April 30, 2019, 11:49 pm
Game 2 was an arduous one. It was the kind of game that the Raptors have yet to be involved in this postseason, and the sort that the Sixers would love to play given their flaky shooting and shaky depth. As the game dragged on that script flipped, with Toronto’s bench getting outscored handily and their shooters largely disappearing.
Perhaps nobody caught more flak for their rough night than Danny Green, who ended up going 1-for-8 and missing a wide-open (truly wide-open) 3-pointer with the chance to tie the game in the closing seconds.
Missing looks like that doomed the Raptors in Game 2, as they went a paltry 9-for-29 overall on shots the NBA classifies as wide-open (the nearest defender being six-plus feet away) and 7-for-24 on wide-open threes. for the series they’re just 12-for-38 on wide-open threes as a team.
To rub more salt in the wound, the Raptors managed to generate 54 uncontested shots in Game 2, compared to 37 contested attempts. The fact that they only managed to hit those good looks at 35.2 percent pretty much tells the story, and Nick Nurse was largely justified in not being overly concerned with the team’s play. The Raptors spent a lot of the first half pounding the air out of the ball whenever a mismatch presented itself but still produced shots that should be expected to drop more frequently, whether the ball was moving or not.
So no, it’s not just a Green issue, but when the league’s second-most accurate 3-point shooter in the regular season (45.5 percent) goes 31.6 percent from deep in the playoffs it sticks out as a problem. The Raptors don’t live and die on high-variance shots like the Nets did, but they should not be losing the 3-point battle against Philadelphia. Green, understandably, is a key character there.
Green has been mired in a short but nasty slump, now 1-for-9 on catch-and-shoot looks against the Sixers (and 10-for-31 through seven playoff games) after hitting 47.4 percent of those same shots throughout the regular season.
There really isn’t much the Raptors can do about this aspect of Green’s game. Shooters hit ruts, and those who have a steady diet of threes are subject to more variance than most. They have to believe that Green will start knocking his shots down (1-for-6 on uncontested attempts on Monday) and keep feeding him when the opportunities arise.
Defensively, there isn’t much to get too worked up about Green’s contributions, either. He spent the bulk of his defensive time on Tobias Harris and limited the larger forward to only five points on 21 possessions (though the team scored 21). He also did a decent job on Jimmy Butler, who shot 3-of-8 in the 20 possessions where Green was his primary defender (the team again scored 21).
Butler did come away with 13 points thanks to six free throws, though, and this is where the NBA’s matchup data gets a bit tricky – they define matchups based on which player spent the most time guarding the other on a possession, which doesn’t account for who a player was supposed to be covering, or any actions that resulted in switches. Green was credited without any defensive fouls and just one shooting foul while “guarding” Butler, though his questionable foul to give Butler a 4-point play (and a fifth on the ensuing technical) certainly stands out.
Although Green will simply have to shoot his way out of this funk, the Raptors can keep him involved in the flow by increasing his use as a screener.
Green has predictably been guarded by J.J. Redick more often than not (about 43 percent of the time per the NBA’s matchup data), and he drew Redick’s coverage on a shade under 50 percent of his possessions in Game 2. There’s gold in those hills, especially considering the Raptors haven’t made it a priority to hunt Redick on defense just yet.
The Sixers will be trying to stick Ben Simmons on Kawhi Leonard as frequently as possible and found some success using Joel Embiid on Pascal Siakam. The Raptors have the personnel to force switches by virtue of their shooting ability but will need to get creative after Philadelphia found a workable defensive scheme in Game 2.
Leonard has only seen Redick as his primary defender on three possessions through two games, which can definitely be dragged upwards regardless of Philadelphia’s effort to stick to one or two key matchups. The Raptors have scored five points in that brief stint, without Leonard having attempted a shot from the field. There’s plenty of room for more in those moments, not to mention what might result from the chaos that would follow.
If Green, and to a lesser extent Kyle Lowry, can start causing some havoc and forcing switches, it will present the Sixers with some tough choices. Despite Game 2’s performance both of those players are simply too dangerous as shooters to help off of, and more screen actions involving Green could start to open things up for everyone. Creating a switch may be easier said than done, but there are serious advantages to be gained if Green can get the job done.
