Posts Tagged ‘Amir Johnson’

Talking numbers with Raptors’ Casey


VIDEO: 2014-15 Raptors Team Preview

NEW YORK – To be a true title contender, a team must be among the league’s best on both ends of the floor.

There were four teams who ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. Three of them should be no surprise. But four months later, it’s still strange seeing the Toronto Raptors as the Eastern Conference’s only representative on the list.

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The Raptors were a surprise in the standings too. After five years outside the playoffs and a 6-12 start, the Raps went 42-22 over the final four months and finished third in the East.

But the Raps still finished one possession short of the conference semifinals. So they have to find ways to keep getting better after making jumps on both ends of the floor last season. (more…)

First Team: KD evokes MJ in MVP season

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

There’s a sense Kevin Durant still hasn’t peeked at his peak. His length is unfair. His angel-hair pasta build is a rebellion against the MUSCLEWATCH movement that dominates the NBA. Myth has him closer to being 7-foot than his listed 6-foot-9. All of this leads to a virtually unblockable shot (don’t tell James Johnson!) that allows him to get a clean look whenever he wants.

The results:

1) NBA MVP
2) Five All-NBA first teams
3) Four scoring titles
4) All-Star MVP
5) Olympic gold medal
6) A host of honors too long to list here

Yet Durant is far from a finished product. There’s that untapped post game that Charles Barkley keeps hammering about. Can he win seven more scoring titles to surpass MJ? Could Durant, who turns 26 next week, snatch the top scoring spot from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by the time it’s all said and done?

Last season, he dropped at least 25 points in 41 straight games to top His Airness’ modern-day record (only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain have more). The night his streak was “broken,” he scored 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 31 minutes, then went on to rip off another eight straight at the 25-point level. He hit that mark in 63 out of his final 65 games.

In addition to scoring and playing more minutes than anybody else, he dealt a career-high 5.5 dimes per contest. He even tied for the league lead in technical fouls (16). The only thing Durant was missing last season was a nickname that stuck.

Here are his top games last season:

Jan.17, 2014 — Striking Down The Warriors

The Line: 54 points on 19-for-28 shooting

The Quote:He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great.” — Warriors head coach Mark Jackson


VIDEO: Kevin Durant carves Warriors up for career-high 54 points

As he did for most of the season, Durant was playing without Russell Westbrook this night, giving him carte blanche with the rock. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green did what they could, but the easy truth about basketball is this: Great offense trumps great defense every time. On this night, Durant put it all together for a career night.

Jan. 21, 2014 — Extinguishing The Blazers

The Line: 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting, 6 3s

The Quote: “The way he was playing, he probably could have scored on Jesus.” – Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams


VIDEO: Durant goes for 46 points in lighting up the Blazers

The eighth night of The Streak was Fan Night on NBA TV. KD had his 25 by the end of the third quarter, but his team nursed a two-point lead going into the fourth. Without Westbrook and a tough Portland team promising to make matters difficult, his plate was full.

So Durant ate. First off a deadly mid-range game, then with a 3-point light show at the end, including a coup de grace over Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.

Jan. 27, 2014 — Just Another Night

The Line: 41 points on 15-for-25 shooting, 3 blocks

The Quote: “He’s going to be an MVP candidate until he decides to retire.” – Thunder head coach Scott Brooks


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clips Hawks with game-winner to cap 41-point night

With no Westbrook again, Durant donned the hero cape. On the defining play of the game, the double team came from the left. Durant started right. Three hard dribbles later, with three Hawks in the vicinity, he confirmed another moment in a season full of them. Another game winner, another vicious January performance. Just another night, his 10th straight reaching 30 points.

Durant used January to make volume efficiency his M.O. For the month, he put up 36 points on 55 percent shooting, 44 percent beyond the arc. That. Is. Insane.

Feb. 13, 2014 — Rally On The Road

The Line: 43 points on 14-for-33 shooting, 19 in fourth quarter, 7 assists

The Quote: “He is one of the best I have seen in terms of really just playing through anything and everything.” – Thunder guard Derek Fisher


VIDEO: Kevin Durant ends first half with 43-point performance in L.A.

