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Tactical Issues: How will the Raptors and Warriors adjust in Game 6?

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Tonight, the Raptors look to earn a title on the road, while the Warriors want to rally from tragedy and force Game 7. How will both try to get it done?

NBA Finals 2019 Tactical Issues: How will the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors adjust in Game 6, Nick Nurse John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Down 3-1, the Golden State Warriors went to Toronto and took Game 5, giving them a new lease on life and putting them in position to force a winner-take-all Game 7 by winning Game 6 at home.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, their win came at a cost, one that’s already started a ripple effect throughout the league. Kevin Durant’s presence in Game 5 was enough to spook the Raptors and get his teammates going, and Durant’s early scoring helped carry them to victory — but his injury will be felt far and wide, well beyond this series.

For the Raptors, Game 5 was a missed opportunity — or dare I say choke job? Just like in Game 2, they were able to get back in the game and had a chance to win, but some sloppy late game execution proved costly.

Now it’s Toronto’s turn to go into enemy territory to try and earn a win — and this case, the title — on the road. The Warriors will come out inspired and with a big chip on their shoulder, and the Raptors face the daunting task of ignoring all the noise and shutting the Warriors and their fan base down.

Let’s look back at some of the strategies used in Game 5 and predict what options are available for Game 6.

For the Warriors

Playing KD

Kevin Durant wanted to play. We won’t debate the decision here — there are plenty of blog posts, articles, and videos from analysts, former players, and shock-jocks discussing this matter.

What’s important to point out here is that for a few minutes, Durant had a profound impact on the Warriors offense. Everybody, including the Raptors, got a taste of what it’s like to go against a team with three world-class scoring options on the floor at the same time. That the Warriors started with their “death lineup” made it even more imposing. Durant’s presence alone opens up the floor for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to get all the daylight that they need to get going.

For 12 minutes, it looked like the Warriors were at a level higher than the Raptors. But before they could run away with the game, Durant’s unfortunate injury occurred.

Will we see this again: Unfortunately, Durant is out indefinitely.

Boogie, the Finisher

On my previous piece, I wrote about simplifying DeMarcus Cousins’ role on the offense for him to have a chance to stay on the floor after a disastrous Game 4.

Game 5 was shaping like a DNP-CD for Boogie, but then Kevin Durant and Kevon Looney re-aggravated their injuries, which opened up minutes and to his credit, Boogie was ready to contribute. Upon entering the game — immediately after Durant went down — Boogie looked to be the only person focused on the game. He helped push the Warriors lead from five to 12 by dropping nine points, an assist, a block, and a steal.

But it wasn’t as if the Warriors gave the ball to Boogie to manufacture points. In fact, he was used as a finisher around the basket, and as a spot-up shooter around the perimeter. There seems to be some restraint on giving him opportunities to hold the ball for far too long.

Will we see this again: With Kevin Durant out, expect the Warriors to find Boogie whenever he’s on the floor.

Let Pascal Shoot

The Warriors dared Pascal Siakam to hit his open shots, leaving him around the perimeter, often sagging off him to help out on Kawhi Leonard. Unfortunately for Siakam, his perimeter shots were off, and it appeared to affect his overall play; coach Nick Nurse had to make a tough decision to leave him on the bench during crunch time.

Will we see this again: Yes, but expect Siakam to be much more aggressive with his looks.

Potential Adjustments for the Warriors

Extra Curry

With Kevin Durant no longer in the picture, Steph Curry needs to put his team on his back and will them to victory. Steph has to come out aggressive and manufacture points, whether it’s off perimeter shots, layups, or fishing for free-throw shots.

The Warriors can’t afford an “OK” game from Curry; as seen in Game 5, a sensational Curry and Klay Thompson shooting game (and 12 minutes of Durant) could barely eke out a win against the Raptors.

Will we see this: Expect Curry to empty the clip.

Ultra Draymond Green

For the Warriors to win, they can’t just rely on Klay and Steph. They need Draymond Green to step up, and not just in scoring, but his overall game. Like with Steph, the Warriors can’t afford an “OK” 10-10-10 triple-double game from Green.

Green would have to channel how he controlled the game against the Portland Trail Blazers, with excellent production on both ends of the court. And aside from numbers, Green is the Warriors’ mood-maker; with the crowd’s help, he should be able to energize the team to go above and beyond against the Raptors.

Will we see this: Expect Green to be emotional (which could go either way!).

For the Raptors

Make Boogie Unplayable

It’s impressive how Boogie has helped the Warriors win two games, yet he’s still teetering between getting the Keith Bogans treatment or becoming unplayable. This feat is a good reminder of just how talented Boogie is, and while he can’t play like his old All-Star self for entire games, he has been able to do so in short spurts. He is a dangerous wildcard for the Raptors, and they should eliminate him from being a factor so that the defense can just focus on Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

It’s not like the Raptors have not had success in making Boogie unplayable, in fact, most of his struggles were in part because of his conditioning, which the Raptors attacked, and his appetite for playmaking, which the Raptors successfully neutralized in the previous games. The play of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka obviously had a hand in this; both made Boogie work on both sides of the floor. In Game 5, the Raptors targeted Boogie on a 1/5 PNR as the Warriors for some reason were willing to sacrifice Boogie on an island against Kyle Lowry.