Pre-rotate and the Raptors have a mismatch somewhere, and odds are they’ll be more decisive in attacking those after Saturday’s issues. Stick to your guns and you risk Leonard ending up with Redick in space. Double from there and now Green, Lowry, Siakam and Marc Gasol are looking at a 4-on-3.
And that’s only Leonard-Green direct actions. The doors really open up if Lowry and Siakam can start to shake free and get into the paint like they did in Game 1.
Attacking Redick would also provide a benefit on the other end, at least theoretically. If the Raptors can effectively play Redick off the floor because of his defensive shortcomings, it would open up the zone defense as a viable option for Nick Nurse. It made a cameo in Game 2 but Brett Brown subbed Redick back in to squash that idea before it gained any traction. The Raptors are likely comfortable challenging James Ennis or Jimmy Butler to play zone-buster, or at least far more so than they are with Redick.
If you’re the Sixers, you can feel good having stolen a road win on a night where Joel Embiid scored 12 points, Ben Simmons had six points, five assists and four turnovers and the team committed 19 turnovers while going under 40 percent from the field. On the flip side, you could be a little bit worried that the Raptors were awful on a bevy of open looks and were still able to take this one down to the wire despite chasing their tails for the first half.
If you’re the Raptors, you can feel good knowing that the offense still created a ton of great shots after some early missteps and that forcing turnovers and defending weren’t core issues. On the flip side, you’re probably kicking yourself for wasting such a solid defensive performance knowing that Embiid won’t be held down forever and getting away from your core offensive principles in the first half.
Games this ugly almost always leave plenty on the table for optimists and pessimists alike, with either side taking away what they’d like from the proceedings. And while “shoot better” is the easy cure for Toronto’s performance in Game 2, it’s not good enough as a diagnosis.
The series is too short to bank on regression to the mean, even as probable as that might be. Shots are more likely to drop moving forward, yes, but there’s still more work to be done to cut that margin for error. Green can be a big part of that, getting buckets or otherwise.
1 – The Raptors will need more from the bench. There’s really no other way around it. Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka weren’t able to make up for their woeful offensive output on the other end tonight. Five points just isn’t enough. “Play better” is fairly reductive, but they need to play better. Ibaka butchered a couple easy shots at the rim that just have to go in. Missing OG Anunoby is killer in this matchup.
2 – Philadelphia stole some minutes with Amir Johnson late, and it’s clear that the Sixers aren’t at all comfortable with Boban Marjanovic in any matchup. Greg Monroe got the call and played extremely well but Boban got one short stint after Moose’s sprained ankle. It was a big-time performance in a random spot there for Monroe, and if he’s forced to miss time the Sixers might have to turn to Jonah Bolden. They won the depth battle on Saturday but it’s not exactly a stable position to be dealing from.
3 – A lot was made of the rebounding differential on the broadcast. The Sixers had a 53-36 edge overall but with offensive boards tied at nine apiece, there’s really not much for the Raptors to sweat. Teams corral a lot of defensive rebounds when you don’t make any shots, as the Sixers outrebounded the Raptors 33-13 (27 defensive boards) in the first half when Toronto shot 15-for-46. In the second half it was the Raptors who won the rebounding battle, 23-20. Much ado about nothing, though Philly should maintain the overall advantage given how the Raptors want to control the transition game and how the roster is constructed.
4 – James Ennis has been a nice answer to the Mike Scott question so far and he’s generally made the Raptors pay for putting him on the back burner. He’s hit some timely shots and snuck in for key rebounds, and it’s going to be there for him all series. Adjustments are coming after tonight but the Raptors have other fires to snuff out before trying to “control” Ennis.
5 – The Sixers tried their hardest to stick Ben Simmons to Kawhi defensively and did a pretty good job, though Leonard was still able to get his numbers. They showed some doubles early in the first quarter and challenging Leonard to make plays is probably your best bet to contain him, but if he cracks that nut and can get Marc Gasol the ball in 4-on-3 situations, we might see the doubles stop quickly. That feeds into the talk of using the guards as screeners more often, too.
