New experiences! New feelings! New emotions! The Toronto Raptors had never led 3 to 1 in a playoff series before this one! I’ve never felt this way before, what do I do with my hands!?
Yes, the Toronto Raptors are in a position of relative security when it comes to their playoff advancement, and the playoff series isn’t even over yet. And, as well all know, no team has ever blown a 3 to 1 playoff lead, making the “relative” qualifier a mere formality here. The Raptors have already won the basketball series.
(Editor’s Note: Jacob does not go on to indicate that he is being sarcastic in the following paragraph of his introduction, so it falls on me to inform you that he is, in fact, a liar.)
Paradoxically, despite the Raptors’ already guaranteed victory they will still have to win one more game in order to advance to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals where they will play the Philadelphia 76ers, who have also already won their first-round series. It shall no doubt be a dull affair, given that the outcome of the game is already known to all. Should you wish to watch it, nonetheless, I shall endeavour, below, to provide you with the information needed to enjoy it.
Where to Watch:
TSN, NBA TV, 7:00 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Orlando – D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic
Toronto – OG Anunoby (abdomen – OUT), Chris Boucher (back – day-to-day)
Orlando – Mohamed Bamba (leg – OUT), Markelle Fultz (shoulder – OUT), Timofey Mozgov (knee – OUT)
Gumming Things Up
The amount of respect that the Raptors’ have shown to the various shooters on the Magic has progressively decreased as this series has worn on. It started with the Raptors’ blatant disrespect of Magic sophomore Jonathan Isaac in Game 2. Isaac was repeatedly left wide-open by the Raptors on the three-point line, as they instead used the man who would otherwise be defending him to clog up the paint. This discouraged the Magic from driving and also allowed other Raptors defenders to become more aggressive in gambling to force turnovers.
No one on the Raptors took greater advantage of this than Marc Gasol, who has been monstrous defensively throughout the series creating deflections and forcing turnovers. Below we can see how the decision to ignore Isaac unlocks Gasol: Pascal Siakam is already lurking in the paint ready to intercept Nikola Vucevic, allowing Gasol to devote all his attention to the ballhandler, D.J. Augustin.
Gradually, though, the Raptors seemed to decide that Isaac wasn’t the only player on the Magic worth de-prioritizing. In game four this took full effect, as the Raptors very readily gave help off of some of the Magic’s best shooters, namely guys like Evan Fournier, Augustin and Aaron Gordon. At this point, former Raptor Terrence Ross is really the only Orlando shooter the Raptors are lending any credence to. Here, Danny Green digs all the way down off of Augustin on a Nikola Vucevic post-up, helping force a Vucevic miss:
That Green feels comfortable digging so far down against Augustin, nominally Orlando’s second best catch-and-shoot threat, feels instructive. Vucevic is already dealing with a cramped floor even if Green doesn’t dig: with multiple defenders ready and in position to help whether he goes baseline or middle, he’s always going to be forced into a tough shot. Green being able to dig off of Augustin, who has only made two three-point shots since going 4-of-5 from deep in Game 1, introduces the possibility of forcing turnovers and of simply dissuading post-ups all together.
Essentially, the Magic either need to start making their threes or Vucevic, their keystone player, will remain a non-factor, facing constant help with an already excellent individual defender guarding him.
It’s the hilarious continuation of a playoff tradition that was, at one point in time, painful and tragic. The Raptors are absolutely going to pieces with Kyle Lowry off the floor. And it is, in this context, incredibly amusing.
Now that he’s old, broken and decrepit, it is unclear to many what exactly Lowry does anymore. He evidently doesn’t score, as he recently scored zero (0) (ZERO) points in a playoff game. Does he defend? At his age, as a sub-six-foot player? He’s a good passer, perhaps. But what else? Surely, given that the Raptors are 50.7 points per 100 possessions (FIFTY-POINT-SEVEN) better with Lowry on the court as opposed to off, there must be more to it.
There’s a lot to it, of course, an on/off margin of 50.7 points per 100 possessions (FIFTY-POINT-SEVEN!) can’t be attributed to any one thing. Most of this margin is accounted for defensively, where Lowry, who is among the playoff leaders in a variety of hustle stats, including deflections, charges taken and loose balls recovered, is one of the people doing the most to gum up the Magic’s offense. Offensively, much of it can be chalked up to Lowry’s ability as a game manager.
allstar doing what he does better than anyone else pic.twitter.com/qOcSZD0CwG— death cult disliker (@Jacob_M_Mack) April 23, 2019
Lowry doesn’t appear to do anything particularly special in this clip. He helps secure a gang rebound, jogs ahead so that the Raptors’ can advance the ball faster than if he had dribbled it up, pretends to seek a mismatch between Danny Green and Evan Fournier, and then lobs an entry pass to Kawhi Leonard posting Wes Iwundu. Anyone could do this. (Leonard, of course, posted Iwundu into oblivion, drew help, got a re-post and scored)
Anyone could do this, but no one does. When the Raptors go to Lowry’s backup, Fred VanVleet, they rarely, if ever, manage to circumvent their usual offense by creating transition situations in the halfcourt. VanVleet advances the ball like any other point guard, he calls for it in the backcourt and dribbles it up slowly himself. Then the Raptors run a play. Lowry breaks the game. His eyes are always up, he’s always hunting down opportunities to face a less-than-ready defense, whether that’s hitting a full-sprint Pascal Siakam or identifying a mismatch to take advantage of right as it develops.
Not Actually Over
Okay look, I talked a big game about how the series was over in my introduction (Editor’s Note: oh boy did you ever) but obviously, many 3-to-1 deficits have been erased throughout NBA history. The Raptors’ Game 1 loss lit a fire under the team, and perhaps the biggest concern going into tonight’s contest is that reaching the verge of victory might have extinguished that fire. Their opponents might be discouraged, less talented, and on the road, but given some shooting luck and a let-up from the Raptors that can all change very quickly.
It’s imperative then, that the Raptors come out today with the same energy that turned this series around. If the Magic face the same hyperactive defense that annihilated them in Game 2 early on tonight, then we could easily see them shut down and effectively surrender. If given life, however, the Magic could easily give the Raptors a lot to stress over. Let’s not have that.