It’s almost over. Toronto’s twisted and cruel back-to-back against last season’s NBA finalists wraps up tonight as the Raptors host the Warriors, Kevin Durant and all.
I’ve already buried the lead. In addition to it being against the UberWarriors, and being an nationally televised game on ESPN, tonight marks the fourth edition of a grand annual tradition.
It’s Drake Night. Don’t worry, I won’t put you through the same hell as I did with last year’s preview.
There’s potential for awkwardness, at least on Golden State’s end. If there were any question as to whether or not the Warriors one-night stand with the global ambassador earlier this month was something more meaningful, Wednesday night’s all-out love-in should put those questions to bed.
While the Raptors may be entering the game with weary legs following a frustratingly close loss to the Cavaliers Tuesday night, they have history on their side. Toronto has won as many Drake Night games in a row as the Warriors lost after they built up a 3-1 lead in the Finals.
Wrap that perfect Drake Night record around you like a security blanket, because the Warriors are starting to reach their frightening potential after some early hiccups. There’s a good chance the Raptors will close out this murderous stretch with a pair of losses — and that’s okay! Teams are supposed to drop games under these types of circumstances.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t some things the Raptors can do to try and steal a win and keep their Drake Night record untarnished.
Golden State’s offense is scoring with the ease that it should. Through 10 games, this unguardable monster has scored just shy of 1.13 points per possession on a truly absurd 60.6 True Shooting percentage — both of which crush the next best marks in the NBA.
Attempting to defend the Warriors is fruitless. Too many gambles and sacrifices need to be made to prevent Steve Kerr’s team from producing a quality look on successive possessions. Bringing help off Klay Thompson to swallow a Durant foray to the rim leads to one of best shooters on Earth standing unmanned on the perimeter. Selling out to stop Steph Curry in the pick-and-roll leaves Draymond Green, the Warriors’ assist-leader, free to pick apart a four-on-three advantage — either by finding one of the Warriors’ assortment of shooters or using the wide-open lane to the basket created by the fear of said shooters.
Lose focus guarding away from the ball, you’re probably getting dunked on. Lollygag getting back in transition, and the Warriors will just do shit like this:
The only way to counteract Golden State at this point is to try and exploit their still-wobbly defense and pray you can outscore it. Kerr doesn’t quite have the defense up to the top-tier standards it set over the last couple years. If the Raptors rely heavily on some of their more potent offensive units, maybe there’s a chance Toronto can play 48 minutes where it’s just slightly more on fire than its daunting opponent.
The closing five of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas, that same unit with Norman Powell replacing Carroll, and the Lowry-fronted bench unit have all scored north of 1.16 points per possession. They should be heavy rotation as Dwane Casey’s team attempts to keep pace Wednesday night.
The Raptors certainly seem dedicated to taking care of DeMarre Carroll’s health. With Toronto playing its first two sets of back-to-backs over the last five days, we’re getting a glimpse of how the team plans to preserve Carroll with hopes of ensuring his long-term utility. He sat last night in the loss to Cleveland, and will be the one fresh rotation player tonight against Golden State.
Perhaps the Raptors viewed a home game against a team still in the process of congealing as a more winnable contest than a road game against the unflappable Cavs, and wanted all hands on deck tonight. Maybe they envisioned the Kevin Durant assignment being a slightly tougher one than LeBron James for Norman Powell to negotiate with Carroll sidelined. Or hell, maybe Carroll will be a last-minute scratch tonight and the paranoia surrounding his knee will reach all-time highs?
Carroll’s start to the season has been less than reassuring. His three-point shot has roller-coastered in an out of effectiveness, and his defense has been so suspect that Powell has been closing games for the past week or so. Still, his presence against the Warriors will be a welcome site. The rest of his teammates legs just might be made of rubber after the high-paced shootout they played in Cleveland last night.
Toronto hasn’t had to deal with much disappointment this season. Most of its rotation players are either meeting or surpassing expectations through 10 games. Patrick Patterson may be the one exception. The defense is as reliable and versatile as ever — he’s drawn LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony for stretches over the last two games, and performed about as well as you could reasonably expect. He remains a plus/minus juggernaut.
Patterson is, however, severely hurting the Raptors with his shooting woes. As we inch ever closer to sample sizes no longer being small, Toronto’s supposed stretch-four is hitting just one three a game on 4.5 attempts. A 22 percent long-range clip just isn’t going to cut it for Patterson, whose three point shots are often the result of otherwise excellent Toronto offense.
Of the 45 threes he’s launched, 44 have been either open or wide open per NBA.com. That he can’t scrape even 25 percent on those looks is becoming ever more concerning, even if his shooting is begging to be regressed back to the mean. Patterson still figures into all of Toronto’s most potent scoring lineups. It’ll be imperative for Casey to stretch his minutes load as far as possible tonight. What the Raptors need in those minutes is for Patterson to finally Light Up the three point line.
Where to Watch: TSN (Canada), ESPN (USA), 8:00pm EST