Building off a successful game plan from Game 3, Scott Brooks essentially doubled down on what worked and braced for Dwane Casey’s potential adjustments. In the process, the Wizards escaped with the series-tying Game 4 win.
Casey and the Raptors did come back with adjustments of their own, as evident during the first half of the game, and parts of the second half. Game 4 was close until the end, and we saw Brooks stay true to their strategy, while Casey’s fizzled.
Now let’s figure out what went right and wrong for both teams. (And if you’re reading this Mr. Dwane Casey, pay close attention to my suggested counters based on Brooks’ gameplan!)
For the Raptors
Casey made a few adjustments — some of them worked, and some of them might have fixed the initial problem, but also caused other problems. For example, the Raps’ transition defense was solid in the first half, allowing only four fastbreak points despite committing 11 turnovers. But in the second half, and most especially in the late fourth, the wheels came off, and the Wizards ultimately racked up 16 fast break points.
Strategy: Lowry + Broskis (No all-bench lineup)
The bench broskis have been underwhelming for the past two, maybe three games and Toronto’s offense have stalled with the all-bench lineup. Instead of seeing Norman Powell in the first half and Lorenzo Brown in the second half (with Fred VanVleet out), Casey went with the reliable Kyle Lowry plus bench lineup to start the fourth quarter.
Outcome: Mildly successful. The Kyle Lowry-Delon Wright-C.J. Miles-Pascal Siakam-Jakob Poeltl unit was the second most productive five-man lineup that Casey used in Game 4, and they were able to build an 8-point lead midway through the fourth that the starters (with Delon in for OG) group coughed up.
More importantly, the defensive intensity was there, and Lowry tried to push the team to get into transition to get some easy points.
The only thing that’s preventing me from considering this strategy as “successful” is the fact that the same group struggled to generate points in half-court sets. They could not get Miles open, Delon and Siakam are unwilling to take the outside shots, and Poeltl’s rolls to the basket have been ineffective. Worse, the best offensive player (and the second best threat from the perimeter) in the lineup had to initiate the drive and kick (most of the time) to get the rest of the guys in scoring position.
Will we see it again: Yes, definitely we should — dammit, we better see it again!
Strategy: Poeltl instead of JV in the 4th
Casey tried to fortify the team’s pick-and-roll (PNR) defense by having Jakob Poeltl in instead of Jonas Valanciunas in the fourth quarter.
Outcome: Mixed results. Poeltl held his own and did a great job defending the PNRs that he faced, especially in the fourth. However, his PNR coverage is not perfect. Whenever Poeltl was late in recognizing the PNR (and can’t drop), he would get swallowed up by Gortat’s physical screen, leaving the ball handler wide open.
Offensively, sacrificing JV’s minutes meant that the Raptors are essentially playing 4-on-5 on offense. JV’s hard rolls to the basket are not just crucial to getting Lowry and DeMar DeRozan quality shots, but also to create havoc on Wizards’ defensive rotations, thus creating open shots from the perimeter.
Will we see it again: We should, but not for the entire fourth quarter, and maybe not to close the game if the Raptors need to score.
Strategy: Siakam on Wall
Because, why not? Jerry Stackhouse once said that Siakam is the best Raptors defender. He’s got the length and the quickness to keep up with smaller guards. So what if Siakam is a power forward?
Outcome: Pascal Siakam did an excellent job staying in front of John Wall. Siakam negated Wall’s playmaking via post-up, cutting off straight line drives, and forced Wall to either take a contested midrange or drive to the basket.
Will we see it again: Yes, definitely. Casey should limit Lowry’s defensive possessions against Wall, and this is one way of going on about it.
Strategy: Transition Game
Dwane Casey (and Lowry) urged the the Raptors to get up-and-down the court, and gave the Wizards a dose of their own medicine.
Outcome: Mixed results. Raptors only scored ten transition points in Game 3, and sometimes the best strategy is to throw back what’s being thrown at you. We know that the Wizards like to run, and they are tied as the second best in the league in fastbreak points, but guess who else is in the top five? The very same Raptors that jumped the Wizards by racking up 17 fast break points in the first half. Unfortunately, the pace slowed down for the Raptors and they only managed to score five fast break points in the second half.
Will we see it again: We should, especially coming from the bench broskis.
Before getting into the Wizards’ strategy, let me say: I modified the format for the Wizards so that I can offer some potential solution to what’s working for Scott Brooks. More importantly, I think Casey needs to find out a way to keep JV in the fourth and to get the team to trust the offense. Maybe they go hand-in-hand?
For the Wizards
Scott Brooks did not make any significant adjustments for Game 4. Instead, he refined what’s working and eliminated what’s not working for the Wizards.
As a change-up from my previous two posts about Game 2 and Game 3 adjustments, I will instead focus on what kind of counters Casey can do based on Brooks’ working strategy.
Strategy: Ice C.J. and load up the paint
Miles has to be a factor offensively for him to be a net positive on the floor, and Dwane Casey needs to get him quality rhythm shots. Brooks has done a great job employing Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre Jr. to take his personal space at all times — grabbing and bumping him along the way, substantially slowing him down and getting him off his rhythm if he even gets to his spot.
