Raptors Adjustments Throw Off Magic In Game 3

by Mike Ulmer
April 25, 2008

(TORONTO) - A basketball court is 94 feet long. The Toronto Raptors proved Thursday that the last three feet arent the only ones that count.

By winning the battle far away from the rim, the Raptors were able to climb back into their first-round Eastern Conference playoff with a 108-94 win over the Orlando Magic.

Game 4 is Saturday at 3 p.m. at Air Canada Centre with the Magic looking for answers that will prevent them from returning to Orlando tied 2-2.

In Game 3, T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon combined for a memorable 39-point, 16-assist night.

But just as important was the job the duo did in defending Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson. Nelson did not score a basket until late in the fourth quarter. He finished with a half a dozen points and a half-dozen assists.

Compare that with Games 1 and 2 where Nelson racked up 42 points with 10 assists.

Knowing that Nelson would log the lions share of minutes and that the quality of Orlandos point guard play dropped substantially when Carlos Arroyo was in the game, coach Sam Mitchell devised a plan to tire Nelson. When he crossed the half-court line, Nelson found either Calderon or Ford waiting for him.

Defense is often invisible. This was not. So far away from the basket, it fell to Nelson to work a whole lot longer to make up the extra ground. Mitchell, meanwhile, knew that he could split the game between his two point guards without fatiguing either man.

The Raptors interior defenders worked in tandem and shoved Howard outside toward the high post.

The good things Nelson does often result in a startling Dwight Howard dunk. With Howard tearing up the first part of the series with double double-doubles, it fell to the Raptor point guards to shut down the party before it started.

Its just me being aggressive and knowing that in the first two games, he benefitted quite well from us not being able to stop Dwight and us double-teaming, Ford said. The easiest thing to do was to try to get him (Nelson) in foul trouble and be aggressive.

The outside-in defense was built on a simple strategy but it was dangerous.

If Nelsons could easily beat the Raptor defenders off the dribble, the middle would have to shift to prevent a drive to the basket. That friends, is Howard territory. But if the Raptor guards could hamper Nelson, the dominoes would start falling in Torontos favour.

When were picking him up halfcourt, they are forced to bring their screens out higher, said Chris Bosh. We can keep a body on Dwight further away from the basket. He just doesnt roll and get five to eight feet away like he wants to.

The difference between Dwight Howard three feet from the basket and Howard 12 feet away from the hoop is the difference between fools gold and the real kind.

When Howard operates more than two-steps from the basket, he becomes a leaper with shoulders an ax-handle wide who cant shoot a midrange jumper to save his soul.

Hes a completely different player, Bosh agreed. And hes not as quick to put it on the ground because our little guys are going to dig it out.

Its very important, said Anthony Parker. The further out you get him to catch the ball, the better it is for us because we have more time to trap. If hes three feet from the basket and he goes into his move, theres nothing you can do. Its either a foul or you concede the two points.

Or as Raptor coach Sam Mitchell put it: Once we let Dwight Howard get to the front of the rim, rotation is over. Everybody converges.

But when Toronto's little men get after Nelson and jam a stick in the Orlando screen and roll good things fall from the skies. Anthony Parker can concentrate on Hedo Turkoglu and other defenders can beat the gifted Rashard Lewis to his favourite shooting spots.

The plan worked so well Thursday that even with a small lineup, the Raptors managed to outrebound Orlando. They might have been shorter, but they were closer to the basket.

The idea is just to try to make a team start its offence out further, like they did to us in Game 1, said Mitchell. They had us out there by the playoff sign. You cant make a pass, a penetrating pass from there. Youve got to get to your scoring area before you can shoot the ball.