Sometimes if you keep on wishing and hoping for something, it might become a reality.
Game 5 was manna from heavens for every Raptors fan begging for Jonas Valanciunas in the 4th quarter. Coach Dwane Casey has been reluctant to use JV past his initial run to start the second half, because of his gut.
Seriously, the root of all evil that’s preventing JV appearances in the fourth quarter goes back to one term: pick-and-roll (PNR) defence. JV’s main issues are as follow:
- JV drops too low on his drop coverage;
- JV’s low defensive basketball IQ when it comes to reading plays; and
- JV’s hands are always down, and he’s not quick enough to put it up once Wall and Beal chucks a mid-range shot. (This is especially unfortunate because his ideal “drop” position looks worse if he’s late on putting his hand up.)
Looking back at the game, Casey made a variety of changes (big and small), while Scott Brooks stayed with what worked for him with minor tweaks. Casey got his way, and Brooks got caught surprised, and Game 5 belonged to the Raptors. Let’s go over some of them.
For the Raptors
Getting the Possession Started at a Decent Time
In Game 4, we saw a lot of stagnant offense, partly because it’s taking the Raptors too long to get into their offensive sets, often ending up in any of the following:
- A DeMar DeRozan late clock ISO;
- A (whoever-had-the-ball-had-to-create-something) bad shot to beat the clock; and
- A turnover.
Using Norman Powell
This move allowed Dwane Casey to give Kyle Lowry the necessary rest in-between quarters.
Improved Quality of Screens
I harped on the quality of screens that the Raptors were setting (outside of JV), and there’s been a noticeable uptick in quality of screens that we’ve seen from the rest of the guys since.
Bench Broskis Pushing the Pace
It took them a while to figure out that they struggle generating points on a half-court set, so they mucked it up and got the tempo going in spurts. I also think that this minor adjustment had a subtle effect on gassing out John Wall.
Attack Marcin Gortat
I thought that aside from John Wall, Gortat was the key piece for this series. Up until now, Casey could not solve Gortat’s screens. In Game 5, Casey won the battle of attrition via:
- Defenders fighting harder on screens;
- Multiple PNRs with JV;
- JV ISO/post possessions;
- JV in the 4th;
The last three points are critical especially in the 4th, as Gortat would typically “rest” on defense since Jakob Poeltl does not pose a threat. JV’s activity meant that Gortat pretty much had to work hard on both sides of the court for at least 32 of his 34 minutes played. One last thing: Brooks played him approximately 18 out of the first 21 minutes (he was subbed out in the last three minutes of the game, with Brooks grasping at straws) and his screens were noticeably weak in the 4th quarter.
All-Offence Lineup to Close
I’m not going to go into detail about the JV’s on/off differentials (and we already cover Valanciunas’ impact here), or how this lineup of Delon Wright-Lowry-DeRozan-C.J. Miles-JV only played five minutes together in the regular season, but I’ll provide some key points as to why this was successful:
- Both Wall and Gortat were tuckered out;
- Beal was contained, off his rhythm;
- Pressure on defense with every player involved in the offense;
I already covered Gortat above, and I’ll be covering Wall and Beal later. What I want to highlight here is that it’s one thing to field a lineup, it’s another thing to use it correctly — which is, to make everyone a threat.
As soon as JV and DeRozan came back with around under the 9-minute mark, here are some key possessions that set the tone:
- JV with the ball from the top of the key, Miles received a backscreen from Lowry and Miles easily lost his man by going backdoor (got fouled by Gortat);
- Wright with the transition push off Bradley Beal’s miss, getting the ball to DeRozan — although he got stripped, it’s an aggressive move;
- Kyle Lowry with the bully-ball on Kelly Oubre;
- JV with a hand-off to Miles even though it missed; and
- Lowry and JV PNR action, with Lowry hitting JV on the roll for a layup;
The offensive/gameplan execution — make or miss, put a lot of pressure on the Wizards’ defense, and exhausted their main players as they have to worry about all five Raptors on the court. This ending is the complete opposite of what happened in Game 4, where the Wizards are getting quality “rest” time with the Raptors’ slow-developing offense and DeMar ISOs.
Contain Wizards’ transition offense
In Game 4, the Raptors lost in the 4th as the Wizards just kept getting transition points after transition points whether it’s from a turnover or a bad miss. While it’s not like the Raptors stopped the bleeding, but they did it on the right moment in Game 5.