Durant’s final game before the All-Star break didn’t start auspiciously. He clanked his first eight treyballs and his team fought uphill all game. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Thunder were down 13 to a Lakers team that had lost its previous six home games.

But ‘Mr. Unreliable’ took over, almost outscoring the Lakers by himself (19 to 21). He topped the 40-point mark for the eighth time, matching the previous season’s high set by Carmelo Anthony and Kobe. No better way to end the best first half of his career.

March 21, 2014 — Making Fossils Out Of Raptors

The Line: 51 points (38 in second half and two OTs), 12 rebounds, 7 assists

The Quote: “It looked good when it left my hands and God guided that thing in the basket. That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.” — Durant


VIDEO:
Kevin Durant finishes off Raptors in 2OT with game-winner, 51 points

What does a man have to do to get a double team? No matter how many times Amir Johnson stood on an island guarding the best scorer in the league, help never came. But you know what? It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Forces of nature are inevitable.

Down eight points with 49 seconds left, the Thunder ended the game on a 9-0 run. Who was responsible for those final points? Do you even have to ask?

 

Casey, Raptors want to ride continuity

 

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Dwane Casey will be looking to build on last season’s 48-win campaign. (NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Back in December it hardly seemed possible that Dwane Casey would be standing here at Summer League with a smile on his face and his lightweight button-down shirt casually untucked, and most of all still as the coach of the Toronto Raptors.

This misbegotten big-market franchise with the redundant roster was floundering again, off to a 7-12 start, and the well-liked, but lame-duck Casey looked to be running out the clock on his three-year contract.

Then, on Dec. 8, new general manager Masai Ujiri, having built a reputation as a next-generation whiz, made the deal to send Rudy Gay and his massive contract to Sacramento for depth help in point guard Greivis Vasquez and forwards John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. Around the same time, Knicks president James Dolan vetoed a trade that would have landed Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry in New York.

Suddenly, a feeling of stability overtook the team. They looked around, looked at themselves and liked what they saw. And everything changed.

“After the trade happened, I thought it brought our team together — camaraderie,” said Casey, who signed a three-year contract extension in May. “They made the decision that we were not going to be a lottery team — I think that’s what everybody expected — and we kept teaching them the principles of what we wanted to be doing and it just came together.

This wasn’t a referendum on Gay, who went to have a surprisingly efficient offensive season with the Kings. Gay and DeRozan are friends off the court, but ill-fitting parts on it, and as the parts fit better and the floor opened up, the Raptors’ offense, also buoyed by Lowry’s uprising, took off.

“It was a fit,” Casey said. “A lot of times you have talent and it doesn’t fit. DeMar and Rudy were similar and Terrence Ross is sitting there, he’s similar, so once you took all the pieces out it opened up things and we went from 29th, I think, in the league in assists to 16th or 17th. That really changed things for us. It helped us tremendously.”

On Dec. 8, the Raptors ranked 30th in assists and 28th in offensive efficiency (101.4 points per 100 possessions). From Dec. 9 to the end of the season, they ranked 13th in assists and ninth in offensive efficiency (107.2). They went 41-22 after the Gay trade and played a rousing seven-game series in front of madhouse crowds, plus gatherings of 10,000 fans in Maple Leaf Square. It was truly one of the great scenes of the postseason.

And it was enough to convince Lowry to stay put, making him the rare Raptor to re-up when he had a chance to leave. He signed a four-year deal worth $48 million. Free agents Patterson and Vasquez also re-signed. Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas, Ross, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough are all back, giving the Raptors a real sense of continuity in roster and process.

Toronto also traded Salmons to Atlanta for guard Lou Williams and intriguing developmental center Lucas Nogueria, and signed long, athletic wing James Johnson, who is coming off something of a breakout season with Memphis.

