There are obvious storylines, and a not so obvious one, coming out of Game 5 for the Raptors. We’ll touch on one of each. First, the obvious.
Talk about obvious. Powell put up breakout numbers in Game 5 of the first round (deja vu, huh?), with a team leading 25 points in 34 minutes, on 8-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-4 from three (now up to 7-of-7 from distance over the past two games). Throw in 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and a block for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a good game.
Powell has made all the difference for the ball club — the team desperately needed another option to attack off of outlet passes when DeRozan or Lowry get doubled in pick plays. Turns out, Norman Powell is essentially the perfect player for such a situation. His catch and shoot threat is obviously sky high right now with that three point shooting.
But he’s also a threat to attack the defence if the first rotation is made. Powell is posting a 17% assist rate (percent of team’s baskets he has assisted on), comparable to an established high usage playmaker like DeRozan. He’s carried a full 21% usage (number of team’s possessions a player finishes) in this series, so he’s hardly an afterthought. Powell is averaging 4.8 drives a game in only 22 minutes, up to 6 times per game in his two starts.
His attack has been perfect for the Raptors, and throw in him being able to defend an opposing wing and let Carroll and Ibaka slide down a spot to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker, and you get the past two games — impressive Raptors victories.
The Right Match-ups
Starting Powell has shifted Valanciunas into a bench role, where he has thrived, and moved Serge Ibaka to starting centre, allowing the entire starting lineup to thrive. But as much as adding another ball handler to the starting lineup is important, just as important is protecting Ibaka and Valanciunas from match-ups where they struggle.
When Ibaka was starting at PF, he was getting a lot of minutes as the centre with the bench units — and as such, coming up against Greg Monroe, a big bruising post scorer who Ibaka couldn’t quite handle.
Through five games this series, Monroe has dominated when on the court with Ibaka guarding him. Using per-36 minute stats to normalize for time on the court, Monroe has averaged 29 points on 61% shooting, with 10.5 free throw attempts, 12.5 rebounds and only 1.4 turnovers per 36 minutes. That’s not so great if you are a Raptors fan. Nor is his on-court net rating against Ibaka — at +13.2 points per 100 possessions, the Bucks have been crushing the Raptors in that match-up.
Similarly, the Raptors have struggled to make the Valanciunas-Maker mismatch work for them. Although Maker himself is not a real scoring threat, he has an impact on the game on both ends with his quickness relative to the bigger Raptors’ centre. In minutes with both players on the court, Maker has posted a +16 on-court net rating. That’s... bad. For the Raptors, that is.
Over the past two games, though, with the rotations adjusted, Valanciunas is being matched up with Monroe far more often, and Ibaka is being kept mostly to lineups with Maker at centre (though each player is still playing some minutes against their non-ideal match-up). And the team is finding a lot of success because of it.
In the series, when matched up with Valanciunas, Monroe has done well, but nothing like what he’s done against Ibaka. His line drops to 21 points on 50% shooting, with 8.8 free throw attempts, 9.9 rebounds and 2.8 turnovers per 36 minutes. And most importantly, the Raptors have edged the Bucks in those minutes, with Monroe posting a -9.8 net rating in that match-up.
We see the same thing with Maker, whether it is Ibaka specifically, or the improved options in the new starting lineup, suddenly his effectiveness has disappeared. On the series, away from Valanciunas, Maker’s on-court net rating has been a sub-par -3.8 points per 100 possessions. And over the past two games where those minutes have primarily been against Ibaka at centre and the new Raptors’ starting lineup with Norman Powell, he’s posted a -9.7 net rating.
Coach Dwane Casey has gotten the lineup style matches he’s wanted over the past two games, and frankly it was surprising that Bucks coach Jason Kidd started the same set of players in Game 5, allowing the Raptors to leverage that advantage even further than in Game 4. We’ll see what the Bucks do to try to avoid those match-ups moving forward. If they start Greg Monroe, who has been great for them, it will be interesting to see if Valanciunas starts for Ibaka, or at least comes into the game early to allow Ibaka to play minutes against non-Monroe lineups throughout the game as much as possible.
All stats per NBA.com.