6 – The other thing that the Sixers tried to work with, especially later in the game, was getting Embiid to check Pascal Siakam. It’s a bit of a bold choice (we’ll get into that in a second) but Siakam isn’t a consistent enough shooter to be comfortably taking jumpers or floaters over Embiid. He can certainly use his quickness to get to the rack but moving Embiid to the point of attack presents a major obstacle, and any help that can make Siakam hesitate for even a second will reintroduce Embiid as a lethal rim protector. Driving into length like that is a tough proposition, and Siakam isn’t a good enough screener or pick-and-pop threat to shake that coverage by forcing a switch every time down. Some DHO stuff, or again, more guard activity can ease the burden.
7 – Jodie Meeks got the 90-second spot but it might be time to give that job to Patrick McCaw. It’s not really fair to Meeks to make this call off one missed open three (considering everyone was laying bricks tonight), but if he’s not knocking those down then the Raptors have to look elsewhere. McCaw will at least be able to create a little havoc defensively. Or better yet, the Raptors can cut the four-reserve groups entirely. They’ve been consistently outplayed, and even if this foray lasted 90 seconds that’s still too much. Philadelphia played just one minute with fewer than three starters on the floor the entire game.
8 – Embiid on Siakam worked in that specific matchup, but Toronto also got some good vibes going with Marc Gasol guarded by Tobias Harris. Gasol against a smaller player should be money every time down, and if the Sixers start to throw another body at Gasol he’s got a quick pass to an advantageous setup. The Sixers managed to mostly execute the “anybody but Kawhi” plan, but there are some things that opened up for Toronto to pick at. Gasol was able to get to favorable spots with ease but took only one shot in the 35 possessions where Harris was his primary defender, though the team scored 39 points total in that time. That’s got to change, especially if Harris guards Gasol on over 50 percent of his possessions (52.2% in Game 2). If Gasol can toggle the switch between his traffic cop role with the Raptors and his old Grizzlies work, he’s going to be feasting.
9 – Incredible move by Embiid to get that last bucket, especially considering the circumstances between his knee and his illness. The Sixers want these games to get stuck in the mud, and Embiid was able to get Gasol moving in space in a chaotic moment. They’ve really been slowing the pace when Embiid is on the floor but if his body holds up it might be worth trying to speed things up every so often to get him moving to the bucket against a more scrambled version of the defense.
10 – Gasol and Embiid should be shadows for the rest of this series. Nick Nurse hasn’t felt compelled to mess with his typical rotations as of yet, but on nights where Ibaka isn’t doing anything but fouling the hook has to be quicker. As a follow-up, if Toronto doesn’t change its rotation patterns, Gasol has to get more touches against Philly’s bench players. Between the minutes against Harris and the Monroes of the world, Gasol’s still got more to give. As a follow-up to the follow-up, both starting units were entirely positive in terms plus-minus besides Redick (minus-5) and Siakam (even). As a five-man unit, Toronto’s starters went plus-13 in 30 minutes while the Sixers’ were minus-5 in 20. Let your best guys settle it.
February 19, 2020, 10:40 pmStephen CurryPG, Golden State Warriors
Coach Steve Kerr said that Stephen Curry will play this season once he is healthy.
Kerr said that "It's important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together". It sounds like Kerr has no problem with playing Curry once he is fully recovered so he can get used to his new teammates. Curry should be on a roster in all 12-team leagues since he's a proven fantasy stud and could be an early-round player during the fantasy playoffs.
Source: Kurt Helin on Twitter
February 19, 2020, 8:54 pmRobert Williams IIIC-F, Boston Celtics
Robert Williams (left hip edema) will not play in the upcoming four-game road trip but hinted that he would return on February 29th vs. the Rockets.
Williams said there are "No limitations on anything I'm doing" and said that he wants to "windmill every time" but has to "play it cautious a little bit". Williams looks to be ramping up and is likely to return in the next two weeks. Williams has low upside behind Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis in the rotation but can be a streamer for blocks when he returns.