“I don’t know if [Lowry] is the first player to be a free agent to re-sign that had an opportunity to leave, so that says something about what we’re trying to do, where we are, trying to build,” Casey said. “For the first time in his career he was able to say, ‘this is a team that I’m one of the leaders of,’ and for him to come back, it does make a statement of where we are in our growth process and the kind of program we have, and kind of opened some eyes to what kind of city Toronto is.

“The continuity is huge,” Casey said. “You can just see it turning, guys are getting comfortable with the defensive system, the offensive system. We can be top 10 in both offense and defense. Now we just have to continue to do that.”

The Raptors could get some votes as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference when the preseason predictions start to hit the newsstands. LeBron James’ return to Cleveland has shaken up a conference that might boast a favorite in Chicago, but mostly has a handful of what should be entertaining squads, including Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Indiana and perhaps Brooklyn and still Miami.

“There’s opportunity for somebody to step up, it’s so balanced right now from top to bottom,” Casey said of the conference. “It gives us an opportunity to move up and take another step.”

Back in December, that hardly seemed possible.

Six factors that can separate the Nets and Raptors in Game 7

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets-Raptors: Game 7 Preview

TORONTO – How silly of us to think that one of these teams would win this series in six games. We should have realized that the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets have some sort of reciprocal gravity that keeps one team from ever pulling away from the other.

They’ve played 10 games this season. They’ve each won five, with a total combined score of Raptors 767, Nets 766. Eight of the 10 games have been within five points in the last five minutes.

So it’s only fitting that this first round series will come down to a Game 7 on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC).

For the Raptors, this is an opportunity. A win would give their young core 4-7 more games of playoff experience against the defending champion Miami Heat. It would give head coach Dwane Casey additional job security. And it would help establish the franchise’s place on the NBA map.

For the Nets, this is another referendum. If they can’t get past the first round, what exactly did they spend $104 million in salary and another $92 million in luxury taxes on? And where the heck do they go from here?

“They have more to lose than us,” DeMar DeRozan said Saturday.

Indeed. But payroll won’t determine which team gets their first Game 7 victory (since the Nets came to the NBA). These six factors will.

The nail

Though the Nets lost Game 5, they established some things offensively. One of those was Joe Johnson operating from the middle of the floor, a set that made it difficult for the Raptors to double-team him. The Nets didn’t go to that set much in Game 6, instead using Johnson back in the low post and in pick-and-rolls with Deron Williams more often.

But the Nets did take the middle of the floor away from Kyle Lowry, who scored just three points in the paint or at the free throw line in Game 6 after scoring 14 in Game 5. They took away the Raptors’ primary offensive actions and often had them trying to improvise with less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock.

DeMar DeRozan will make some tough shots, but if it’s only tough shots that he’s getting, Brooklyn is in good shape.

Minutes distribution

The Raptors have been at their best when reserves Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson are on the floor. They may sacrifice some defense by playing big minutes with Lowry, Vasquez, DeRozan and Patterson on the floor together, but their regular small forwards have come up empty offensively all series.

Terrence Ross is gaining experience and John Salmons is a bigger body to put on Johnson. But Raptors coach Dwane Casey shouldn’t hesitate to go to the three-guard lineup early and often, because the positives on offense will outweigh the negatives on D.

Lowry, Vasquez, DeRozan and Patterson are a plus-23 in 54 minutes together, but played just 12 minutes over the last two games.

The 3-point line

Neither team has shot well from 3-point range in the series, but both teams have attempted 22 threes per game. If one team – or just one player – gets hot, it could be the difference. With the attention that Johnson draws, Brooklyn is more likely to get open looks. That’s why Alan Anderson has replaced Shaun Livingston in the starting lineup.

Patterson, of course, puts a fourth shooter on the floor for Toronto. He can punish the Nets’ defense for its focus on Lowry and DeRozan.

Toronto on the roll

One of the bellwethers of this series has been Amir Johnson, who has averaged 14.7 points in the Raptors’ three wins and 4.3 points in their three losses. A lot of Johnson’s production has come as the roll man, catching passes from Lowry and Vasquez. The Nets’ weak-side defender needs to meet the roll man – whether it’s Johnson or Jonas Valanciunas – before he gets too close to the basket.

