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Tactical Issues: How will the Raptors and Warriors adjust in Game 3?

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Game 2 was a battle of adjustments for both teams. As the series move to Oakland, what changes could we see from the Raptors and Warriors?

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Toronto Raptors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors did what they came to do in Toronto — they stole one game. Of course, this series draw came about with a little help from the Toronto Raptors, who froze in the third quarter and got caught in the Warriors’ third quarter avalanche.

Game 2 showcased both teams, and also both coaches’ acumen. The Raptors and Warriors each came out with adjustments that affected the game in their favour. Steve Kerr used a brilliant third quarter defensive assignment adjustment to push the Raptors out of their comfort zone. Meanwhile, Nick Nurse closed with a box-and-1 defense that nearly got the Raptors the win.

The Raptors now travel to Oakland for Game 3, and hope to do the same thing the Warriors did to them: steal a game on the road.

For the Warriors

Start Boogie

Since Kerr had been set on playing Kevon Looney off the bench, he’s been juggling the starting centre spot for their entire playoff run. Of course, Boogie’s return gives them better options than Jordan Bell or Damion Jones. Of course, now Looney is out for good, which means DeMarcus Cousins is going to have a big role to play for the Warriors.

Boogie’s extended presence in Game 2 was big for the Warriors. He just had to rebound the ball, be decent defensively on switches, and act as a scoring threat on the floor.

Will We See This Again: Boogie checked off all those things, and should be their starting centre for the rest of the series.

Draymond Green on Lowry

The Warriors presented the Raptors a very different look in the third quarter. Draymond Green spent a lot of time on Kyle Lowry, pushing Klay Thompson on Kawhi Leonard and Andre Iguodala on Pascal Siakam.

The Warriors stifled the Raptors offense, as Lowry had a hard time executing their offense with Green on his face, while Kawhi and Siakam settled and failed to try to score aggressively.

The confusion on the offense bled into the Raptors’ defense as they seemed to stop talking and started making defensive breakdowns as well.

Will We See This Again: Maybe, but it will depend on Thompson’s health. Also, the Raptors should expect this now, so if they can relocate Kawhi to a better spot on the floor, it’s an exploitable tactic.

Klay Off the Dribble

Klay Thompson had a hard time shaking off defenders through off-ball movement in Game 1, so Kerr knows he needs to get Klay his opportunities some other way.

In Game 2, it was Klay pushing the ball, especially to start the game. He did not necessarily attempt layups, but it was a mere setup. Klay would attack off the dribble, kick the ball, relocate to an open spot, and force defensive breakdowns on switches (or late switches) to get him free.

Will We See This Again: Again, it depends on how healthy Klay is.

Potential Adjustments for the Warriors

More Boogie

We don’t know how banged up Klay is, and if he is, the Raptors could smell blood and try to clamp Curry as much as possible. Fortunately for the Warriors, they have a legit big man that can score — Boogie.

Demarcus Cousins may not be dropping 30+ points anytime soon, but he should be able to get anywhere between 12-18 points — that is if they call their number often enough. The only issue for the Warriors here is that Boogie prefers a slow-down/isolation mode possessions, which go against their style of play.

Will We See This: If Klay is really banged up and unable to go, he’s the next best scoring option available for the Warriors.

For the Raptors

Green on Curry

The Raptors were justifiably concerned about Steph Curry after he carried his team in Game 1, so coach Nurse chose to put his best perimeter defender on Curry. Danny Green spent a lot of time shadowing Klay Thompson in Game 1, and got the assignment to start on Steph Curry in Game 2. It worked for the most part as Curry was quiet in the first quarter.

Will We See This Again: Maybe. It depends on Nurse’s comfort level having Siakam guard Klay Thompson.

Box-and-1

I never thought I’d see a “box-and-1” zone defense at the professional level — let alone in the NBA Finals against the Warriors. Now, I know Golden State did not have Kevin Durant, and were eventually without Klay Thompson in the second half, but it’s not like Curry was playing with four Andre Robersons.

Nevertheless, the strategy worked for the Raptors, as it disrupted the rhythm of the Warriors, and it fuelled their comeback (even though Toronto seemed to miss all their shots). Unfortunately, the rally fell short as Kawhi took a gamble and went for a steal and the ball swung to a wide-open Andre Iguodala who actually is a Roberson — until he gets the ball in clutch situations.

I guess the silver lining for this strategy is that Toronto executed this scheme at a really high level even though the team apparently never practiced it. (Lowry said as much about it.)

Will We See This Again: I can’t see this strategy used again if Klay is on the floor. If he’s not and things get dicey again? It’s worth a try.

