Some say it was rust, but the eye test suggests that the Raptors may be the better team overall if Kevin Durant is not able to come back soon for the NBA Finals.
Coach Nick Nurse and the Raptors came in prepared and held the Warriors at arm’s length for the entirety of Game 1. While Golden State tried to get back into the game a few times, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson did not get enough support from their teammates.
Coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors approached Kawhi Leonard with a game plan similar to the one used for Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. They were successful in slowing down Kawhi, but Pascal Siakam and the rest of the gang made them pay.
Let’s look at some of the tactics that both teams employed and predict what could come next for Game 2.
For the Warriors
Heading into the Finals, it’s a big unknown as to how the Warriors will defend Kawhi. Given how Leonard was just bigger, stronger, and better than any of his past defenders this postseason, the Warriors were expected to either let Kawhi cook and stop everybody else (like LeBron and the Cavs), or focus on Kawhi and make his teammates make their shots (like Lillard and the Blazers).
Perhaps Kawhi’s dominance through the first three rounds weighed so much for the Warriors, they decided to stop him at all cost, and bet that Kawhi’s teammates would come up short. It felt like a reasonable bet, as it is something that has happened to the Raptors throughout the playoffs.
Fortunately for the Raptors, the floor opened up for Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol. With fewer defenders on the paint, and a significant length advantage against most of the Warriors’ defenders, Siakam was able to cook with all the open space he suddenly had.
Gasol was also an active participant on the Raptors offense, seemingly aware that such a strategy might come. Unlike in the past rounds, Gasol did not just settle for outside shots but also punished the Warriors inside as well.
Will We See This Again: The Warriors don’t have the size, length, and athleticism to contain Kawhi, Siakam, and Gasol. Expect the defense on Kawhi to dial-down a little bit, but just enough to keep an eye on Siakam. I wonder if that’s good enough.
Freebie Free Throws
The Raptors play an ultra-aggressive defense — they will chase you, will be physical, will reach, and contest hard all the time.
The Warriors saw this opportunity, took advantage of it, and Steph Curry was the main beneficiary. Curry knew that the Raptors would stay on his hip at all times, and he used the defenders’ aggressiveness to fish for fouls and earn 14 trips to the line. Given Curry’s accuracy at the stripe, these are gimmes for him.
Will We See This Again: I doubt the Raptors will lower their defensive aggressiveness on Curry and Thompson, so those “freebies” will always be there if the Warriors are struggling to score.
Potential Adjustments for the Warriors
Much like how the Raptors switched Siakam off Giannis so he could act more like a free safety, could the Warriors put Draymond Green on Marc Gasol, so that Green can do what he’s good at, which is his help defense?
Kerr should feel better gambling on daring Marc Gasol to shoot 15+ times — something that he hasn’t done wearing a Raptors uniform. In fact, he’s averaging just a bit over seven attempts per game — the lowest of his career.
Will We See This: Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell might not be able to defend Siakam 1-on-1 especially if he’s going downhill with plenty of space. But if Green can come in as a help defender, that’s worth looking into.
Preparing for Iggy’s Worst Case Scenario
Andre Iguodala’s body is falling apart faster than Paul Pierce’s street cred. Another series, and another injury that’s threatening to take him down for a game, if not the series. Now facing a much tougher cover in Kawhi Leonard, it might be too tall an order for the battered Iguodala.
Kerr needs to see whether anyone else on their bench — Alfonzo McKinnie? — can spare a few minutes at a time to guard Kawhi. Or at least see if they can do a decent job as Kawhi’s initial defender and good enough to help blitz Kawhi. It may be the only way for the Warriors to keep him at bay.
Will We See This: Unless they have confidence that Iguodala’s body will hold up, it would be wiser to see what these other Warriors can do.
For the Raptors
Defending the Splash Brothers
One thing’s for sure, the Raptors want to limit the Splash Brothers’ wide-open opportunities. I mean, they’re money whenever they get the shots that they want uncontested.
Danny Green and his helpers did an excellent job making Klay Thompson uncomfortable. Thompson was forced to attack closeouts despite his preference to catch-and-shoot. There were also a few times that Thompson was forced to bring the ball down, and Green pressured him from 94 feet.
Steph Curry had to work harder moving off the ball and in-and-around screens to shake Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, in particular, to get a good shot. The Raptors bigs did a decent job on switches and blitzing Curry on pick-and-roll actions. Even Drake lent his hand getting into Klay Thompson’s ear with his Hotline Bling. It will take a village to continue to stop the Splash Brothers.
Will We See This Again: Steph and Klay still managed to get their shots — some were tough makes, and some were from scrambles that led to wide open chances. Expect Nurse and the Raptors to try to tighten things up for Game 2.
How Gasol Got Going
We’ve seen Kawhi getting trapped/blitzed by Toronto’s opponents this postseason. We’ve seen a version of Marc Gasol hesitant to do anything once he got the ball. We’ve also seen a version of Gasol who wasn’t shy in hoisting those perimeter shots.
The Warriors kept blitzing Kawhi, and he was able to find Gasol. This time, Gasol did not just settle for perimeter shots — he rolled deep a few times as the middle was wide open. Also, as the Warriors defense scrambled, Gasol presented himself in good scoring opportunities in and around the basket and used his size advantage once he got the short pass from his teammates.
Sometimes, a good deed on one end could translate on the other: Gasol’s defense was excellent in Game 1. His deflections, closeouts, and his pick-and-roll defense were more than what we would expect from him.
Will We See This Again: I sure hope so — an engaged Marc Gasol is what the Raptors need for the rest of the series.
Potential Adjustments for the Raptors
Cleaner Looks for Kawhi
It feels like it takes Kawhi a while to figure out how he’s being defended, and what kind of counters he should apply. One would think after Game 1, especially if Kawhi had a day or two to watch the film and further visualize what’s happening on the floor, he’d be ready for the defensive pressure off the jump.
Aside from looking at an effective counter to the way the Warriors are blitzing Kawhi (maybe a quick backdoor play after he gives up the ball), coach Nurse should also go back to what’s worked in the past, such as getting the ball to Kawhi on the move, some elbow action with Gasol playmaking, or getting Kawhi working out of the post.
Will We See This: I’m looking forward to seeing how Kawhi can solve the blitzing problem, as he’s the type of person that would face it head on than run from it.
For Both Teams
The Need for More Than Heart and Soul
Draymond Green and Kyle Lowry both play an integral part of their respective team’s offense. But both players had a disappointing shooting night, and their scoring production will not cut it if they want to come away with the championship.
We all know how both players do a lot of the things that you see and don’t see on the box score. However, both teams require additional scoring punch, and as the defensive adjustments get better by the game, the need for Lowry and Green to step up scoring-wise could be the “swing vote” on how Game 2, and the series, will end up.
Lowry was bothered by Thompson’s length, and the same could be said with Green against Siakam. However, they both are capable of doing better, and we’ve seen it from both of them.
What Will We See: My money is on Draymond Green trying to score more. He’s demonstrated in the previous rounds that when the Warriors need more, he gives it to them.