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Game 4 Breakdown: The Raptors are turning into their old selves

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After another tough win in Game 4, with better percentages almost across the board, the Raptors must have finally had their hot shooting night — right?

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

This series is starting to get into a groove. After the heroics at the end of Game 3, Game 4 was much more under control for the Raptors, with Toronto taking control in the second half after a run by Boston mid-game.

The tables fully turned, the Raps never let it get back to a single possession once they had created that 5-10 point cushion.

https://stats.nba.com/game/0041900214/charts/

A Little Lucky

The Celtics could really not buy a three in this one. It felt a lot like the first two games for the Raptors rolled into one — the Celtics shot 20 percent from three and that doesn’t happen often.

The good news is, that poor shooting night led to a win for the Raptors, even though their interior defense was not quite up to their usual standards. (Boston outscored the Raptors in the paint 44 to 26, and 20 to 15 from the free throw line). That’s not an area the Raptors’ defense tends to struggle, so hopefully moving forward any shooting regression from the Celtics back to their usual success rate comes along with less success inside. The Raptors have held their own or dominated the Celtics in the paint in the other three games (-2 in Game 3, +20 in Game 2, even in Game 1).

And it is worth noting that the Raptors have held the Celtics to a pretty narrow range of offensive efficiency in this series. The four games have ranged from 97 to 109 points allowed per 100 possessions. That’s not much of a swing for single game results. So, the Raptors’ defense has found a way, whether the Celtics have been shooting the lights out or not.

Broken Dam

I suggested after the hot shooting in the second half of Game 3 that perhaps the Raptors shooters would start hitting their shots, having seen a few go down.

Well. Just when they needed a good shooting night, they got... well, an average shooting night (for them). Don’t believe me? Let’s check the numbers once again.

The Raptors hit 17 of 44 three point attempts in Game 4. Let’s tack that on to our tracking.

Game 1: 10/40 (25%)
Game 2: 11/40 (27.5%)
Game 3: 13/40 (32.5%)
Game 4: 17/44 (38.6%)

The Raptors shot 37.4 percent from three in the regular season. If they hit one less three in Game 4, that would have been a below average (36.4%) shooting performance. So the Raptors may have gotten lucky with a cold shooting night from Boston, but they haven’t really gotten lucky with their own shooting yet. And while it felt like they were on fire in this one — relatively speaking — it was just an expected outcome, instead of way below their usual performance like the rest of the series. So, if you can believe this: there’s still room for improvement.

Getting Better Shots?

After the early series struggles, I tried to point out that the Raptors were getting decent looks from three, it was simply that they weren’t hitting them. So now there’s an obvious follow-up question: did they get better looks in Game 4? Or is this really just regression to their expected performance?

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

Games 1-3 Catch and shoot: 29.4% | 29.9%
Game 4 Catch and shoot: 37.2% | 46.9%
Games 1-3 Pull-up: 16.0% | 23.8%
Game 4 Pull-up: 14.0% | 16.7%

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

Games 1-3 Contested (<4 feet from defender): 8.0% | 14.3%
Game 4 Contested (<4 feet from defender): 8.0% | 28.6%
Games 1-3 Open (4-6 feet from defender): 17.2% | 37.8%
Game 4 Open (4-6 feet from defender): 26.7% | 34.8%
Games 1-3 Wide Open (>6 feet from defender): 20.6% | 25.9%
Game 4 Wide Open (>6 feet from defender): 16.3% | 50.0%

Sure looks like the shots are just falling now for the Raptors — again, at the expected rate. Would be nice if we saw an actual hot shooting night from Toronto at some point this series.

Dead Horse

I know this has been covered, but I just want to circle back for the benefit of anyone who is somehow still calling for a starting lineup change — or who called for one in the first place. As it concerns the Raptors’ starting centre minutes in Game 4:

Gasol was a +7 in 26 minutes.
Serge broke even in 22 minutes.

The starters as they exist had a +23 net rating (very much in line with their performance through Games 2 and 3, but setting aside the Game 1 let down). Ibaka in for Gasol played five minutes in this game and ended with a -40 net rating (that means losing those five minutes by four points).

Tiny samples, but for every game now the tiny samples seem to show the same thing. This is why the big samples we discussed before the playoffs were the thing to rely on in picking which lineup would give the Raptors the best chance.

Oh, and as an aside, another strange Matt Thomas sighting, another bench lineup that bled some points for a few minutes, leading to another game in which coach Nick Nurse went just seven players deep in the second half — with a huge minute loads for the starters.

How bad were the minutes loads? Kyle Lowry played the final 33 minutes of the game, Pascal Siakam played the final 30, while Fred VanVleet played the final 27. There are 24 minutes in a half of basketball, so those seem like slightly long stretches for those players.

https://stats.nba.com/game/0041900214/rotations/?RotationStat=PT_DIFF

Maybe try Terence Davis. Anyway...

Stick with the starters. Stick with the team. They’ll make their shots. They’ll win the series.

Raptors in 6.

All stats per NBA.com.