The Raptors are enjoying another fine season. They’ve got the top ranked offense in the NBA. They have a comfortable four game lead in the Atlantic Division and are the clear number two team in the Eastern Conference. They’re 22-8 overall thus far, including a sterling 11-3 mark on the road. But the question persists: are they really among the elite of the NBA?
The answer is, as always, uhhhh... maybe?
Here are your keys to tonight’s game, in which the Raptors attempt to topple a juggernaut.
Learn From Your Mistakes
The first time these two teams met, the Warriors won 127-121 in Toronto. That Raptors team was still finding its footing; DeMarre Carroll looked a step slow, Patrick Patterson hadn’t found his stroke yet, DeMar DeRozan was still carrying the offense on his back and Kyle Lowry hadn’t yet hit the ‘supernova’ setting on his internal microwave.
The version of the Raptors that takes on the Warriors Wednesday night is a more balanced team, and they’ll need to be to take down Golden State, which features the second ranked offense and defense in the NBA.
Get On the Glass
One way Toronto can do that is by continuing to get on the offensive glass against a Warriors squad that struggles to protect its own paint. Golden State ranks 18th in opponents points in the paint and just 22nd (75.4 percent) in defensive rebounding percentage. After struggling to start the season, the Raptors are up to 9th in offensive rebounding percentage (25.4 percent). The Warriors give up 14.2 second chance points per game, tied for the sixth worst mark in the league, so it’s definitely an area the Raptors can try to exploit. There is some bad news on that front, however. The team they’re tied with? The Toronto Raptors.
Jonas Valanciunas has trouble staying on the floor against the mobile Warriors, but he was 6-of-6 from the floor with three offensive rebounds in just eighteen minutes when they first met. It would be nice if they could get him involved early before Steve Kerr gets creative with his lineups. Most likely we’ll see a steady diet of Lucas Nogueira and Pascal Siakam (in addition to Patrick Patterson of course), both of whom played well in the first meeting between these teams. Nogueira played only 13 minutes but was a +11, and Siakam put up 10 points and 9 rebounds (four offensive) and a tidy +6 rating in 29 minutes.
In the Warriors five losses so far this season, their opponents have averaged 96.6 field goal attempts per game. In their 27 wins, that number is just 87.4. Getting those second chances, be they via turnover or rebound, is a key to any potential victory.
The Warriors like to go fast, playing at the third fastest pace (102.9) in the league, while the Raptors like to take their time, ranking in the bottom third of the league (97.6) in possessions. Toronto is an efficient team, taking their time to create the shots that they want — they rank second in the league in field goal percentage (47.5 percent) and third in three point field goal percentage (39.4 percent).
Unfortunately for Toronto, the Warriors rank first in effective field goal percentage (55.6 percent), true shooting percentage (59.9 percent), assist percentage (71.9 percent), assist to turnover ratio (2.07) and assist percentage (21.6 percent). They also hold their opponents to the lowest three point percentage (32.5 percent) in the league. So they run fast, move the ball, make all their shots and defend the three point line. Yikes.
Writing that defensive three point statistic gave me deja vu and here’s why — both Boston and Milwaukee previously led the league in opponents three point percentage, until they ran into the buzz-saw that is the Raptors offense.
The Raptors have tried the run and gun approach with the Warriors before; it hasn’t worked. It’ll be interesting to see if Kyle Lowry playing at his very best can dominate the game on the level of the Kevin Durant-Steph Curry led monolith that is Golden State. Pace, effort and balance will be key.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One at 10:30pm