Transition

Both teams have averaged less than 10 fast break points per game, but have been at their best when they’ve been able to get out into the open floor. Williams pushed the pace from the start in Game 6, which allowed the Nets to get into their offensive actions early in the shot clock and before the Raptors could get set. That produced easier shots.

When the Raptors made a little bit of a run in the fourth quarter, they were getting some easy baskets in transition as well.

Turnovers

After averaging 19.3 turnovers in the first three games, the Raptors have averaged just 13.0 in the last three. But it was an issue that popped up again in the fourth quarter on Friday, keeping them from being able to cut the Brooklyn lead to single digits. Any extended turnover issues in Game 7 (for either team) could end their season.

Nets and Raptors looking to control the nail

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joe Drops 30

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Game 6 on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in the first round series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets will be determined by a nail. The nail, actually.

“The nail” is the term used to describe the middle of the foul line. And it’s the location from which the two teams generated a lot of their 228 points in Game 5 on Wednesday.

After a relatively quiet, seven-point, seven-shot performance in Game 4, Joe Johnson came back with 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting in Game 5. He almost single-handedly got the Nets back in the game after they went down by 26, scoring 26 of his 30 in the second half.

In Game 4, the Raptors did their best to get the ball out of Johnson’s hands when he got it in the low post. In Game 5, the Nets got him the ball away from the low post, where it was harder for Toronto to send a double-team.

Most of Johnson’s catches came at the nail, with a pair of teammates on either side of the floor…

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Here, Johnson is one or two dribbles away from getting to his floater, which he can shoot over any Raptor that has tried to defend him in this series. He’s 19-for-31 from the area of the paint outside the charge circle.

But if Toronto sends a double-team here, one of his teammates has an open shot or lane to the basket. And since he’s in the middle of the floor, every pass is a simple one.

On the play pictured above, Johnson took John Salmons into the paint and scored over him easily, with Chuck Hayes getting there too late to do anything about it.

The Nets still went to Johnson in the post at times on Wednesday, and he had some success there. But those post-ups mostly drew double-teams…

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Johnson did most of his damage from the middle of the floor, even when his catch at the nail wasn’t clean.

The Nets got him at the nail with a pin-down screen from the center, which kept Toronto from being able to switch the screen and deny the catch. Here’s Andray Blatche, screening DeMar DeRozan at the weak-side block and allowing Johnson to catch and go straight to the basket for an and-one

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If the Raptors sunk into the paint to stop him, Johnson was able to find open teammates on the perimeter.

Johnson played just 14:31 in the first half of Game 5, picking up his second foul midway through the first quarter and his third midway through second. He played the entire second half (save one defensive possession) and still logged more than 38 minutes total.

Brooklyn scored 101 points on the 72 offensive possessions in which he was on the floor, an incredible rate of 140 points per 100 possessions. They scored 12 on 20 possessions (60 per 100) with him on the bench.

Of course, the other end of the floor was Brooklyn’s problem on Wednesday. And it was a problem mostly when the Raptors got the ball in the middle of the floor.

Here’s DeRozan isolating on Shaun Livingston from a spot that’s hard to double-team, a play that resulted in a layup for Jonas Valanciunas

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Here’s DeRozan getting around Mason Plumlee‘s hedge on a side pick-and-roll with Amir Johnson and getting to the middle of the floor, a play that resulted in a layup for Johnson

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And here’s Johnson catching the ball at the nail on a pick-and-roll with Kyle Lowry, a play that resulted in another layup for Valanciunas (plus a foul on Paul Pierce).

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Both teams got what they wanted offensively in Game 5. And the team that wins Game 6 will likely be the one that keeps their opponent away from the nail.

Lowry carries Raptors to wild win

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets vs. Raptors: Game 5

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After Game 4 in Brooklyn on Sunday, Kyle Lowry said of DeMar DeRozan, “This man is becoming a superstar before everybody’s eyes.”

