Two of the league’s best defenses went at it last night, and as you might expect, the game ultimately came down to who could generate more stops — and who could maximize what few scoring opportunities the defense gave them.
For most of the night, that was Miami. The Raptors made a herculean effort to force OT, but then the Raptors came face-to-face with the one thing they don’t have (anymore, or yet): The superstar scorer.
The Best D the Raptors Have Faced
I’ve been mightily impressed by the Toronto Raptors’ defense this season, but what I saw from the Miami Heat last night was even more impressive. I’ve spoken before about how uncomfortable the Raptors make opposing offences, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone make the Raptors look as uncomfortable as they did last night.
the raptors seem alarmed to be playing a team that tries as hard as them— Sean Woodley (@woodleysean) December 4, 2019
In he first quarter alone, Miami forced a shot clock violation and two Pascal Siakam airballs, all by extending the Raptors’ attack with their length. Look at the Q1 shot chart; five midrange shots!
The Raptors also managed only three fast-break points in the first, which illustrates the other thing Miami did extremely well: They got back in transition and prevented those Raptors runouts we all love to watch.
Give Miami Credit for Exploiting the Raptors’ Weaknesses
In addition to taking away what the Raptors do on offense, Miami also played well on the other end themselves. For all the Raptors’ strength defensively — the length, the way they dig in on balhandlers, the way they rotate in the paint — they do have weaknesses. They give up — by design — open three-pointers, and they are on the small side.
Miami did a great job of taking advantage of both last night. They consistently found shooters (Duncan Robinson, mostly) at the three point line, when the defense rotated away; and they cut to the rim consistently and quickly whenever the Raptors’ defense collapsed. Those two things, combined with quick ball movement, generated multiple high-percentage scoring opportunities.
For all the (well-deserved!) praise we’ve given Nick Nurse this season, it’s well worth remembering: Eric Spoelstra is a hell of a coach as well. The Heat have now beaten both Toronto and Milwaukee at home, and that’s as impressive as it gets.
The Superstar Difference
For all the impressive defensive play we saw last night, for as smart as nick Nurse and Eric Spoelstra are, sometimes NBA basketball is simple: let your superstar do work.
Jimmy Butler scored eight points in the first 55 seconds of overtime and the game was over. That’s it. For all the great things they have going for them, the Raptors do not have a Jimmy Butler.
Kawhi Leonard is gone. Pascal Siakam isn’t there yet. Kyle Lowry isn’t quite that type of player. There was no one to give the ball to to just “go and get a bucket” in overtime.
It really just is that simple sometimes.
As unfortunate a loss as this one was, there’s certainly no reason to panic. Miami, clearly, is good, and yes, they have Jimmy Butler. But the Raptors, despite shooting only 38.5% and missing 32 three-pointers, and with their three best offensive players (Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam) shooting 12-for-48, hung around and hung around and forced OT. That’s good!
It doesn’t mean there aren’t things to work on. This is not the first time this season Siakam has shrunk from a quality defender; he needs to find ways to impact the game on offense when playing guys like Bam Adebayo or Jonathan Isaac (I still think Nick Nurse could help him out by finding some more creative ways to put him better scoring positions), and he certainly can’t allow offensive struggles to affect his defensive effort, as it seemed to last night. Terence Davis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson need to learn to play with Kyle Lowry; it looked like there were a number of miscommunications last night. And Kyle, obviously, has to shake off the rust.
I trust all of these things will happen. The Raptors may not have a Jimmy Butler, but they have a great team.
Maybe the Falling Ratings Have Something to Do With This?
This is not how basketball — or sports, or television — is meant to be watched:
That’s not a replay, or a stop in play, that’s actual live game action.
The NBA is bemoaning its falling TV ratings, and while I’m certain there are dozens of factors contributing, this has to be one of them. A year or two ago they started showing ads between free throws, and now they are actually running commercials over real live game action. Every single thing about every NBA game is sponsored or slathered in ads, and while I get why the NBA does it — they are in business for one reason only, after all, to make money — you still have to maintain a balance between advertising and customer experience.
The NBA is tipping things to the wrong side of that balance. If people think it’s better to watch highlights on Twitter, can you blame them, if this is what watching games live on TV is actually like?
This is also why I have zero excitement or interest in the midseason or playoff play-in tournament. Not because I don’t think they’d be cool or fun or interesting — they would be! — but the NBA is not interested in doing them because they would be cool or fun or interesting, or because they’ll make regular season games matter more, or reduce tanking, or it’ll be incentive for new viewers to tune in, or because they want to celebrate the game for the league’s 75th anniversary. There’s only one reason for these proposals, and that’s that they’re something shiny and new to slap ads on. And I have no interest in that.
Well that’s another rant out of the way. Back to basketball, the Raptors have another tough one on Thursday against the Rockets; let’s hope Kyle Lowry’s shaken off the rust by then!