense makes up for a chunk of the former, and is a vast improvement over Ross and Lowry at this point.
Speaking of which...
2) Get back to having Lowry and Vasquez run the show. I know DeMar DeRozan is an important part of his club's offence. I know he feels like he needs to carry the club. But Toronto simply can't have another game this series where he's monopolizing the offense with iso-play, and taking 22 shots versus nine for anyone else.
That type of offence plays directly into the Nets' hands, and completely takes away one of Toronto's key strengths, their pick-and-roll game with their very mobile bigs like Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. It was when Toronto returned to this type of play late in the fourth quarter of Game 3 that the Dinos made their run, and they've got to continue to execute in this fashion if they want to try and win the series.
DeMar DeRozan nailed two hero shots to seal a must-win Game 2 for the Drakes, but they were brutally tough. All the numbers through two games suggest the Raps are better off running pick-and-rolls instead of forcing isolations and pin-downs with DeRozan. One reason: Putting Brooklyn's lone big in a pick-and-roll leaves zero rim protection down low, and Kyle Lowry was just plowing through (defenders).
DeRozan isn't on Lowry's level as a pick-and-roll guy, but he's gotten better, and more of this stuff might unshackle Terrence Ross's outside shooting.
That excerpt was from Zach Lowe's recent playoff piece from Grantland, and it appeared before Game 3 was played. It's the type of stuff we've been harping on all season and if you read it now, it's prophetic as indeed, the Raptors did the opposite of what he mentions, and the club now finds itself in a 2 - 1 hole in the series.
Time to get back to playing pick-and-roll basketball with Lowry and Vasquez controlling the show.
3) Cut down the turnovers. This one is an obvious key, and has been all series. If the Raptors can just cut back on their unforced turnovers, we might even be talking about a 3-0 series lead for Toronto.
Maybe that's going a bit too far but the turnover issue is a big one, and as I noted before the last game, the bulk of these now are of the unforced variety; moving pivot foots, lazy passes, rushed decisions in traffic, just sloppy stuff that give the Nets a lot more kicks at the can than they should have.
Luckily Brooklyn hasn't capitalized on as many of the second-chance opportunities as they could have, but they had 16 points off 19 turnovers on Friday night, so...yeah.