The Wizards only had 11 fastbreak points in the 2nd half, just four points accounted for in the 4th quarter. Technically, it should only be two points since the last basket was on garbage time made by a garbage player with the game about to end.
How was this made possible:
- Better offensive execution;
- Better off-ball movement (less standing around); and
- Limited turnovers — 10 TOVs for the game, with only two coming in the 4th (one of them happened when Delon Wright got whacked along the baseline).
It essentially comes down to quality shots/possessions, not turning the ball over, and transition defense.
Key Defensive Matchups
- OG Anunoby/Pascal Siakam/Delon Wright on John Wall;
- Kyle Lowry on Bradley Beal
Thankfully Dwane Casey listened to the stats rather than his gut this time.
Wall has been going through Kyle Lowry as LeBron pretty much rag-dolled swag-daddy DeMarre Carroll every time they see each other, and this adjustment has been long overdue.
OG, Siakam, and Delon brought a variety of length, speed, and strength that Wall had to solve throughout the game, and it wore him down — even noticeably as early as late in the first quarter. Wall had to work harder to get his shots, even in transition. To get some rest, Wall had to take plays off or had to foul-bait to get to the line.
In the second half, Wall only managed to get one layup in — to end the 3rd quarter. Even then, Siakam contested that well and was just a split-second short of blocking that shot.
Moving on to Kyle Lowry’s excellent defense on Bradley Beal — Lowry fought hard through the screens and curls and was very successful anticipating Beal’s moves. Having Lowry on Beal also afforded Lowry some on-court rest, as Beal’s mileage is less than Wall’s, and Wall’s distance covered is not comparable to Beal’s as Wall does it on a faster pace.
Lowkey adjustment that Casey needs to make: At the end of every first quarter stretch (where it’s Ty Lawson-John Wall-Ian Mahinmi-Kelly Oubre-Mike Scott vs DeMar DeRozan-Delon Wright-Jakob Poeltl-Pascal Siakam-C.J. Miles) and the transition to the bench vs bench to start the second quarter has been killing the Raptors.
Casey needs to find a way to win this stretch, especially in DC. My suggestion, at least as a start, is to make sure Poeltl and Siakam do not over-help and stay with their man.
For the Wizards
To be honest, I can’t believe how Scott Brooks showed up for Game 5 in Toronto thinking that the same strategy would work and won’t get countered after using it for at least two consecutive games.
I have already covered the Wizards’ key strategies previously (see Game 5), but I’ll go over a couple of old tactics that are still working, and a new one that didn’t work for Brooks.
Gortat’s Screens (PNR)
The only good thing that worked for the Wizards in Game 5. We’ve seen Gortat’s screen hundreds of times in this series. Self-explanatory. Casey can’t, and might not be able to totally solve it at all.
Ice C.J. and Load up the Paint
For the most part, this strategy worked. It wasn’t as effective as the previous two games against the Bench Broskis, as they tried to push the pace and create chaos to get some points on the board.
I also don’t know why they didn’t stick to this strategy when the Raptors rolled out the JV-Lowry-DeMar-Delon-Miles lineup. Confused? Tired? Maybe both?
Drop Coverage on DeMar and give him the Midrange
Scott Brooks was probably trying to play mind games, as well all saw how Game 4 unfolded, and how bad DeRozan felt by going “Kobe.”
As a stark contrast of Game 1, where DeRozan saw variations of blitz and trap PNR defense, DeRozan had an open lane to the midrange area because of two things:
- Gortat’s drop coverage;
- The excellent screens that he received from JV and Ibaka (especially the double drag screens).
It got so silly that Casey ran the same double drag screens three times in a row:
- wide-open midrange (good);
- driving floater (good);
- instead of driving, fading to the 3pt line (miss, but wide open).
If the tactic was to let DeRozan do his hero-ball, it didn’t work this time.
Offensively, the Wizards doesn’t have a lot of room for changes, as they can’t really score outside of their PNR and transition plays. As much as I hate to offer advice to the opponent, here’s what I think Brooks should do (and we should be on the lookout for):
Balanced Minutes Distribution: Get your key players some rest, especially in the second half.
Go small with Oubre and Scott in the lineup: Seriously, I don’t know what Mike Scott did for him not to earn the minutes that Brooks is giving to Markieff Morris.
Let’s see how it all plays out in Game 6.