Source: A. Sherrod Blakely on Twitter
February 19, 2020, 8:13 pmDario SaricPF, Phoenix Suns
Dario Saric (left ankle) participated fully in practice on Wednesday and is hopeful to return on Friday vs. the Raptors.
Saric is outside the top-150 in both 9-cat and 8-cat leagues this season. Mikal Bridges has been on a roll the past month, producing top-60 value in 9-cat leagues. Saric entering the rotation could cut into Bridges' minutes and it will be worth watching the Suns' rotations the next few games. Bridges is a hold in standard-leagues and Saric is a low-upside option in 14-team leagues.
Source: Gina Mizell on Twitter
February 19, 2020, 8:06 pmAron BaynesC, Phoenix Suns
Aron Baynes (left hip soreness) participated in practice on Wednesday.
Coach Monty Williams said he's hopeful Baynes will return on Friday vs. the Raptors. Baynes is unlikely to get back to producing standard-league value with Deandre Ayton in the lineup, who is also expected to return on Friday. Baynes could carve out late-round value in 14-team leagues for big-man stats.
Source: Gina Mizell on Twitter
February 19, 2020, 8:00 pmDeandre AytonC, Phoenix Suns
Deandre Ayton (left ankle soreness) practiced on Wednesday and Coach Monty Williams says that he's hopeful Ayton will be able to play on Friday.
Ayton missed the past two games with an injury but looks ready to return the next game. Ayton is a top-15/30 player in 9/8 cat leagues on the season and should remain in that range the rest of the way. This kills the small amount of value that Cheick Diallo had and he can be left on waiver wires outside of 20-team leagues.
Source: Gina Mizell on Twitter
February 19, 2020, 7:50 pmRobert Williams IIIC-F, Boston Celtics
Robert Williams (hip) participated in practice on Wednesday and felt good.
The Celtics are encouraged by Williams' progress and plan to ramp him up in practice over the next 1-2 weeks. Williams will be behind Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis in the rotation and will only have appeal as a block specialist. Kanter and Theis will lose value when Williams enters the rotation. Theis is a top-70 player over the past month in 26 minutes per game while Kanter is outside the top-175 in 19 minutes per game. Theis will likely hold standard-league value and Kanter will remain a low-upside option in 16-team leagues.
Source: Tim Bontemps on Twitter
February 19, 2020, 7:40 pmNorman PowellSF, Toronto Raptors
Norman Powell (finger) is about a week away from his next check up.
Nick Nurse made the comment on Wednesday and a check up does not necessarily mean a return date. Powell should be expected to miss at least one more week. He was producing top-90 value for a month before he was injured, so it may be worth grabbing him if you have an open IR spot and can afford to hold him until he returns.
Source: Laura Armstrong on Twitter
February 19, 2020, 7:23 pmMarc GasolC, Toronto Raptors
Marc Gasol (left hamstring) is a possibility for Friday's game.
Gasol has been out since late January and it sounded like the All-Star break was going to be the final stretch of rehab that he'd need in order to return. Even if his return doesn't come on Friday, it sure sounds like the big man will be back in action soon enough. Make sure Gasol isn't on your waiver wires.
Source: Eric Koreen on Twitter
February 19, 2020, 7:21 pmWill BartonSG, Denver Nuggets
Will Barton (right knee inflammation) was limited at Wednesday's practice.
The Nuggets didn't give a formal update but Barton did less at the session than Denver's other injured players, so fantasy GMs might want to look elsewhere in the short-term. Gary Harris and Torrey Craig should absorb Barton's minutes for as long as he remains out.
Source: TJ McBride on Twitter
February 19, 2020, 7:18 pmMason PlumleeC, Denver Nuggets
Mason Plumlee (right foot injury) was able to participate in most of Wednesday's practice session.
Plumlee went down in late January and was set to miss 2-4 weeks, so a return should be coming soon. The Nuggets have rolled with smaller groups while Plumlee has been shelved, though he was a defensive anchor for the second unit when healthy. Expect his return to eat away at the workloads of Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr.
Source: TJ McBride on Twitter