That’s a nice thing to say about a teammate, but Lowry himself has been the Raptors’ best player this season and the best player in this first-round series. On Wednesday, he carried his team to a wild 115-113 victory in Game 5. Lowry scored 36 points, dished out six assists and turned the ball over only once as the Toronto Raptors took a 3-2 series lead over the Brooklyn Nets, barely hanging on after losing a 26-point lead in 12 minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey had a hard time focusing on anything but the negative afterward. His team allowed an amazing 60 points on Brooklyn’s final 34 possessions of the game, making several defensive mistakes.

But they won the game, because they blistered the Nets late in the second quarter and never allowed them to pull ahead down the stretch. Lowry was the key in both cases.

Lowry did most of his first-half damage (21 points) from the perimeter, making something out of nothing on several possessions and completely outplaying Deron Williams. In fact, as Williams committed two turnovers in the final minute of the second quarter, Lowry capped a 26-4 Raptors run by hitting a floater in traffic and then a ridiculous running 3-pointer off the glass at the buzzer.

And when the Nets had come all the way back from 26 down, it was Lowry who drew a brutal foul on Mirza Teletovic 80 feet from the basket to put the Raptors back ahead. He followed that up by drawing a charge on Alan Anderson and, when the game was tied again two minutes later, he hit a gutsy, step-back three to give his team the lead for good.

“When we need an answer,” Chuck Hayes said afterward, “call Kyle. Kyle will figure it out.”

This series is the latest chapter in the rehabilitation of Lowry’s career. He’s a bulldog. He’ll get in your shirt defensively and fearlessly drive into traffic and find a way to get the ball in the basket, even when there doesn’t seem to be space to do so. He may be the best in the league at drawing fouls on both ends of the floor.

Lowry used to be a pain in the *** for everyone around him, teammates and coaches included. But he’s learned to focus his fire and now, he’s just a pain in the *** for his opponent. Watch him closely on any given night and you’ll wonder if the Raptors could have won 20 games without him.

“He’s a hell of a player,” DeRozan said. “The dog in him makes you want to bring your A-game every single night, because you know he’s going to lay it out there with you.”

Lowry has been the most consistent force in what has been an up-and-down series for both teams. And a myriad of injuries hasn’t put any kind of a dent in his relentlessness.

“He’s never going to stop playing,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said.

Against the most expensive roster in NBA history, featuring several players with much more playoff experience, Kyle Lowry has made it clear that he’s the best player in the series, the real superstar of his team. He has them one win from the conference semifinals and he’s not going to stop until they get there.


VIDEO: DeRozan, Lowry discuss Game 5 victory

Raptors take out Johnson, even series

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down how the Raptors blanketed Joe Johnson

NEW YORK – Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey would not commit to whether his team’s Game 4 win was about great defense or bad offense.

“They missed a lot of easy shots,” Casey said of the Brooklyn Nets. “I thought our team defense was really solid,” he said later.

A little from column A, a little from column B, and the Nets scored just 79 points on 87 possessions, the least efficient performance of either team through four games. The result was an eight-point victory for the Raptors that tied the first round series at two games apiece.

After coming back from 17 points down, Brooklyn had a one-point lead with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter. But they went scoreless on their final eight possessions of the game. The Raptors didn’t have much going on offensively themselves, but got just enough (a Greivis Vasquez 3 here, a Kyle Lowry running hook there) to complement their improved defense.

The Nets were able to get the ball to Joe Johnson, who had been abusing the Toronto defense through the first three games. But the Raptors were aggressive with their double-teams and quick with their rotations. Johnson couldn’t get to his spots in the paint and his teammates couldn’t take advantage of four-on-three situations. Down the stretch, the Nets missed two jumpers, committed four straight turnovers, and then sealed their fate with a 29-second possession that ended in a blown layup by Shaun Livingston.

“The last four minutes is normally when we feel very comfortable,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “We just got out of character … We were trying to do it individually instead of making a play for our teammate.”

Johnson, who had averaged 23.7 points on 26-for-43 (60 percent) shooting through the first three games, got just seven shots off in Game 4. He made just two. The Raptors went with a variety of post coverages and it worked.

