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Tactical Issues: How will the Raptors and Warriors adjust in Game 4?

The Raptors took the homecourt advantage back despite the heroics of Steph Curry. With Klay Thompson returning for Game 4, expect both teams to look different again.

NBA: Finals-Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Why did the Raptors cross the wrong bridge? Silly, it’s to show that the Kings of the North can cross whatever bridge they want to take back what was stolen from them. After Game 3, and after that goofy social media misstep, the Raptors regained the homecourt advantage and are looking at pulling away with a potential win for Game 4.

Before we start with the potential adjustments for Game 4, let’s put into perspective that the Golden State Warriors were shorthanded. Obviously, not having Kevin Durant is big. To add salt to the wound, Klay Thompson injured himself by unnaturally extending his legs as he tried to fish for a foul while going up for a three-pointer.

Game 3 showed Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors did not dwell on their Game 2 loss. Instead, they were locked and loaded, demonstrated aggressiveness on the offensive and defensive end, and had the Warriors trying to claw their way back for the entire game — despite Steph Curry’s exceptional game.

Game 4 continues the trend of the Warriors even more banged up, but they should be getting Klay Thompson back. With a short turnaround time, coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors need to make a few adjustments as Game 4 is shaping up as a must-win game for them.

Meanwhile, coach Nick Nurse and the Raptors should not settle. They need to look to the previous game and once again limit the Warriors to 109 points, while they try figure out how to score more than that. It all sounds so simple, but let’s get into the complications.

For the Raptors

Start and Play VanVleet the Entire Second Half

Danny Green was saddled with foul trouble — but three fouls at the half isn’t that bad. Green is a vet, and known for his defense. He’s been more disciplined than, say, Kyle Lowry who can’t keep himself from trying to poke at the ball. What makes this decision even harder for Nurse was that Green was playing well offensively.

Nurse probably wanted to put his best Curry defender in to start the half. Sure, Curry dropped 47 points, but his points with Fred VanVleet as his main defender were few and far between. A good majority of those points were in the paint, which is obviously the preferred outcome for the Raptors given Curry’s ability beyond the arc.

Will We See This Again: With only a day’s rest in between games, it’s hard to see VanVleet play an entire half. But he’ll definitely see as much time on Curry as possible.

Attack the Paint

The Raptors made a concerted effort to attack the basket, whether it was Kawhi Leonard or Pascal Siakam getting to the rim, or Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka rolling hard, and even Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet prodding the paint and taking the opening for a layup. Even in transition, the Raptors pushed the ball and tried to get into the paint and kick the ball out to their shooters.

The pressure on the paint made the Warriors’ defense collapse, allowing the Raptors’ shooters to get cleaner looks. Even in transition, the Warriors were so worried about giving up paint points, and they lost Danny Green a few times.

Will We See This Again: The Raptors should punish the Warriors in the paint as often as possible.

Complete Lowry Game

Kyle Lowry was aggressive offensively early and often throughout the game. He did not just settle for perimeter shots, and he tried to get into the lane aggressively looking to score. Lowry ended up with 23 points, but it was his gravity as a scorer that had the Warriors on their heels defensively. His scoring efforts were a perfect complement to the rest of his game — distributing, directing the team, etc.

Will We See It Again: A throwback 2015-16 Kyle Lowry is just what the Raptors need.

Potential Adjustments for the Raptors

Diversify Kawhi’s Touches

The Raptors need to get Kawhi Leonard the ball in different spots and in different situations, as the Warriors continue to do an excellent job trapping him. If Kawhi doesn’t trust his mid-range game, get him to the dunker’s spot, similar to the play where Toronto has Siakam or Ibaka waiting for the drop pass. Kawhi should be able to score in and around the paint with a quick drop step or a similar move. Putting Leonard in the post straight-up would also work.

Kawhi’s teammates should also just let it fly and not let the possession end up with Kawhi (or Siakam) having to ISO with six seconds left in the shot clock. That strategy worked in Game 1, but it’s been trouble since then.

