The Nets-Raptors Game 3 was a letdown, and it’s hard to blame Brooklyn for looking and playing deflated. They lost a key component of their rotation, with Joe Harris exiting the Bubble, and they’re playing against one of the league’s best teams. In response, Nick Nurse and the Raptors smelled blood and pounced on the Nets.
In Game 3, the Raptors were suffocating defensively, taking advantage of the Nets’ lack of perimeter shooting. Elsewhere, they constantly attacked the paint and crashed the boards, which makes sense, because the Raptors also have a significant size and length advantage against Brooklyn too.
Jacque Vaughn thought he had a strategy that would accommodate the changes to their starting lineup and rotation, but it backfired. Taking the ball out of Caris LeVert’s hand intentionally gifted the Raptors with an easy solution for their gameplan. Still, after seeing this happen a few times in the series, you can’t blame Vaughn, right? The options here are limited.
Tyler Johnson “going off” had the Melo effect — he was cooking a bit, and getting his own buckets, but it took his teammates out of their rhythm. Worse yet, coach Vaughn failed to make any adjustments to get LeVert and Jarrett Allen more involved. Though it’s not clear whether that would have helped much, given the outcome of Game 3.
Let’s look at what went wrong, and what to expect for Game 4.
I suppose Vaughn was going with the element of surprise here. We’re so accustomed to seeing LeVert dance around his defender, getting them on his hip, and making a play out of it. Rinse and repeat. For Game 3, he spent more time off the ball, but it resulted in a lot of empty possessions for the Nets.
In his defense, Vaughn probably figured having Tyler Johnson, another ball-hander, in the starting lineup, would open up the game a bit for LeVert, who had been struggling with his efficiency all series. In theory, it’s plausible — get the defense’ eyes away from LeVert, and get the ball to him as they collapse on his teammates. In the previous two games, LeVert had some success getting the ball back after his teammates’ efforts to get in the paint.
Instead, LeVert had to watch as Garrett Temple and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot attempted to penetrate and break down the Raptors’ defense — not touching the ball as much he probably needed to. Meanwhile, Johnson shot the ball pretty much half the time he touched it, which led to even fewer attempts from LeVert. As a result, LeVert’s time of possession was cut in half, which led to a series-low in touches (76) and assists (6).
The result? The Nets were unable to exploit Marc Gasol offensively, and he was able to stay closer to Jarrett Allen. The latter failed to attempt a shot the entire game (primarily due to lack of playmaking, but also thanks to Gasol’s proximity). Ultimately, Allen became another player who couldn’t space the floor for the Nets, operating only in a good position as a screener.
Collapse the Defense
It was a stress-free game for the Raptors, as they pretty much got what they wanted offensively. The Nets’ defense was porous, and Toronto took advantage of the Nets’ mistakes. The Raptors got in the paint with ease, creating opportunities inside and out. For Raptors fans, it was a sign to behold: playmaking from Marc Gasol in the high post, Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam posting up guards attacking the basket, and wings cutting behind the Nets’ defense. Brooklyn just didn’t look ready to defend this varied attack from the Raptors offense.
For the Raptors:
Expand the Rotation
The Raptors’ key players have logged heavy minutes so far in this series, with players like Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, and Pascal Siakam playing out entire quarters at times. If there’s a series where they can keep their starters fresh, this is the one. The Nets look like they’re ready to exit the Bubble, and if the Raptors can start Game 4 with the same focus as they did in Game 3, this could be over quick.
That said, coach Nurse has to think a little bit of their next playoff series. With very little time in-between games (and the Boston Celtics likely to sweep the Philadelphia 76ers), now’s the time for the Raptors to experiment a little bit with their lineups and rotations. Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas, heck, and even Paul Watson Jr. need some reps and would benefit from running with key rotation players. If anything, the Raptors’ bench should be able to help close out the Nets team that we saw last Friday.
For the Nets:
Attack In Transition
The Raptors can get sloppy with the ball, and the Nets have shown that they can quickly turn it around for fast-break opportunities. Coach Vaughn needs to get his players to attack hard in transition, and unless the kick-out option from the perimeter is a wide-open Luwawu-Cabarrot, they should just take it strong to the basket.
The Nets have fewer options now on the perimeter, with Joe Harris no longer around, so there’s an urgency to get something big out of every possession. That can go too far sometimes though. Seeing Allen grab an offensive rebound in transition over Lowry and Fred VanVleet and then kick it out even if he’s basically at the rim is just unacceptable.
Revert to LeVert
The Bubble Nets are LeVert’s team, and he’s pretty much the engine of their offense. He has shown during the bubble that he’s willing to carry this team no matter what, and with very little to play for, the team should just lean on LeVert and see how far they can go.
Sure, LeVert’s had his struggles with the Raptors’ defense, but Vaughn’s strategy should not be to take the ball away from him. It needs to put him in a better position to score. No one wants to watch Garrett Temple dribble the ball or pass the ball under pressure (that’s a turnover waiting to happen); if you’re the Nets, you’d rather see LeVert go for it. For the Nets to have a chance, LeVert has to be in his element, cooking the Raptors defense with his array of moves, or going full-tilt with his pick-and-roll playmaking.