On Saturday at around 8pm, I pondered the meaning of life. In the grand scheme of things, does anything truly matter? If everything is predetermined, has Toronto been cursed with ineluctable basketball-related misery? Why must the team I hold so dearly to my heart insist on losing so many game ones? Perhaps my allegiance to the Raptors is dependent on believing in something that, despite major roster changes and regular season success, can never be achieved.
Nearly 48 hours later, I’ve managed to calm down. (Inside tip: deep breaths, meditation, and copious amounts of Smashing Pumpkins can cure even the most severe ailments.) Perhaps against my better judgement, I decided to look on the bright side — I implore you all to do the same. Kyle Lowry isn’t going to go scoreless every game. More than likely, D.J. Augustin isn’t going to score 25 points on 69 percent (not-nice) shooting again. Kawhi Leonard is going to play more than 33 minutes.
Say it with me: we’re going to be okay. That feels oddly therapeutic, if not a bit insincere but I’ll take all the tranquillity I can get.
With game two at home just around the corner, there are several logistical issues the Raptors must face. But first, here are tonight’s details:
Where to Watch:
TSN, 8:00 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Orlando – D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
Toronto – OG Anunoby (appendix – OUT), Patrick McCaw (thumb – OUT)
Orlando – Markelle Fultz (shoulder – OUT), Mo Bamba (leg – OUT), Timofey Mozgov (finger – OUT)
What To Do About D.J. Augustin
Can’t believe I’m writing about how to stop apparent offensive juggernaut D.J. Augustin in the year 2019. But, believe it or not, this is the situation — might as well discuss it. Augustin hit some ridiculous shots, but his success was not entirely predicated on luck. He’s a talented pick-and-roll player, and wasn’t defended particularly well in that area in the first half. Lowry wasn’t nearly quick enough on his feet to defend Augustin’s drives to the rim. Fred VanVleet also struggled against Augustin, opting to duck under screens, leaving the 42 percent three-point shooter wide open from beyond the arc. Even defensive guru Danny Green made some peculiar decisions. He failed to sufficiently close out on D.J. despite the lack of a screen, and looked incapable of shifting laterally to stifle drives. And, of course, let’s not forget about the Kawhi-Gasol defensive miscommunication on the last play that made me collapse to the floor in equal parts grief and disbelief.
If the Raptors are going to stop Augustin from torching them again (ugh), Gasol is going to have to do a better job at shifting forward in the paint to disturb his floaters. Though this may result in more kick out opportunities, D.J.’s teammates aren’t particularly adept at shooting from long range, shooting just 35.5 percent on the season as a team (good for 13th in the league). Meanwhile, perimeter defenders can’t continue ducking under screens set on a talented outside shooter in Augustin. It’s going to take some physicality, but this is the playoffs. Even if it makes players uncomfortable, they must do whatever it takes to defend staunchly. If it means having to put their body on the line, so be it.
Toronto’s Offensive Strategy
Pascal Siakam played phenomenally. He was overwhelmingly successful at avoiding Jonathan Isaac’s length through various means. When Pascal caught him off guard on the perimeter, he either drove the ball with purpose or cut to the rim for some easy buckets. Because Isaac must respect Siakam’s outside shot (37 percent on the season), he was easily able to drive right past Isaac and finish overtop the defenders who shifted over to help. He also operated more as a facilitator when cut off by Isaac, finding open players around the three-point line.
Kawhi Leonard operated patiently out of the pick and roll, letting the game come to him. When he had open room in the mid-range, he capitalized on those opportunities. If he found himself off-balance, he wisely dished the ball out to the perimeter. Also, he banged some threes and hit some ridiculous clutch shots, which is expected to happen because he is, after all, Kawhi Leonard.
I expect the Magic to shift more attention towards Kawhi and Siakam next game, meaning there will likely be even more open outside shots off drive-and-kicks. Hopefully, this will result in the Raptors shooting better than just 33 percent from three this time around.
After the game, Nick Nurse mentioned that Kawhi was prepared and ready to play more than 33 minutes if needed. Well, it sure seems like they needed it! Nurse explained away the low minutes by pointing to the fact that Kawhi was stuck at the scoring table, waiting to check into the game for long periods of time with no stoppages in play. That may be so, but it simply cannot happen again. Kawhi (and Lowry) are too vital to the team’s success to play just 33 and 34 minutes a night respectively.
Lowry’s shot was rusty, but he was a team high +11 on the game. He contributed massively to the success of his teammates, chipping in eight assists. Out of his seven shots, he took six threes. With extra minutes due next game, Kyle should look to drive with more ferocity, drawing contact when appropriate. He’s an excellent free-throw shooter, despite missing both his attempts last game. The Raptors need more toughness from their starting point guard, and if I know Kyle Lowry, he’ll bounce back.