“Sometimes we were going [with on the dribble,” Casey said. “Sometimes we were going on the pass. Sometimes we were going straight up. I thought mixing it up kept them off balance a little bit. Hopefully, it did. I don’t know.”

“We were much more physical,” Lowry added. “We were much more aggressive on the ball and we tried to make them get the ball to other players.”

The Nets have other players. Pretty good ones, too. They don’t need a big game from Johnson.

But his only teammate who looked comfortable offensively on Sunday was Paul Pierce, who scored 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Others were afraid to shoot or just shaky with their jumpers. It was like the veteran team shrunk in the big moment.

“I thought [Johnson] made all the right plays,” Kidd said, “but we couldn’t knock down a shot for him.”

The jumpers haven’t been there all series, really. After a 4-for-20 performance in Game 4, the Nets are a brutal 22-for-88 (25 percent) from 3-point range in the series.

Despite that, the Nets had been pretty efficient through the first three games. But when the Raptors took away Johnson, everything fell apart. Toronto was a top-10 defensive team in the regular season and looked like it for the first time in the playoffs. Well, sort of…

“I’m not fooled by anything,” Casey said. “I thought our defense was solid. But as far as just stopping them and taking them totally out of what they want to do … they got some good looks. We made a lot of mistakes in our schemes. So we’re going to have to go back and make some adjustments on our own to clean up some stuff, because some of the shots they missed … we don’t want to leave that to chance.”

Still, the Raptors took a step forward on Sunday. They showed resilience in the face of a more experienced team, a hostile crowd, a handful of injuries, and foul trouble.

“Matching their physicality was a huge key for us,” Greivis Vasquez said. “We got the win by playing their way, which is physical. And we were not afraid. We gained a lot of experience and a lot of confidence tonight.”

They also regained home-court advantage, with Game 5 back in Toronto on Wednesday.

Nets, Raptors have some cleaning up to do in Game 3

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Raptors-Nets: Game 3 Preview

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – Since the end of Game 2 of their first round series with the Toronto Raptors, the Brooklyn Nets — Kevin Garnett, especially — have been trying to stoke the fire within their fans, hoping for an atmosphere at Game 3 on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) similar to the one they saw in Toronto. But in their favor this time.

“I’m very, very, very eager to see how they respond to the ‘F Brooklyn’” Garnett said after practice on Thursday. “Very, very eager to see how they respond to this kid, sitting in our arena.”

“This kid” was apparently a reference to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, who incited a Toronto crowd with his “F— Brooklyn” exclamation before Game 1. Later that day, Jason Kidd said he didn’t know who Toronto’s GM was. Then Paul Pierce thought it was Bryan Colangelo. Now, Garnett is calling him “this kid.” These Nets can troll.

But can they rebound? After allowing the Raptors to grab 19 offensive boards in Game 2, rebounding will be more important than how loud the Barclays Center crowd is. So is how well the Raptors — who have 40 turnovers in the two games — hold onto the ball.

Both the Nets’ biggest issue and Raptors’ biggest issue are on the same end of the floor. And both are somewhat a result of Brooklyn’s defensive scheme.

The Nets’ big men hedge hard high on pick-and-rolls in order to stop Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan from penetrating. It’s an aggressive scheme (similar to that of the Miami Heat) and, with the Nets’ length on the perimeter, it helps force turnovers.

At the same time, it takes Brooklyn’s bigs away from the basket, at least temporarily. Here’s an example of Mason Plumlee 20 feet from the rim in an effort to contain DeRozan …

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That play resulted in a put-back dunk by Plumlee’s man, Amir Johnson, who had a clear line to the basket.

The Nets will also switch screens liberally, which can leave a small defender on a big rebounder. Here’s Alan Anderson trying to box out Johnson after Pierce switched onto DeRozan …

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Result: A loose-ball foul on Anderson and a second chance for Toronto.

Yes, the Nets play small. Yes, their rebounding got worse when they switched to a small lineup in January. And yes, Patrick Patterson did bully his way into a few of his offensive boards. Size does matter and the Raptors know that they have an advantage inside.

