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Analysis: Star power and Toronto’s shooters get it done in Game 3

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The Warriors were short-handed in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, and the Raptors made sure to make them pay as a team. Here’s our analysis of last night’s contest.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors took Game 3 last night in the NBA Finals, and with it a 2-1 lead in the series. It was a game they basically had to win, with the Warriors heading into the contest extremely shorthanded.

Let’s take a look at how it happened.

Silent Stars

The Raptors played a real team game to get the win in this one. But they also had two of their stars put up great showings that were less obvious to the eye.

Kyle Lowry had a tremendous game, scoring 23 points and posting nine assists, but he was pretty obvious in that game, scoring far more than he usually does and turning up all over the court with key plays.

Toronto’s other two stars, though, had seemingly quiet nights.

Kawhi Leonard had a strange night. He struggled in general with the trapping defense the Warriors threw at him, with a particularly quiet first half. As a result, his usage dipped a little under 30 percent, which is below his usual dominance of the game. But there Leonard was at the end of the game, 30 points on 24 used possessions, a 69 percent TS%, plus seven boards and six assists, with two steals and two blocks to boot. Every step of the way this felt like an off night for Leonard, with him hesitant to attack blitzes and double-teams the Warriors threw his way. And yet, ultimately, it was still an incredible performance.

Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam had a good game on the face of it, but only a deeper look at on-off splits tells you how much he drove the Raptors’ success in this one. He posted a solid line of 18 points (on 17 possessions), nine rebounds and six assists. But he also carried some bench units by himself — and helped Toronto win those bench minutes while Steph Curry sat, which continues to be key for the series.

Pascal put up a team best +25 on-court net rating which dipped to -30 when he sat, by far the biggest swing on the team. Part of that is him winning his minutes against the Warriors bench handily (a +60 net rating in those five minutes). But the other part is the Raptors completely falling apart when he sat. Curry lineups had a -23 net rating while Pascal was on the court. And a +30 net rating while Pascal sat. He’s become crucial to the scramble help and switch defense the Raptors have been relying on against the Warriors.

Those Shooters

There are two factors to a good shooting night. There is whether your shooters hit their shots, and which shooters you get shots for. The Raptors passed both tests with flying colours in Game 3.

Here is a list of the players who took threes in this game, with the number of threes they took.

Player | 3PA
Green: 10
Lowry: 9
Leonard: 6
VanVleet: 6
Gasol: 4
Siakam: 3

That’s it. No Serge Ibaka. No Norman Powell. No Patrick McCaw (more on him later). The five players above all shot between 35 and 45 percent from three this regular season for the Raptors. Those are the guys you want shooting.

Siakam went 0-for-3. Kawhi, as noted, had a slight off night, and went 2-for-6. Marc Gasol only hit 1-of-4. Such is life. Variance happens even with guys who should be shooting the ball.

And speaking of variance, there was some nice positive regression for the other three Raptors shooters. Fred VanVleet shot 3-of-6 from distance, continuing his hot shooting over the past several games. Kyle Lowry hit 5-of-9 shots in the aforementioned Kyle-Lowry-Over-Everything game that was wonderful to see on the big stage. And Danny Green, renowned Finals sharpshooter, lived up to his reputation, shooting 6-of-10 from long range.

All told, the Raptors shot nearly 45 percent from three in Game 3. And the really good news is that’s really not that big an outlier. The Raptors shot 42 percent from three after the All-Star break (e.g. since the Gasol trade). The far bigger outliers in their shooting performances have been the many games where they struggled to hit the long ball, with 11 of their 21 playoff games thus far yielding percentages below 35. The Raptors were due for some good shooting, and it showed up at the right time.

Strange Substitution

So, Patrick McCaw, huh? This was a concerning blip in Game 1, and it was another concerning blip in Game 3. Both games, thankfully, the Raptors won their non-McCaw minutes by enough that it didn’t matter.

After going -3 in seven Game 1 minutes, McCaw followed that up with an impressive -5 in two minutes in Game 3.

Now, that’s not to say Norman Powell is hardly a world beater in this series. But it’s no coincidence the Raptors do better with him on the court than McCaw. McCaw’s inclusion in the rotation continues to mystify me. And yet again, this game was fine but should serve as a warning for future games. One of these times, the Raptors might lose a close game to the Warriors, and at the end of the game you don’t want to look back and know you threw away a few points with a strange substitution.

All stats per NBA.com