Don’t let your guard down in the third quarter.
I’ve never seen an actual NBA scouting report, but I have to believe that every team’s scouting report on the Warriors must include that line. I can say with certainty it’s imprinted on the brains of everyone within the Portland Trailblazers organization — and after last night, everyone in the Raptors organization is intimately familiar with it as well.
Bolstered by an 18-0 run to start the third, the Warriors held off the Raptors last night, got the split that every road team wants in Games 1-2, and have given this series some juice as it heads West. On to the thoughts:
It’s Fine, but Also, It Sucks
The following things can all be true:
- I expected a long series;
- I knew the that the Warriors could (and would) make big runs;
- I have confidence in the Raptors’ ability to win on the road;
- I am incredibly bummed out and disappointed in last night’s loss.
I think it’s entirely possible to be in the “it’s fine” and “that really sucked” camps, both at the same time. The Raptors did not play a great game, but were still right there at the end and couldn’t get it done; that sucks. The Warriors were saddled with health and injury problems up and down the roster, but the Raptors didn’t take advantage, even though they were at home; that sucks.
It doesn’t mean I think the series is over, at all. One loss isn’t a big deal. But I’m still gonna be really bummed about it all day.
Begun, This Chess Match Has
Steve Kerr made the first real move on the chess board last night, starting DeMarcus Cousins at centre. It turned out to be a good one, as Cousins notched a double-double and his passing unlocked all kinds of advantages for the Warriors in the half-court. (It was also a brilliant move to start Cousins, a known flopper and notable head snapper/exagerrater of contact, with those three particular officials calling last night’s game.)
The Warriors also sent more cutters to the rim, which we’ll talk about later, a pretty simple counter to Toronto’s plan of “walling” off the three-point line anytime Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson have the ball.
Nick Nurse’s in-game counter in the fourth quarter was a box-and-one type zone, with Fred VanVleet chasing Stephen Curry around and the four other Raptors playing as the four corners of a “box” just outside the paint. This worked, inasmuch as it stymied the Warriors offense for the final five minutes, with the Raptors outscoring them 10-0 before Igoudala’s dumb three-pointer. (Yes, I know “dagger three-pointer” is a more accurate description. But I prefer “dumb.” It was dumb.) Of course, Toronto only shot 2-for-12 in that stretch, and no defense is going to hold up forever if you can’t score.
So what’s the next move? That defense only works if it’s Curry without Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, of course, so I don’t think we’ll see it again, unless Thompson’s injury is worse than he’s letting on.
I don’t anticipate Nurse changing his starting lineup; I’m confident over the course of a seven-game series that Marc Gasol will outplay Cousins by a wide margin. I think you’ll see a little more caution from the Raptors’ defense, in terms of keeping one body sagging back off the “wall” to shade the dunker’s spot — the Raptors certainly can’t afford to give up that many paint looks again.
I will say that Nurse has made good adjustments so far in the playoffs — and has had a good sense of when not to change things — so I’m pretty confident in whatever he’s cooking up for Game 3.
Death by a Thousand (Back) Cuts
I don’t have a count of how many times the Warriors scored on back cuts and lobs in the third courter; it’s hard to keep track when I’m at the game, and while normally I re-watch the games when I get home/in the morning, I would have to be some kind of masochist to watch that third quarter again. I’m not doing it, not even for you, loyal readers.
The exact number is beside the point, anyway — the point is that the Warriors constantly got behind the Raptors’ defense and their pinpoint passing made Toronto pay. They assisted on all 22 of their made field goals after half time, and I feel like 21 of them were at the rim (with number 22 being Igoudala’s dumb three-pointer).
What’s interesting about this, and that entire third-quarter Warriors run, is that you have the expectation that Curry and Thompson will just annihilate you with a barrage of three-pointers, usually with one or two defenders in their face. At those, you can just throw up your hands and say “damn.” Not much you can do when that happens. But last night, giving up all those easy looks? Way, way more frustrating than seeing the Splash Brothers go off. That’s something your defense can and should be able to prevent.
My love for Kyle Lowry is limitless, but just because you love someone doesn’t mean they don’t frustrate you at times. Lowry picking up his sixth foul in the backcourt off a miss was just plain dumb.
Without him, the Raptors’ offense couldn't get a rhythm in the final four minutes, which is a shame, since as noted above, their defense turned things around; it’s certainly no guarantee that Lowry makes a difference (and Danny Green wouldn’t have been in the game to make his big shot if Kyle weren’t disqualified), but maybe they get a better shot or two, or maybe Kyle hits one of the three straight open threes the Raptors missed when he went out.
Overall this wasn’t one of Kyle’s best games. It looked like he had it going in the first half — he nailed a three and took a charge — but that big Warriors run seemed to take something out of him.
Regardless, he’s got to be smarter than picking up a touch foul 90 feet away from the rim with four minutes to go.
Speaking of smarts...
To Foul or not to Foul?
That 2.5 second-difference between the shot clock and game clock in a two-point game makes for a tricky final possession: Do you foul, or play straight up D and try and force a turnover or bad shot? Perhaps I am a cautious man, but to me, if you don’t get the steal on the inbounds, you should foul in that situation. Extend the game, hope for a miss, give your team more time on the clock to make something happen — including their time more time to screw it up. I would have advocated fouling Draymond Green as soon as he touched the ball (without 19 seconds to go).
The Raptors didn’t, and to be fair, did a great job trapping Curry when Green passed it back to him; Curry forced a bad pass into the middle that Kawhi Leonard nearly picked off. Of course, he didn’t, and you know what happens next...
If the Raptors had fouled they’d have been down by four (at worst) with 19 seconds to go. Instead they were down by five with 5.9 to go.
Which situation would you rather be in?
And so we head to Oakland, with the Warriors holding home court advantage in what is now a best-of-five series. And we’re going to discover if the Raptors are really ready to play on the road, on the biggest stage. They’ve played five of their last six playoff games at home, with only a short trip to Milwaukee and back in there for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. They haven’t traveled to the West coast at all since December! Crossing one time zone to Milwaukee or Minnesota is one thing, losing those three hours going West is something else.
Thankfully there’s the two full off days in between Games 2 and 3, which is hopefully enough for the team to get acclimated. And, hey, maybe that California sunshine re-energizes Kawhi Leonard, back in his home state.
They Raptors are 4-4 on the road this postseason. Let’s hope they’re still at — or better yet, above — .500 when they come home for Game 5!