But part of the Nets’ rebounding issue is just a trade-off for being able to force turnovers and keep the initial play out of the paint. The same goes for much of Jonas Valanciunas‘ production (32 points and 32 rebounds through the first two games). When his man hedges hard, he can roll to the basket with only a smaller (help) defender in his way…

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Even when the Nets’ big recovers, Valanciunas will be in better rebounding position. But the Nets’ will probably take another double-double from the Raptors’ center if it means keeping Lowry and DeRozan in check.

Still, a lot of Toronto’s offensive boards in Game 2 were the result of defensive breakdowns. There were a few non-screen situations where a Brooklyn perimeter defender needed help from a big, leaving a Toronto big unchecked. There were a few rebounds that just bounced off the Nets’ hands. And on the screens, the quicker the guard can recover back to his man, the quicker the big can recover back to his. These things can be cleaned up.

“You can’t just say that we’re going to defend one way and just give up rebounds,” Deron Williams said Thursday of the Nets’ scheme. “We can’t afford to do that. We have to defend, and part of getting a stop is finishing with a rebound. Until we do that, we’re going to have some problems.”

The Raptors can say the same about turnovers. While some of their miscues can be chalked up to trying to get the pace in their favor or take advantage of Brooklyn’s scheme, there has been some general sloppiness on the Raptors’ part.

Too often, Toronto’s guards have tried to find a lane where there wasn’t one. And too often, their bigs have tried to put the ball on the floor and make plays for themselves. They all sometimes need a reminder to keep it simple, especially when the Nets are aggressively denying passing lanes.

Making shots may be more important, but rebounds and turnovers will play a role in Game 3. The team that cleans up best should have a 2-1 series lead at the end of the night.

More Patterson in Game 2?

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets-Raptors Game 2 preview

TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors scored just 87 points on 92 possessions in Game 1 of their first round series against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. They need to find a way to keep Joe Johnson out of the paint in Game 2 on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV), but most of all, they need to get more buckets themselves.

That could mean more minutes for Patrick Patterson, a floor-spacing big.

Jonas Valanciunas put up 17 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks in his playoff debut on Saturday, but was a game-low minus-17 (Nets 73, Raptors 56) in 35 minutes. He played well, but his teammates didn’t while he was on the floor.

One thing that can get All-Star DeMar DeRozan better shots is better spacing. And with Valanciunas and Amir Johnson in the game, the Raptors’ spacing is not optimal. DeRozan shot 0-for-8 (0-for-4 from 3-point range) when the two starting bigs were on the floor on Saturday.

That’s just one game, but since they acquired him in the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors have been at their best offensively with Patterson on the floor. It’s not just that he can hit 3-pointers, but his presence makes it a little bit harder for the opposing defense to put multiple bodies between the Raptors’ ball-handlers and the basket.

In the three games they’ve had him against Brooklyn, Toronto has scored almost 120 points per 100 possessions in Patterson’s 75 minutes. DeRozan has scored 28 points in the 39 minutes he’s shared the floor with Patterson against the Nets, shooting 8-for-13 from the field and getting to the line 12 times.

Patterson’s mark of plus-50 against the Nets is, by far, the best mark of any Raptor this season (next is Chuck Hayes at plus-21). If you count a November game with Sacramento, he’s a plus-80 in 101 minutes against them.

Still, we might we see more of Patterson (who played 26 minutes on Saturday) in Game 2. It’s only been a few weeks since he returned from an elbow injury, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey says that there’s no limit on Patterson’s minutes. Casey just has to space them out differently.

“You got to give him a little more of a blow between his extended minutes,” Casey said. Patterson entered the game late in the first and third quarters on Saturday, and stayed in until late in the second and fourth.

Casey went five-deep with his bigs in Game 1, bringing Patterson, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough off the bench. The combination of Johnson and Patterson could be the Raptors’ best option – Toronto was a plus-13.6 points per 100 possessions in 215 minutes with the two on the floor together in the regular season – but the pair didn’t play at all together on Saturday.

