Thanks to some fun (and intense at times) wins against the Wizards in the opening round of the 2018 NBA playoffs, the Raptors hold a comfortable 2-0 lead in the series. It’s a place Toronto has never quite been before in the post-season, and obviously, they’d like to keep the good times going.
To that end, it felt like a good time to figure out what strategies both teams have been rolling out — to success or failure — and then make some predictions as to whether we’ll see these tactics again for the rest of the series.
Can the Raptors go for the sweep? Can the Wizards fend of Toronto? Here’s how things could go.
For the Wizards
Strategy: Bench Broskis — Ice C.J. and dare the bench players to shoot
Wizards coach Scott Brooks made a minor adjustment in Game 2 defending the bench broskis in the second half. He got the Wizards to stay home on C.J. Miles and dared everyone else to shoot from the perimeter.
Outcome: The bench broskis went cold from the perimeter later in Game 2, and the inability to get C.J. an open three-pointer made the spacing terrible and the Raptors offense sluggish. This development kick-started the Wizards’ push in the second half. (Until Miles hit a huge three down the stretch anyway, and the Raps pulled away.)
Will we see it again: Most definitely.
Strategy: Shuffling Ultra-Small Ball
Brooks fielded several (eleven to be exact) variations of every small ball lineup that the Wizards could throw at the Raptors:
John Wall-Ty Lawson-Kelly Oubre Jr.-Markieff Morris-Otto Porter Jr.
Wall-Bradley Beal-Lawson-Oubre-Mike Scott
Outcome: Mixed results. It’s clear that Brooks is trying to throw everything at the wall (no pun intended) and see what sticks. Some iterations of this lineup got destroyed by things like a hard cutting Jonas Valanciunas, or having Oubre cover DeMar DeRozan rather than Porter, which proved disastrous.
On the flip side, the ragtag lineups were able to generate a good stretch of chaos, getting the Raptors to turn the ball over, and make it feel more like a transition game. This strategy also made coach Dwane Casey overreact (as expected) by taking Jonas Valanciunas out of the game and electing to use different options, such as Lucas Nogueira at centre, Miles as the power forward, and a Delon Wright-Kyle Lowry-Lorenzo Brown sighting.
The most productive Wizards lineup they had was: Lawson-Tomas Satoransky-Oubre-Scott-Ian Mahinmi. This particular lineup dropped 37 points on the broskis. Coincidentally, this lineup got the most run together.
Will we see it again: Yes, but most likely with fewer variations. Word (or bluff) is that Scott might get a start over Marcin Gortat.
Strategy: Ty Lawson, sixth man
Brooks wanted to increase the pace (and maybe get Bradley Beal to wake up) so he called Ty Lawson’s number as the first sub for Beal in the 1st and 3rd quarters around the 4-5 minute mark.
Outcome: The Raptors did not have anything on the scouting report for Lawson outside of what he was on his way out of the NBA (a recovering alcoholic guard that cannot shoot from the perimeter). As such, Lawson got left wide open multiple times from the perimeter. He finished the game with 14 points and 8 assists, and was arguably the second best player wearing a Wizards jersey in Game 2.
Will we see it again: Yes. However, Casey and Rex Kalamian should have some defensive schemes ready to neutralize Lawson’s effectiveness.
Strategy: Blitz coverage on DeMar DeRozan
Historically, the narrative on DeRozan and the Raptors is that all you need to do is to blitz DeRozan and you can take him out of the game effectively.
Outcome: A combination of poor pick-and-roll (PNR) defense and defensive rotation, and DeRozan’s improved play-making rendered the blitz just a minor annoyance.
Will we see it again: Yes, but expect tighter coverage on the PNR.
As an aside, I’m actually surprised Brooks did not take advantage of the Raptors (especially the bigs) off-ball screen miscommunication as it happened a few times in Game 1. Even more interesting, it looked like they went away from it, as the Wizards ran pretty much PNR or ISO plays for John Wall et al. But that’s a subject for another day.
For the Raptors
Strategy: JV rolling hard down the middle on the PNR
JV’s rolls to the basket are much more decisive this post-season compared to his regular season, and it looks like this is by design.
Outcome: For two games now (and especially Game 2), Dwane Casey punished the PNR blitz by having JV roll hard down the middle, and of course, getting him the ball down there. The Wizards now have to play JV’s rolls and this messed up the Wizards’ defensive rotation, creating spacing for DeRozan and the Raps’ perimeter shooters. Credit goes to Casey for mixing it up, as the Wizards are always guessing when the ball would end up on JV’s hands, or if DeMar/Kyle will take the shot. Another wrinkle to the Wizards guess-work is when JV will “pop” for a pick and pop, or if Kyle/DeMar will decline the pick and drive the opposite way.
Will we see it again: Definitely — and ideally we’ll see it more in the second half of games.
Strategy: C.J. Miles off-ball screen counter
Whether it’s a single or double off-ball screen to get C.J. Miles freed up, the Wizards are expecting C.J. to flare to the perimeter for a three-point shot.
Outcome: C.J. Miles is doing a great job reading that the Wizards are expecting him to fade to the perimeter, thus doing a misdirection and cutting towards the basket. This “read” got Miles a few dunks/easy points.
Will we see it again: Most likely. The Wizards are over-committing on their defensive reads, and Miles is good at identifying these opportunities.
Strategy: Serge Ibaka’s PNR Coverage
The pick-and-roll is one of the main reasons why traditional big men are going extinct in the NBA, while the surviving ones live off the “drop coverage.” Except for Serge Ibaka.
Outcome: Serge Ibaka is one of the rare forwards that would welcome a switch against opposing point guard or shooting guards. His strong PNR defense has been on full display since the playoffs started. Wall and Beal struggled to score against him, and at times, got discouraged from challenging him.
Will we see it again: Brooks will most likely target JV/Jakob Poeltl, but if Brooks elects to go heavy with the small ball lineups, we’ll see Ibaka matched up with John Wall/Beal a few times.
Strategy: Bebe vs. Wizards Small Ball
It worked the last time, so why not? It’s the wild card move!
Outcome: Bebe reminds me of Forrest Gump, and the famous quote from that movie: “My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Bebe played awesome in Game 1 in a similar situation, yet in Game 2, he crapped the bed.
Will we see it again: It ultimately depends on Poeltl’s effectiveness (which has been limited for whatever reason), but most likely yes.
Now a Raptors aside here, I think OG Anunoby has played well enough to get more run late in games — and more respect from the Wizards on defense. He’s also a player I would keep my eye on if Casey elects to match up with Brooks’ small ball lineups.