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Game 1 for the Raptors proved it really is a make or miss league

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We here in Toronto remember the old adage: it’s a make or miss league (Doug). And that’s how things went vs. the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes basketball really is all about making your shots. The Raptors had a bad showing in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics, and a lot of that bad was earned through sloppy offense and poor decision making.

But also: you gotta hit your shots. And, boy, the Raps sure didn’t.

A Thousand Words

This is as good an introduction as any. Red is bad, green is good. And here’s the shot chart for the Raptors in Game 1:

https://stats.nba.com/game/0041900211/shotchart/?htm=1628384,1627783,201188,1627832,200768,201586,1626181,1629056

Red actually means the team shot 10 percentage points below league average shooting for that region of the court. Green is 10 points above average. Note the single green region came with only two shot attempts. While it’s true defense tends to win championships, it certainly helps to shoot well from somewhere on the court.

Well OK, the Raptors did shoot about league average at the rim! Hooray.

Long Range Bombing Out

The Raptors shot 25 percent from three point range — 10 for 40 for the game. And to be even more clear: none of that came from their end of bench players in garbage time. That sort of shooting will absolutely kill a team. Remember, the Raptors lost by 18 — that means if they make six more threes, it’s an entirely different game. This is, of course, wishful thinking, but shooting 16-of-40 instead would be a 40 percent shooting night. This is not crazy by any stretch, and it would still be a worse clip than what the Celtics put up in Game 1 (43.6% percent) despite the two teams being very comparable on the season (37.4 for the Raptors vs. 36.4 for the Celtics).

But surely there is a reason for this massive discrepancy from the norm in Toronto’s play. The Celtics did play objectively good defense, and likely had a part to play in causing those misses — right? Well, let’s examine that possibility.

One big factor in three-point shooting is whether players are having to pull-up off the dribble or letting fly after a pass in a spot-up position. Generally speaking, shooting off the dribble is more difficult. Here is how the Raptors fared in the regular season.

Three-Point Shot Type | Proportion of Total Shots | FG% on Shot Type

Catch and shoot: 29.4%, 38.8%
Pull-up: 12.0%, 33.4%

And now let’s compare those splits to how they looked in Game 1.

Three-Point Shot Type | Proportion of Total Shots | FG% on Shot Type

Catch and shoot: 34.5%, 24.1%
Pull-up: 13.1%, 27.3%

So, the Raptors didn’t get forced into significantly more pull-up threes than usual, and actually had a few more catch-and-shoot threes than is typical for them. They also only saw a slight dip in their pull-up shooting success. But the number to look at here is the field goal percentage on those catch-and-shoot looks. They were just not going down for the Raptors. Toronto shot 7-for-29 on those spot-up chances, which is just not great.

Then again, perhaps they were well contested? As we noted, Boston was playing some strong defense and that can definitely impact shooting success. First, for the regular season to show the trend:

Three-Point Shot Type | Proportion of Total Shots | FG% on Shot Type

Contested (<4 feet from defender): 5.0%, 29.1%
Open (4-6 feet from defender): 15.8%, 34.9%
Wide Open (>6 feet from defender): 21.2%, 41.1%

That’s a pretty clear trend — more room, better shooting. Now, in Game 1 for Toronto:

Three-Point Shot Type | Proportion of Total Shots | FG% on Shot Type

Contested (<4 feet from defender): 7.1%, 16.7%
Open (4-6 feet from defender): 19.0%, 25.0%
Wide Open (>6 feet from defender): 21.4%, 27.8%

It’s tempting to say the Celtics played awesome contesting defense, but the above distribution of shots for the Raptors in terms of openness suggests it was in line with their usual diet of shots — they just didn’t hit them. On the contested shots you could indeed assume Boston’s close-outs were incredible, and that caused the poor shooting. You can even make a similar argument for the open shots with at least a defender nearby to bother or threaten the shot. But the wide open looks for Toronto were 13 points below their typical shooting percentage. This is a worse differential than for the open shots and in line with the contested ones. Ultimately, I think all of these samples are best explained by the Raptors just not being able to hit the ocean from a boat in this game.

Now, you might think perhaps the wrong guys were taking those shots. Nope! Fred VanVleet had 11 attempts, Serge Ibaka had seven, Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell had five apieace. OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Terence Davis had three each too. That’s a perfectly reasonable distribution, and every one of those players shot between 35-40 percent from three this season — with Lowry having the worst percentage of the lot (his shots do tend to be more difficult), which should tell you something.

Taken altogether, even in the face of an ugly defeat for the Raptors, this is promising. On an afternoon where Toronto’s offense wasn’t functioning all that well, the Raptors were getting their typical looks, for their typical shooters, even if it didn’t feel that way. They just missed them. I’m sure they will be making changes to their offensive approach to get even more good looks against that Boston defense, but even without that, we should expect the offense to come around with some better shooting.

But Wait: There’s More!

Yes, I’m full of optimism after a terrible loss. In that spirit, here are more things that should regress in the Raptors’ favour for Game 2!

The Celtics shot 43 percent on contested threes and 55 percent on open ones, versus only 38 percent on wide open threes. The Raptors were playing decent three-point defense, the Celtics just hit them anyway. That’s not likely a repeatable performance. (How often is Marcus Smart, a career 32 percent three-point shooter, going 5-of-9 from deep, for example?)

And even with that, the Raptors’ defence held up pretty well on the whole. The big loss was driven by the Raptors’ terrible offensive night (90.4 points scored per 100 possessions) more so than their defensive result (105.7 points allowed per 100 possessions). The league average efficiency this season was 110 points per 100 possessions. There’s some solace to be found in these sorts of numbers.

Despair not! Yes, Pascal Siakam needs to be dramatically better. Yes, the Raptors’ offense needs to get clicking fast for this series to be as good as it should be. But the Game 1 results were not representative of these two teams’ quality. We’re in for a fight. Buckle up.

All stats per NBA.com.