Without Westbrook, Ibaka Keeps Soaring

VIDEO: Serge Ibaka talks about OKC’s winning ways on Arena Link

OKLAHOMA CITY – How many Western Conference power forwards do you check off before getting to Serge Ibaka?

Blake Griffin. Kevin Love. LaMarcus Aldridge. Dirk Nowitzki. Tim Duncan. Anthony Davis. Zach Randolph. David Lee. Hard to quibble. All are All-Stars, recent past or present.

“There [are] so many good power forwards, and so many good point guards, in the West that he does kind of get lost in the shuffle,” Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “But we understand what he brings to our team. He’s definitely [at] an All-Star level in my eyes and what he does for our team: He rebounds, he blocks shots, he alters shots, his rebounds have gone up, his shooting percentage is high, his points have gone up.”

Ibaka is also only 24 years old, which makes his progression to a career-best 15.0 ppg (11th in the league among power forwards), career-best 8.8 rpg (8th), 2.5 bpg (2nd) and 19 double-doubles (10th) midway through his fifth season seem astronomical, and his potential off the charts. That the chiseled, 6-foot-10 force of nature, taken 24th in the 2008 Draft (his first NBA season was 2009-10), is under contract with the Thunder through the 2016-17 season at a rate that never eclipses $12.35 million is another feather in management’s already blooming cap.

Ibaka and Russell Westbrook have developed such a lethal connection that when the point guard left the lineup after the Christmas Day game to undergo a third surgery on his right knee, there was some trepidation that Ibaka’s offensive contributions would suffer.

That has not occurred because Ibaka and Kevin Durant have been terrific together. Durant’s has assisted on one-third of (54-for-160) Ibaka’s baskets since Westbrook went down. Since, Ibaka has averaged 15.9 ppg on 56.7-percent shooting.

“We have a better connection in the halfcourt offense,” Ibaka said of he and Durant whereas he and Westbrook work so well together in the open floor. “He has confidence in me. I know when he is going to pass to me. I just have to catch the ball. My first part of this is I owe it to him to get him open, so when he can get open, the defense starts to go to him, so then I know, ‘OK, now it’s my turn.’ I am going to get open and I know he is going to pass it to me, so I am going to make plays for myself and for my teammates.”

Ibaka’s midrange game continues to be one of the best in the league. He is hitting 47.8 percent of his shots taken outside the paint and inside the 3-point arc. Coming off a screen, Durant typically gets doubled and he finds Ibaka for the pick-and-pop jumper he loves from the top of the circle, or Ibaka rolls to the basket, an aspect of his game Brooks says has vastly improved.

“When he does roll, he’s ready to catch and finish right away and he’s seeing the pickers much quicker,” Brooks said.”That sounds easy and looks easy, but there’s a lot of work that goes into that. You have to be able to catch the ball on the fly and put yourself in a position not to get a charge and, if there is a guy, you have to make sure you make the right pass, and you have to do that all within a second.

“He’s understanding, with all the work that we’ve put him through in practice to simulate those opportunities, and I think it’s really paying off.”

Ibaka’s true shooting percentage (adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws) is 54.0 percent, fourth-best among power forwards behind Amir Johnson, Kenneth Faried and Boris Diaw. But Ibaka averages, at the minimum, four more shots per game and almost five more points per game.

According to NBA.com/stats, Ibaka is connecting on 49.2 percent of his shots from 10-14 feet; 46.3 percent from 15-19 feet; and 38.9 percent from 20-24 feet. He’s 13-for-37 for 35.1 percent from beyond the arc, a percentage plenty of guards could live with.

So, what happens when Westbrook returns as he is scheduled to do after the All-Star break? Ibaka smiles.

“I am going to have Russ and I am going to have Kevin,” Ibaka said. “We are going to be more dangerous. You know, Russ is more go-go, ‘I’m open;’ me and Kevin [are] more halfcourt. I think it is going to be great, man. I can’t wait to have Russ back. I can’t wait.”