This is how the first pick-and-roll in the Cavaliers vs. Pacers series was defended:
That looks… Very normal? Kevin Love goes to an aggressive drop here, he can’t drop all the way back into the paint because Myles Turner is a threat to shoot from the perimeter, but it’s conventional pick-and-roll coverage nonetheless.
I’m showing you this to remind you that most teams will go into the playoffs facing conventional pick-and-roll defense, even teams like the Pacers that rely heavily on their pick-and-roll ball handlers to generate shots.
Here’s how the first three pick-and-rolls that the Raptors ran in the playoffs were defended:
That’s a hedge, a trap, and another trap. Facing conventional pick-and-roll defense in the playoffs has become a foreign concept to the Raptors. For years now the book on the Raptors has been to trap DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
The Raptors might just force the Wizards to throw that book out. Trapping DeRozan and Lowry was a strategy that preyed on the pair’s lack of trust in their teammates. To beat a trap you have to make a quick pass to one of your teammates, allowing the rest of your team to play 4-on-3, resulting in an open dunk or three pointer if the back end of the play is executed properly. If the ball handler holds onto their dribble it’s likely they’ll end up pressured against the sideline or back to half court. Covered by two players, one of which is likely a big man, they won’t have the sightlines to start the 4-on-3. Without a quick pass, a turnover or a called timeout become common outcomes of a trap.
This was a problem in past years as the Raptors’ backcourt showed very little trust in their frontcourt’s decision making, instead trying to brute force the traps themselves, holding their dribble and trying to split or curl around the two defenders.
The Raptors’ “culture change” has altered that, in the team’s new offense DeRozan and Lowry have seen Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby make decisions all year long. Though they seemed surprised by the traps early on, committing a few too many turnovers in the first half, they quickly adjusted, and the Raptors exploited the overly aggressive defense to generate good shots.
The Wizards decision to trap DeRozan and Lowry reeks of desperation. As DeRozan said prior to game one, this has been a different Raptors team for 82 games. Trapping is a swingy, gimmicky strategy that typically concedes too many open shots, it’s most common use is late in games when a team is behind and needs to force a turnover to win. Adopting it as the default method of pick-and-roll defense has generally been highly unsuccessful, Jason Kidd was recently fired as the Bucks’ head coach in large part because he encouraged his team to trap far too often.
27 of the Raptors 30 3PAs in game 1 were classified as wide open (defender 6+ feet away at time of release) or open (defender 4-6 feet away). That's what you give up when you trap.— Friendshipcore (@Jacob_M_Mack) April 15, 2018
At a clear talent and depth disadvantage, one of the Wizards’ hopes in this series was that the Raptors would show the same inability to deal with the traps that had vexed them in the playoffs in previous years. We now have 83 games that say the Raptors are a different team, and the Wizards’ hopes are one fewer.