Games 3 and 4: Two Good Plays, Two Bad Plays

In N.B.A. Basketball by Brock Bourgase

To summarize the weekend split that Toronto gained in Brooklyn over the weekend, I wanted to focus on two things that the Raptors should continue to emphasize and two things of which they must remain mindful. Certainly, it was an uneven performance, featuring a fruitful outcome (regaining home court advantage) but lacking a consistent process (reducing errors at both ends of the floor).

Toronto Must Feed their Bigs: If the Raptors will maintain their size advantage, they must make the Nets pay by going inside early and often. Paul Pierce does not want to play physically with Amir Johnson and Kevin Garnett is indifferent about boxing out Jonas Valančiūnas. Methods to play inside are post entries – when Toronto has good inside position, hard rolls to the paint and drives which result in dishes or offensive rebounds. The ball can’t stop, either because the ballhandler is holding it at the top of the key or because the post move is too slow.

Toronto Must Rotate More Quickly: The Nets are skilled shooters (Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams are among the top twenty-five catch and shoot players in the N.B.A.) who move the ball proactively. They are committed to team goals so they are willing to make extra passes to guarantee the best shots for the team. When the Raptors watch the ball, drift too far away from the shooters and help unnecessarily, they expose themselves to uncontested shots. Although the playoffs should be intense, Toronto cannot say that their closeouts and rotations have been particularly intense. Communication, anticipation and body positioning have suffered, often coinciding with Brooklyn’s runs.

Toronto Must Run Aggressive Screen and Rolls: Brooklyn has disrupted ball screens for Kyle Lowry and Grievis Vasquez by hedging and their defense has had an overall impact of forcing Toronto away from the basket, consuming time on the shot clock and pressuring bad shots and passes. Offenses can beat hedges with aggressive play, such as screening in transition and turning the corner before the defense is entirely set. Since the Nets are an older team, they should be more tired in the second half of games and susceptible to the speed of the Raptors.

At the end of Game 4, Lowry converted a right-handed hook shot by driving past Garnett before he was set. Pierce and other players had not assumed entirely athletic stances so they could not help in time. Mixing up the type of screens/DHOs, running multiple actions during a single position and attacking the second and third sides of the floor will also punish teams that hedge.

Toronto Can’t Get Screened: Perhaps due to poor communication, a lack of anticipation or unbalanced body posture, the Raptors guards have been badly screened by Brooklyn players. When a player uses a screen and gets open for a moment or two, a chain reaction of help and recovery ensues and the Nets are capable of exploiting feeble rotations. Terrence Ross has repeatedly been a victim of these screens. Oddly, Johnson and Patrick Patterson frequently seem out of position and either switch late or not at all.

As Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies would say: “Just get through the screen.” Toronto must do whatever they can do get through these screens so that they need not resort to help or switches. Get over it, bump the cutter, force the screen further away from the basket, stay close to the opposing player, work before the screen is set or simply call the screen in time; it’s too easy if the first screen works.