Potential Adjustments for the Raptors

This Ain’t It, Kyle

If you focus on Kyle Lowry the entire game, it’s easy to see how important he is to the Raptors. He’s doing a lot of intangibles, small things, directing the Raptors offense and defense, and occasionally providing some scoring punch.

In this series, though, occasionally won’t cut it for Lowry. With Kawhi being hounded by multiple Warriors on the floor, there should be more than enough opportunity for Lowry to exploit the mid-range, or go all the way to the basket. Lowry can’t keep settling on those perimeter shots, or let his offensive game be dictated by going hot or cold from beyond the arc.

With Pascal Siakam being closely guarded by the Warriors as well, the need for a secondary scorer is imperative for the Raptors’ success. Lowry’s aggressiveness should attract attention and in turn, get Kawhi and Siakam freed up from the Warriors’ defensive grip.

Lowry needs to score and be a factor more on the offense — whether he goes all the way to the basket, fishes for fouls to get to the line, or pushes the ball to get some easy layups for himself — to get him as close as possible to 20 points on any given night.

Will We See This: I’m expecting Lowry to respond to the challenge and push his scoring total closer to 20.

Put the Ball on Gasol

Gasol had a mediocre game last Sunday. He got into early foul trouble, and was mostly ineffective. He was also outplayed by Cousins — who was playing on a bum leg and lacked the conditioning to play at this level.

While Gasol can play better, what coach Nurse should focus on in making him more integral to the Raptors offense. Game 1 saw Gasol operating more from the elbow, or at the top of the key. Game 2, not so much. The Warriors are doing a great job reading the offense that the Raptors are running, stopping the first, second, or even third options, and making life miserable for Leonard and Siakam if they dare go to isolation moves.

Running ad-hoc plays with the ball on Gasol on the elbow makes the Raptors’ offense harder to predict. With constant cutting/player movement, Gasol should be trusted to make passes that could lead to a bucket.

Will We See This: It’s worked often, so here’s hoping Toronto can get back to it.

Tighten Up Defensive Communication

The Raptors defense was good for the most part, except for the random plays where there was a miscommunication on switches, coverages, or general defensive positioning. These small breakdowns led to the Warriors getting easy baskets from back-cuts and mismatches. It was a big part of Toronto’s sudden collapse in the third quarter.

For a Raptors team that has shown explosively good defense for long stretches of these playoffs, it really should stick in their craw that they allowed this to happen at all.

Will We See This: With three days in between games, expect the Raptors to address this issue.

Collapse the Warriors Defense from the Inside

Kawhi’s isolation plays feature him going against the Warriors’ defense from the perimeter area. Much like the Sixers and the Magic, the Warriors formed a wall against Kawhi’s penetration.

The Warriors made a great move by putting Draymond Green on Kyle Lowry in the second half of Game 2, and that was enough to unsettle the Raptors for an entire quarter.

What the Raptors failed to take advantage of is Klay Thompson covering Kawhi. While Klay is no slouch defensively, Kawhi has the size and strength advantage on him, and should be able to bully Klay on the block.

Will We See This: If the Warriors decide to stick with this defensive assignment, posting up Kawhi could be the opening that Nurse and the Raptors need to collapse the Warriors defense.

For Both Teams

Push the Pace

Both teams want to attack in transition, whether it’s off a turnover, defensive rebound, or even a made basket.

For the Warriors, the cross matches generated from their quick transition attacks make it easier to target certain mismatches. For example, Thompson took advantage of shooting over smaller Raptors defenders that don’t usually cover him. Another big reason for the Warriors to push the pace is to avoid the Raptors set defense.

The Warriors aren’t the only team looking to push the pace though. The Raptors’ motivation is to get everybody some easy transition buckets. When a whole team is struggling to score and shoot, watching the ball go through the basket is a great pick-up.

Will We See This: Expect the Warriors to push the ball a lot, and the Raptors push the ball selectively.

Strength in Numbers

So far, the two games have been decided by the contributions of the respective teams’ supporting cast. Game 1 saw Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, and Danny Green help carry the scoring load, while Kawhi struggled to score. Game 2 saw the Warriors supporting cast of Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Shaun Livingston and even a cameo by Andrew Bogut put up points on the board.

Kawhi, Curry, and Thompson will get their buckets, but who else on both teams will step up remains a big question mark for both teams.

Will We See This: They say the home team’s players play better at home, so it’s safe to say that the Warriors’ supporting cast could step up. However, the Raptors have something of a health advantage now, so look for them to come out swinging.