Will we see this again: Nick Nurse will make an attempt to run Boogie off the floor, if not, Lowry could have a big night.

Gambling for the Steal

Attempting to jump a passing lane is OK as part of a calculated approach, but in Game 5, it felt like the Raptors were trying for too many home runs. I’ve never seen them go for so many steal attempts, and fail so often, in a game; against the Warriors, those failures usually result in wide-open three-point shots for the Splash Brothers.

By gambling on those steals, the Raptors are putting their teammates in a bad spot every time they fail. They need to trust and rely on their defense, and they should be big enough to secure the defensive rebounds to end the possession.

If the Raptors play an honest and gritty defense like they have, for the most part, those turnovers will present themselves, as the Warriors are not known for taking care of the ball. There’s no need to give the Warriors an opportunity for a broken play where the Splash Brothers are excellent at relocating amidst the chaos and have a wide-open perimeter shot.

Will we see this again: It will be hard to resist those split-second greedy moments, but expect the Raptors to be more disciplined.

That Last Three Minutes

We will not dwell on that untimely timeout call to give the Raptors some “rest.” No, instead, we will dwell on what happened after that. What happened after that was simply disaster after disaster: a series of bad offensive execution, bad shot selection, horrible defense, lack of coaching presence and before you knew it, the Warriors were up by three.

I expected more from the Raptors after that timeout: better offensive execution, maybe a substitution, and better defensive effort; that’s what rest should provide.

Then there’s the final play. The Raptors got a big break and a chance to win the game, being down by only one point after an offensive foul call on Cousins. Should Nurse have called a timeout to organize a set play? I think so, because the spacing around Kawhi was horrible, it felt like they were expecting a time out.

Maybe the Raptors, including Nurse, were expecting the Warriors to take a foul (they had one to give), after which they’d call a timeout to draw out the last play. If that was the case, Steve Kerr made a great chess move.

In the end, Nick Nurse did not get out-coached by Steve Kerr. He got “out-experienced.”

Will we see this again: God, I hope not.

Potential Adjustments for the Raptors

Diversify Kawhi’s Touches

In Game 4, I marvelled at how easily Kawhi got his 36 points. He got the ball in different spots on the floor, and in different types of situations: cutting to the basket, in catch-and-shoot situations in the midrange/perimeter, post-ups, drop-off passes in the dunker’s spot, and so on. This diversity was a significant factor in Kawhi’s stat sheet, including his zero turnovers.

In Game 5, Kawhi turned the ball over 90 seconds into the game trying to attack above the mark. In fact, he decided to attack double teams above the mark more than a few times, and he either turned it over, got fouled, or stalled the offense. The last time Kawhi tried to attack the Warriors’ blitz on him was the final play of the game, where the offensive possession went from bad to horrible in just a matter of seconds and ended up with a Kyle Lowry’s desperation corner three-point shot that got blocked by Draymond Green. All the while, the middle of the floor was wide open.

Will we see this: The Raptors let the Warriors dictate where Kawhi can get the ball by not asserting their offense well enough; expect the Raptors to turn it up a few notches.

Time to Start VanVleet?

Danny Green has been a significant disappointment on this post-season run. While Green was at least solid defensively in the previous series with the Magic, Sixers, and Bucks, we can’t say the same against the Warriors. And offensively? He’s in the middle of his worst shooting slump of his career, and if he can’t “bring it” defensively, he’s just a liability on the floor.

Meanwhile, Fred VanVleet has been a revelation since halfway through the Bucks series, and has shown a Matthew Dellavedova/Derek Fisher-like impact for the team.

Nurse has played VanVleet for the majority of the second half a few times now, and while I still think Green should see some minutes, maybe now is the time to start VanVleet to make things hard for Steph Curry from the get-go.

Will we see this: If there’s any lineup change, it would likely be announced at the last possible second.

Focus

The Raptors cannot approach Game 6 the way they approached Game 5. On the road, the Raptors need to focus on their game plan, have the discipline to execute the small details, and attack with calculated aggression. Expect the Warriors to come out firing again, and the Raptors cannot let them dictate what they can or cannot do on both sides of the court.

Focus means:

  • Danny Green and Pascal Siakam not rushing their wide-open perimeter shots and sticking to their muscle memory for optimal results.
  • Marc Gasol staying aggressive offensively and being “big” on both ends of the court.
  • Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, and the rest of the team adjusting to how the whistle is blown.
  • The Raptors defense being locked in from the tip, not losing their eye on the prize regardless of whatever happens throughout the game.
  • Taking and trusting your shot instead of being indecisive and turning the ball over or having to resort to a bail-out ISO play.

Will we see this: I damn sure hope so