Analyzing the Toronto Raptors 3rd OT
In a series which had already featured two overtimes before it, the Raptors went into a pivotal extra frame with the chance to steal a second home game away from the Miami Heat before heading home. Instead, the Raptors were outscored 11-4 in the final frame whilst allowing the Heat to tie the series up 2-2.
Head coach Dwane Casey chose a more offensively oriented lineup to play the final five-minutes, which (in hindsight) seems to be a poor choice as the results did not reflect the intent. One would assume a lineup which featured Patrick Patterson as the nominal Centre would be able to put up points, but we’ll understand shortly why that assumption is wrong.
The Raptors entered overtime without the two players which were the most conducive of a functional offense, in Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas. Entering the game, the team knew they had to deal without their 7-footer, but no one could prepare themselves for crunch time minutes that did not feature their lead ball handler, who had fouled out just minutes earlier in the fourth quarter. As a result of this, the Raptors’ offensive philosophy started to focus on exposing weaknesses of Miami defenders rather than showcase their no longer existent strengths.
To do this, they attacked the two weakest defenders on the court - Joe Johnson and Goran Dragic.
Toronto’s first offensive sequence in overtime was a “Ram Pick and Roll” which looked to attack Joe Johnson as a defender in the two-man action. The Heat willingly switched this as Justise Winslow and Joe Johnson are similarly sized and the Raptors looked to attack this apparent speed advantage with the quicker Joseph. Toronto loves to have their guards pass, receive an immediate return pass and then attack when they have produced a favourable switch offensively and proceeded to do so here, which allowed Joseph to work his way in the lane. This is an ideal situation for the Raptors as they have a good finisher and driver going against a less athletic Johnson, yet the end result is Johnson making a fantastic recovery and blocking Joseph’s shot.
Toronto understandably continued to believe that nearly 35-year old swingman could not keep up with their penetrating guards and once again attempted to attack him on the drive.
By utilizing their “Weave Pick and Roll” the Raptors knew they could coerce Miami’s like-sized defense to switch their slowest defender onto DeRozan. To get what they wanted, DeRozan had to halt his dribble and allow Patterson to flip the high ball screen, but eventually got a one-on-one opportunity to take Johnson to the bucket and succeeded. Unfortunately for the Raptors, Johnson once again blocked their shot at the rim. This is the same Johnson who had tallied five blocks cumulatively in the regular and postseason, but bucked the trend and tallied another two in one minute of play.
At this point, the Raptors’ coaches and players must have felt like they hit the worst lottery of all time and decided to once again go at Johnson as a defender in the pick and roll.
The Raptors used a variation of their “Peel 2 Man Sting” set which directly lead into a side pick and roll, which was ICEd by Miami’s defense. One of DeRozan’s pet moves when attacking a back-pedalling defender is to sweep his arms through their waist in order to draw a shooting foul. Instead, a combination of a loose handle (which may be caused by a thumb injury) and another stellar defensive play by Joe Johnson to strip the ball, lead to another empty trip for the Raptors when attempting to isolate a weakness in the Miami defense.
The last time the Raptors attempted to go at Johnson also turned out to be their only successful try as well.
Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll engage in a side pick and roll which Dragic hedges on to stop the progress of Joseph’s dribble, while simultaneously recovering and allowing Winslow to slip under without any harm being done. After having one pick and roll blown up, a kickout pass to Patterson above the break leads to a ball denial on DeRozan. A last ditch effort to gain some sort of advantage leads to a dribble handoff (DHO) between Patterson and Joseph, which garners the infamous Joe Johnson switch. Joseph drives hard into the paint, avoids a stunt by Wade, spins and hits a tough turnaround floater.
The Raptors went at Joe Johnson four times in overtime to isolate one of the Heat’s few weaknesses in a switch-oriented lineup and came up with only two points to show for it - a lucky two points at that.
As seen in the initial action of the last clip, the Raptors tried to first go at a smaller and less comfortable Goran Dragic in the pick and roll as well. Dragic is unfamiliar with acting as the screener’s defender in the pick and roll, which makes him appear to be an obvious off-ball target to attack.
After engaging in a high pick and roll between Joseph and Carroll, Joseph swings the ball back to his screener to hopefully create something against a recovering Dragic, who has once again worked in tandem with Winslow to stop Joseph. Carroll, who appears to have made up his mind before the ball has even arrived in his hands, drives right at a well positioned Dragic before flailing his arms, in what appears to be an attempt to score the ball.
Surprisingly enough, the Raptors adapt to the Miami defense on the following possession.
Knowing that Dragic will hedge hard against Joseph after receiving an on-ball screen, the Raptors tell Carroll to slip the screen and continue his cut towards the opposite wing to set a wide-pindown for Terrence Ross. If Dragic gets caught up hedging against Joseph, Wade would be the only defender involved in negotiating a two-man action which has the potential to leave either Carroll or Ross open. Carroll does not end up making a very decisive motion when setting Ross’ off-ball screen, but they draw a foul regardless. It was a smart decision to leverage the advantage gained as a result of Dragic hedging on ball.
