Game 5: Highs and Lows

In N.B.A. Basketball by Brock Bourgase

Leading a seven game playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, the Toronto Raptors are fortunate because they can say that they have not yet played a fundamentally sound forty-eight minutes but still have two chances to win the series. Since Game 1, the team has improved their execution at both ends of the floor but the forty-four point comeback allowed in the fourth quarter of Game 3 shows that there is still room to improve. The Raptors must remember what they need to do well and go back to those core objectives when the Nets respond and the game tightens up.

Three Things That Went Well

Going Inside (Sometimes): When Jonas Valančiūnas and Amir Johnson score inside, it bodes well for Toronto. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce do not want to play physically inside or box out. However, Toronto guards do not always feed the bigs, especially in the second half of the game. The post players have to remember to roll assertively after screening and gain good position inside. There has been progress in this area but lapses still occur.

Here, Valančiūnas establishes himself on his favourite block against Mason Plumlee. There are other shooters on the court so the defense does not collapse. Valančiūnas attacks without over-dribbling and scores with a right-handed hook shot.

Exploiting Advantages: Playoff defense is much more intense so it is less likely that there will be transition baskets or open lay-ups. But when the transition defense is not ready, a player cannot play tight defense because of fouls or there is room after a ball reversal, Toronto should attack the basket. In the second half of Game 5, the Raptors passed up opportunities to be aggressive and settled for contested shots.

After blowing up Brooklyn’s screen and roll play and stealing the ball, DeMar DeRozan pushes the ball down the court. He sees that Joe Johnson – who is in foul trouble – is guarding him so he drives to the rim. There were other occasions, especially after a kick out or swing pass, that DeRozan lacked this initiative.

Passing Triangles: If the Raptors are going to run a ball screen, they need to develop passing triangles so there are multiple options for moving the ball. Three players watching two teammates set a high screen permits the defense to sag and make everything shot more challenging. When others get involved, the options multiply and the defense is running to rotate and catch up.

As DeRozan uses a Johnson screen, his drive is cut off and the lane is too congested for a pass to the post. Patrick Patterson comes high and makes himself available for an easy pass. Now, the passing angles have changed and Patterson can easily dump the ball into Johnson near the basket. The help is late arriving and there is a three-point play.

Kyle Lowry rejects a screen from Johnson, which enables him to beat his own defender (Deron Williams) and the hedge (Garnett). He drives hard with his left hand and Shaun Livingston must leave DeRozan in order to help. Since DeRozan is nearby, in the strong-side corner, Lowry can kick the ball to him and create a high percentage open three point shot.

One Thing to Improve

Bad Rotations: Since the final regular season game against Brooklyn, the Raptors have been giving up too many threes. They help too much (help comes too early and multiple players are helping on the same drive). As a result, there have been dozens of bad rotations and shooters like Pierce, Williams, Johnson, Alan Anderson and Mirza Teletović have been lost. The team needs to identify who should help and who should stay near dangerous opposing players. Some closeouts have been out of control and this led to four And-1s in the fourth quarter of Game 5.

John Salmons and Kyle Lowry switch the guard-to-guard screen that Williams and Johnson have run frequently in crunch time because they don’t want to concede a three-point shot. Salmons successfully runs Williams off the line but two players (DeRozan and Johnson) help. Allowing a lay-up would have been acceptable, since Toronto would have been up 3 with the ball and ten seconds remaining.

The hasty help led to a chaotic recovery as the ball was kicked to Anderson in the corner. Even at this point, it would have been possible to close out under control and ensure that any miss was rebounded. However, Johnson crashes into the airborne shooter and Brooklyn pulls within a single point.