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3 in the Key - Raptors vs Spurs Gameday Preview: Trying to Take Down Another Giant

The Toronto Raptors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. So the San Antonio Spurs tonight should be easy no?


"Ok so the Toronto Raptors weren't going to beat the Dallas Mavericks.

Wait...well, they did, but JUST BARELY.  

No way they beat the best team in the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder, IN OKC right?  RIGHT?"

Yeah, that was pretty much me the past few days and well...we all know how things turned out.

So I'm not even sure what to say regarding tonight's matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs clocked the Dinos last time these clubs met but Toronto was also playing in the immediate wake of the Rudy Gay trade.  Since then the Raps have looked like a pretty different team and the Spurs are coming off a loss to the Thunder, yes the same Thunder Toronto just vanquished last night.

Again, I'm scratching my head a bit here.

My gut tells me the Spurs, who run like a well-oiled machine, will bounce back from their recent loss to OKC and dole out a loss to the Raptors.  But Toronto's proven to be a tough foe, one that has been unusually resilient of late so perhaps we see a Raps team heading to New York post-Christmas on a serious road roll.

And if that happens, I'm guessing a lot of folks will be abandoning their "tank" mantra for playoff pastures.

How does Toronto do this?  Well instead of looking at how the Raps might lose this one, or three developmental keys, I'm in a Christmas mood and ready to yes, look at three keys for a Toronto victory tonight.

1)  Lock in on D. The Raptors just held the league's sixth-most efficient offense to under 38 per cent shooting, and they'll get an equal test tonight.  The Spurs enter this contest a shade below OKC, sitting in seventh in this realm, so the Raps need to bring their A-game defensively again this evening.  The Spurs excel in moving that basketball (third-best club in the league in terms of assist ratio) and knocking down the open looks from long-range that said movement creates. (Nearly a league-best 40 per cent from long range.)  Toronto needs to dig in and disrupt the SA flow as much as possible.

2)  Start strong. The Spurs just keep coming at you.  We've discussed their offensive firepower but beyond that, the club is incredibly deep and playing at the tenth-fastest pace in the league, just seems to send drones of attacks at you over the course of 48 minutes.  We saw this last time the Raps faced off against the Spurs as Toronto started ok, but as the game went on, San Antonio just proved to be too much and the fourth quarter was essentially "wave the white flag" time.  Therefore it's imperative the club doesn't get into a hole early, something they still tend to do at times.  Last night against the Thunder that was not the case and it paid big dividends later in the match.

3) Play inside and out. For Toronto, one of the big pieces of their recent success has obviously been offensive execution.  Sure, the D has been solid as well, especially last night as noted, but offensively when the club is feeding Jonas Valanciunas inside often, and then getting into motion around him it's made all the difference.  Suddenly Terrence Ross is spreading the opponent defense out, Kyle Lowry is attacking and kicking, and DeMar DeRozan is picking things apart with his mid-range game in addition to his ability to attack the hoop.  It's a much more balanced approach and if a shot goes awry, human pogo stick Amir Johnson is often there to clean things up.  Toronto's Offensive Rebounding Rate of 27.9 is seventh best in the league making the club's offense even more deadly.  Tonight to get that anti-tank W, the club needs to ensure they're moving the ball inside and out.

And hey, if that happens, combined with the other two keys above...well...who knows?