As smart as that was, the Raptors had yet to score a third point in overtime. The next offensive possession features DeRozan in a Sidelines Out of Bounds (SLOB) opportunity.
He legitimately goes one-on-one from nearly half-court and takes one of Miami’s toughest, longest and stingiest on-ball defenders in Luol Deng, all the way to the rim and converts the bucket. The Raptors had a 25% success rate when attacking Joe Johnson, but they scored on that.
That was the last offensive possession the Raptors would have, as they’d allow Goran Dragic to convert an and-1 opportunity on the other side of the floor to put them down five points before Terrence Ross gave the ball away twice in his own end of the court.
But let's not just jump to the final defensive possession, as prior sequences influenced that event.
The first defensive sequence in overtime had Miami post up Dwyane Wade against DeMarre Carroll. To gain positioning, Miami set a rip screen and then entered the ball into the post. Carroll holds his ground and forces a tough fadeaway from Wade, which he doesn’t convert.
From then on out, Miami would not attack one-on-one. Rather, they chose to pull Toronto’s only plus-sized defender away from the rim while attacking him in pick and rolls.
The two sequences above show the Heat utilizing Joe Johnson as the screener for both Dragic and Wade in pick and roll scenarios, while forcing Patterson to defend. Patterson is usually Toronto’s most adept pick and roll defender because of his elite lateral quickness, positioning and general defensive IQ. However, in the first clip he is caught out of position when attempting to ICE the ball screen and allows Dragic a lane to the rim. Late to shift his hips, Patterson allows Dragic to spin back into the middle of the floor against a collapsed defense, which leads to an open Johnson three in the corner.
Fittingly enough, Johnson misses but Patterson tips it back in after having poor positioning around the bucket to secure the board.
The next possession has Joseph failing to ICE Wade in the side pick and roll, which causes Patterson to show hard in the middle of the floor. Patterson then recovers after the escape pass finds Johnson open along the perimeter. An out-of-control close out allows Johnson to hop step his way to the baseline for a jumper that hits.
What you will notice in both clips is that Winslow is the player closest to the basket. If Bismack Biyombo were to be in the game for any of the wing players, he could have been assigned to defend him and would have influenced both possessions positively by either defending the rim or securing a rebound properly. That theme will continue to appear throughout.
This possession features a “Ram Pick and Roll” which is blown up by Toronto’s defense, as well as the subsequent side pick and roll with Wade and Johnson. However, Carroll is caught off-guard when Dragic is hit with a pass and immediately attacks the rim. As a result, he collapses the defense which allows Winslow to pick up the scraps and kickout to Deng who is eventually fouled at the rim. Once again, it becomes hard to imagine a scenario where Biyombo on the floor allows that scenario to unfold.
It is not as if Winslow is a terrifying isolation player or shooter that can attack Biyombo’s perceived lack of speed. Biyombo could even switch onto Miami’s guards for small stretches. Most importantly, he could have protected the rim and rebounded the ball.
While the following possessions go rather smoothly for Toronto defensively, as Patterson finally switches while defending the pick and roll, the nail in the coffin occurs in the last important defensive sequence.
Johnson, Isolated on an empty side of the court against Patterson, receives extra attention from Terrence Ross as a weak side defender as a preventative measure against a Johnson drive. As a result, DeRozan digs down towards the rim to stop a drop-off pass to Winslow. However, the most important repercussion is that Carroll is forced into a weak side zone and is forced into terrible close out positioning. THis leads to a kickout pass to Dragic, who takes the middle of the floor and converts a dagger.
The common thread is once again Justise Winslow near the hoop. I’ll be the first one to admit that Biyombo not starting the overtime frame seemed normal and logical enough. It turned out to be the wrong gamble, as Casey also admitted during a media scrum. The perceived offensive boost from not having Biyombo out there never came, but the defensive weakness of the odd five man unit became too much of a burden.
As mentioned before, the Raptors went in without their two most positively influential offensive players. Even while Lowry resumed his scoring slump, he still had nine assists in limited minutes.
Without them, the Raptors resorted to a matchup-based philosophy as a last resort. I don’t know if it's commendable or intelligent, but there weren’t a ton of options offensively. Acknowledging that, one might presume it could’ve been wiser to “bite the bullet” on offense, allow Bismack Biyombo to play in the overtime instead of either DeRozan or Ross (as either could have toggled onto Deng or Winslow defensively if Biyombo came into the game) and hope to secure a defensive rebound or two while also protecting the rim. Coming into the game, most assumed (me included) that Patterson at the five would present the Raptors’ best lineups to match up against Miami’s small lineups. With Miami switching everything, Johnson becoming a defensive stalwart and Lowry’s availability restricted, it probably would have been wiser in hindsight to play the more defensive-oriented lineup.