On Tuesday I played Stardew Valley deep into the night. As I managed my adorable pixelated farm, I listened to Roy Dotrice read from George R.R. Martin’s “A Feast for Crows” in his soft, soothing, grandfatherly tone. I sat in this saccharine bubble for hours, trying to forget… something. It wasn’t until four in the morning that I finally succumbed to sleep.
Five hours later, I would receive a Twitter message from the tyrannical slavedriver who operates this ungodly hellsite. A message which would utterly shatter this false peace.
It came rushing back to the forefront of my mind, the memory of what was arguably the worst loss in Raptors’ franchise history. The missed tip-ins, the bricked open three point shots, the agonizing turnaround jumper. With it, though, came a glimmer of hope, for HQ’s ironfisted monarch had not asked me to look back in agony at Game 1, but rather to look forwards. Life, and the Raptors’ semi-finals series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, goes on. Let us not dwell on the past, game two awaits.
Here are the details for tonight’s game, should you need them:
Where to Watch
SN1, 6:00 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Cleveland – George Hill, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love,
Toronto – None
Cleveland – None
Okay, I lied, let’s dwell on the past, at least a little. The Raptors’ Game 1 loss may have been totally agonizing but it contained some positive indicators for the series going forward, most notably the quality of the shots the Raptors were able to generate. The Raptors generated shots at the basket and open three pointers by the truckload, they were simply unable to get those shots to fall.
Per Second Spectrum’s “shot quality” metric, which looks at how players have shot on previous, similar attempts, the Raptors “should” have shot over 35% higher than they did in the 4th quarter, they just missed countless shots they normally make. (via 538, here) The missed putbacks and Fred VanVleet’s missed open three pointer stand out, but there were also missed wide-open 3s from Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and C.J. Miles. All of these stand out as being “good process, bad result”. Hopefully we see good process, good results going forwards.
One much more concerning element from Game 1 were the match-up problems created by the presence of LeBron James. James’ own match-up wasn’t a problem, I thought OG Anunoby defended him admirably, but several surrounding match-ups became significant issues. With the Cavs downsizing and playing Kevin Love at centre there was a concern that Love would be able to play Jonas Valanciunas off the floor by exploiting the slower big man’s inability to guard the perimeter. These concerns proved unfounded, as Love was ineffective in Game 1, but the shift down did create issues for Serge Ibaka and DeMar DeRozan on the defensive end, due to James being shifted to the power forward slot. Ibaka, the Raptors’ power forward, is much less suited to guarding James than Anunoby, so the Raptors’ flipped their assignments, putting Ibaka on J.R. Smith. The Raptors have historically hidden DeRozan’s less than stellar defence by having him defend Smith, but in this game he was given the much more difficult task of defending Kyle Korver, one of the all-time great catch and shoot players.
Ibaka and DeRozan both struggled to handle their matchups, Smith was ineffective against Ibaka’s size inside the arc, but on the perimeter he was given far too much room and ended the game 5/6 from three point range. Following the game Korver remarked that he couldn’t remember the last time he took so many shots in a game, a fairly reasonable comment seeing as his 17 field goal attempts were the most he’d put up in over a decade. DeRozan’s inability to stay with Korver as he shifted around off ball had much to do with his sudden uptick in volume.
Later in the game the Raptors were hurt by a third matchup problem, this time on the other end of the floor. Down the stretch of the game the Cavs shuffled around their defensive matchups to get LeBron guarding Kyle Lowry. The additional size proved effective at shutting Lowry down, as his volume of shots and efficiency dramatically fell off with James guarding him.
Following a harrowing loss like Tuesday’s one of the biggest concerns is how the loss will effect the team’s mentality in following games. Considering the history that the Raptors have of losing to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in devastating fashion this felt even more pressing following Game 1. The loss felt like it could threaten to undermine the “culture reset” that had got the Raptors to this point, as ancillary players like Ibaka, Valanciunas and VanVleet missed crucial shots down the stretch.
Fortunately the quotes the Raptors’ gave following their loss were promising. DeRozan said that he would “make the exact same pass” to VanVleet. Lowry said that he thought the Raptors “played the right way”. Most importantly perhaps, this quote from Fred VanVleet shows the added level of confidence the “culture reset” has given the Raptors’ secondary players.
Let’s run it back.