Will We See This: The Warriors continue to push Kawhi out of his comfort spots. Either the Raptors have to set him up in the post, or try to attack switches more aggressively. They haven’t been able to do this yet.

Play OG

There, I said it. It feels like the last we saw of OG Anunoby was last season — despite it being just a month and a half of inaction. However, looking at OG in warmups, he seems like he’s ready to play. If Klay Thompson is playing, Nurse could give Patrick McCaw’s minutes to him.

With the short turnaround time between Games 3 and 4 and factoring in the travel, OG’s size and defense could buy the Raptors some needed rest time.

Will We See This: It’s not super likely. Still, OG is a big wildcard here as we haven’t seen him play in the playoffs. I believe it’s worth a try.

Attack Klay

If Klay Thompson is not healthy, the Raptors have to attack him — sorry, not sorry! This is especially the case if the Warriors match him up with Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors have to test Klay offensively and defensively, and make him work those hammies the entire game.

Will We See This: Nurse was recently quoted that he doesn’t like attacking a player if it’s not within their offense, but expect Nurse to do so here. (It worked in the Gasol vs. DeMarcus Cousins matchup after all.)

For the Warriors

Start Livingston

With Klay Thompson out in Game 3, Shaun Livingston drew the start, and it was a flop. Livingston gave the Warriors nothing offensively, and his lack of shooting allowed his defender to sag off him and cramp the team’s spacing. On top of that, he was not making much of a mark defensively.

Will We See This Again: With Klay Thompson back, I doubt it.

Trapping Kawhi

If there’s one thing the Warriors can be please with coming out of Game 3 (and through the series) is the way they’ve made Kawhi work for his points. The Warriors have been trapping Kawhi in pick-and-roll situations and sending a double team whenever he gets in post position near the baseline.

Coach Nurse have been experimenting on how to free-up Kawhi’s isolation game, including sending staggered or multiple screens to get him an opening.

Will We See This Again: Until it stops working, the Warriors should hang onto this strategy.

Lean Even More on Steph

There’s a case to be made that Curry should have shot even more in Game 3. Now with Thompson back for Game 4, maybe the Warriors can be excused from not running every action through Steph, but still, he’s just that good offensively. Not much else to say.

Will We See This Again: I hope not.

Potential Adjustments for the Warriors

Start Bogut

Boogie Cousins was horrible in Game 3, and he looked more washed up than Andrew Bogut, who was out of the NBA this season. Marc Gasol made him work by going at him. What’s more, on offensive — far from his appearance in Game 2 — Cousins looked like a regular LA Fitness big.

Bogut presented the Warriors with a much better option on defense, with better IQ on both ends of the floor, while providing screens a few levels better than Cousins’.

Will We See This: It depends on how sore Bogut is after playing 22 minutes in Game 3.

Get Curry to Target Kawhi

One thing is evident with Kawhi’s season with the Raptors so far: He’s not as explosive laterally. Offensively, he’s having a hard time turning the corner and is relying on his strength as he barrels down the lane.

Defensively, Kawhi is also having trouble keeping up with small players who are crafty and make quick lateral moves like, of course, Steph Curry. With the Raptors defense willing to switch, the Warriors should take advantage of this and get Curry to target Kawhi and try to dance around him.

Will We See This: Maybe for a few possessions.

More Draymond at Centre

The Warriors like to push the pace, and there’s no better way to do this than have Draymond Green anchoring the defense and leading the team transition out of the pivot. The Warriors did not spend any time with Green as a centre in Game 3 — and perhaps Kerr just doesn’t have the pieces to make it work.

The Raptors’ size and push get to the interior have been a factor, and with Green as their best help defender, he would be stuck protecting the paint. Maybe with Klay’s return, they can run with a small ball lineup? Weirdly, Kerr has only used a small-ball lineup for about three minutes in this series thus far. The absence of Kevin Durant (and Kevon Looney for that matter), really make these kinds of lineups tough to pull off.

Will we see this: Probably not — which proves maybe the Warriors need Kevin Durant just that badly.