Without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs are going head-to-head against the Raptors for the second time this season. These two teams first met near the beginning of the season and left many Toronto fans outraged at the officiating — ultimately, the Raptors were downed by four points. Still, at the time, even being able to compete with a team so firmly set in the upper echelon of the league felt good for Torontonians. At the beginning of the season, fans and critics alike were concerned with the dearth of experience on the Raptors’ bench, citing this supposed lack of depth as a reason the Raptors may falter this season.
However, Toronto is now equipped with a record of 30-13, and are seen (by those paying attention, anyway) as a team truly on the brink of title contention. If the Raptors were to fall short in this game against the recently-wavering San Antonio Spurs, fans would surely not be satisfied with the results, and it would undoubtedly bring into question the validity of claims that the Raptors can topple the Celtics and Cavaliers at the top of the Eastern Conference.
After competing for several games, Kawhi Leonard was recently ruled out indefinitely, suffering from a quad injury. Yet, San Antonio managed to stay competitive during his lengthy absence. The Spurs host the league’s second best defense, while enjoying an above average offense. Chalk up much of that success to Coach Popovich’s adeptness at utilizing an aging roster with little depth to the fullest of their abilities, while his young but ailing superstar sits on the pine. This game isn’t going to be a cakewalk, folks.
Let’s take a look at the details for tonight’s matchup.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:00 pm
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
San Antonio – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol
Toronto – Fred VanVleet (GTD)
San Antonio – Manu Ginobili, Rudy Gay, Kawhi Leonard
I’ve always found it abhorrent when fans revel in an opposing player’s injury. Let me be abundantly clear: nobody should want to see either team, in any match-up, left desolated without their star player, or any player for that matter. Injuries make any game infinitely less exciting, and this match-up is just another example.
The entire league and all fans of basketball should clamour at the chance to watch Kawhi Leonard play; a former MVP candidate, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP, he just makes the game more fun to watch. No fan should wish ill on any player, even if a certain player’s absence would benefit your team. On behalf of everyone, we miss you Kawhi. Get better soon.
It may be difficult to believe, but the Raptors average more assists than the Spurs, good for 11th in the league, compared to San Antonio’s 20th. This may be a shocking revelation to those who haven’t paid much attention to the NBA this year — the team that, over the past five years, contended for (and won) a championship based heavily on their magical assist-heavy offense now resides in the bottom half of the league in that category.
The Raptors, meanwhile, now rely much more on passing to role players for buckets than in years previous. In a Freaky Friday-type situation, the Raptors now possess the assist-advantage, and must capitalize on it by keeping the ball moving as they normally do.
Protect the Paint
The overwhelming majority of LaMarcus Aldridge’s shots come from within 16 feet of the basket — half of his shots are even closer, within 10 feet of rim. Averaging 24.2 points-per-36-minutes, the most of his career, the Raptors will need to defend the areas where he thrives the most.
Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam will likely guard him from mid-range, where he only connects on approximately 41% of his shots, while Valaciunas will be expected to slow him down at the rim, where he proficiently scores 75.2% of the time. Aldridge also shoots a respectable 34.3% from the three-point line, wherein 95.7% of his buckets are assisted. The Raptors must do a respectable job of chasing around screens to contest his shot. If the Raptors can slow down Aldridge effectively, they have a good chance of pulling away with the W.