What should Casey do: The issue starts and ends with C.J., and the paint will open up once he starts getting rhythm open shots, so the focus should be getting him going via a few suggestions below:
- Add a play or two with the same starting point to keep the defense guessing what the playset would be;
- Take advantage of the counters that worked in Games 1 and 2;
- Better screen action, e.g. give Miles solid screens and make excellent use of the bigs by hiding behind them to start his play action to create initial separation from his defender. Aside from Valanciunas’ screens, the rest of the Raptors’ screens are soft and do not provide enough resistance;
- Make the off-ball screener a threat. You want to keep the defense guessing. Miles attracts a lot of attention when he’s moving, and this is an excellent time for someone like a Jakob Poeltl or Pascal Siakam to slip through for an easy layup or dunk;
- Follow up move as soon as Miles gets to his spot. Often, Miles would get denied by his defender as soon as he gets to his spot, and he would stand at that spot rather than float around to create passing angles and an open shot for himself;
- If it’s a Lowry plus the bench, make Lowry play off-the-ball and have Delon Wright execute the drive and kick most of the time, especially if Delon keeps on hesitating taking a perimeter shot. This way, Miles would have less pressure from the defenders as they have to worry about Lowry as a perimeter threat.
Strategy: Cherry picking
The Wizards pretty much got half of their points off their transition game. Their game plan is to push the ball whether it’s off turnovers or misses.
What should Casey do: All Casey can do is drill down the importance of taking care of the ball and making smart passes. And also: how about making sure that the team is executing their offense — a quality shot that didn’t go in is better than a turnover, right?
The Raptors are ranked in the middle of the pack when it comes to offensive rebounds, and there’s been an ongoing debate about the give and take relationship of offensive rebounds and transition defense.
We know the Wizards’ strength in transition — so is it much more important to have a chance to get an offensive rebound at risk of an automatic fastbreak layup/dunk/three-pointer? Valanciunas is a big boy, if he wants to contest for the offensive rebound, the Raps can leave him there to battle. Five on four is better than 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 fastbreak drill for the Wizards.
Strategy: John Wall ISO/Lowry post-up/Hit the help defender’s man
Scott Brooks made great use of abusing Lowry via John Wall, and sometimes Bradley Beal in the post. The Raptors’ defense is so worried about this situation, and you have every other Raptor getting caught ball watching and losing their man in the process, or once they help Gortat, Morris, Scott et. al. would get into the open space for a short pass and an easy basket.
What should Casey do: Three things, as listed below:
- Change up his rotation to ensure that OG/Delon/Siakam are on the floor at all times;
- Wall should only be guarded by any of these three players for the majority of the time. Kyle Lowry defended John Wall in 30 possessions in Game 4, and the team scored 43 points. Not counting the free throws Wall generated for his teammates, Lowry was in front of Wall on at least 16 of those points. Compare this to OG whom Wall only scored two points on (FTs only) and was only able to collect one assist for a total of 16 team points while OG was guarding Wall. Kyle can stay with Beal, as he does a better job on him than on Wall;
- See expanded PNR coverage plan below!
Strategy: PNR Coverage
Brooks’ offensive plan with the Wizards should be easy to defeat, as it’s very predictable. It all comes down to transition and PNR points. Sounds simple, but there’s a problem that Dwane Casey can’t solve: Gortat’s solid screens.
Really, it’s not just Gortat — Markieff Morris, Mike Scott, Kelly Oubre, etc. when they set a screen, they are all solid screens. Often, they add extra to their picks like the grabbing of arm/jersey/waist/etc just so that they can get a competitive advantage for the person using the screen. It makes me sad seeing the soft screens that the Raps offer outside of JV.
The Wizards continuously targeted the Raptors bigs in PNR situations, so I’ve illustrated how they defend Wall and Beal on PNR.
|Player||VS Wall||VS Beal||Comments|
|Player||VS Wall||VS Beal||Comments|
|JV||Drop||Drop||JV would drop too much, sometimes almost within 2ft or less from the basket, which defeats the purpose of th drop coverage|
|IBAKA||Switch||Switch||Ibaka would switch 9/10 times. The ony problem here is if Ibaka is playing C, the middle is wide open for the Wizards big men.|
|POELTL||Drop||Drop||Poeltl plays the best drop coverage among all the Raptors big men utilizing the drop coverage. He leaves enough distance so that he can discourage straight line drives, yet close enough for him to put a hand up on midrange jumpers. Unfortunately, he keeps getting caught on Gortat and Morris' hugging/moving screens if he's late on moving into drop coverage.|
|SIAKAM||Switch||Switch||Siakam switches most of the time and he does a great job staying in front of his man. However, sometimes he takes hard gambles and would get blown by.|
|BEBE||Drop||Drop||Bebe would utilize drop coverage and be a tall scarecrow hoping that they don't drive around him.|
What should Casey do: The key here is to make Marcin Gortat a non-factor.
- Work the referees for moving screens;
- Get his players to either fight harder through screens;
- Change up with a blitz now and then to keep the ball handlers guessing;
- Get JV to attack Gortat on offense via PNR to get him in foul trouble;
Fortunately for Casey, Game 4 is a good indicator that he doesn’t need to have everything perfect for the Raptors to win. However, it would be great to see the Raptors get another statement win in Game 5. Toronto needs it.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how to counter Scott Brooks’ game plan.