OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors got what they needed out of their trip to Toronto. With their Game 2 victory, they took home-court advantage in The Finals from the Toronto Raptors as the series moves to Oakland for what could be the final two games at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors are banged up. Kevon Looney is likely done for the season with a cartilage fracture in his chest, Klay Thompson is questionable for Game 3 with a strained left hamstring, and, as of Tuesday morning, Kevin Durant’s status for Game 3 was unknown.
But the champs are 45-8 in playoff home games over the last five years and they were able to put together one of their best defensive games of the postseason on Sunday. After the Raptors scored 118 points on 97 possessions in Game 1 (their third-best offensive game of the postseason), the the Warriors held them to just 104 points on 101 possessions in Game 2. That was done with Toronto registering a playoff-high 23 second-chance points (so the Raptors scored just 81 points on their 101 initial offensive possessions).
The Eastern Conference champions were bound for some regression. In Game 1, the Raptors shot a remarkable 15-for-23 (including 5-for-9 from 3-point range) in the last six seconds of the shot clock, according to Second Spectrum tracking. That was unsustainable and, indeed, they shot just 5-for-20 (0-for-6 from 3-point range) in the last six seconds of the shot clock in Game 2.
If 43 shots in the last six seconds of the shot clock over two seems like a lot, well, it is. In the regular season, no team averaged more than 17.5 field goal attempts in the last six seconds. The Raptors averaged the fifth most, but that was just 14.3 per game.
With better defenses and slower pace in the playoffs, that number was at 17.3 through the first three rounds. In this series, with the Raptors working their offense late into the clock even more, it’s at 21.5 per game. While Toronto has 43 shots in the last six seconds of the shot clock, Golden State has just 16.
On one hand, playing late in the clock slows the overall pace against an opponent that can hurt you in transition. In the regular season, the Warriors’ effective field goal percentage of 64.2 percent in the first six seconds was the best mark for any team in any portion of the shot clock.
On the other hand, playing late into the clock puts pressure on a team’s offense. For every team in the league, effective field goal percentage is lowest in those last six seconds of the clock.
In most instances, the Raptors would probably like to get something earlier in the clock. But getting a good shot early in a possession has proven to be difficult.
The Raptors have been moving the ball. Their 330 passes in Game 2 were the most they’ve had in a game since the first round (if you don’t count the 349 they had in their double-overtime win in Game 3 of the conference finals).
But all those passes mean that Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors’ best player and most efficient scorer, isn’t getting his in-rhythm shots off the dribble, via pick-and-rolls or isolations. Leonard has been forced to give up the ball more than the Raptors would probably like.
All eyes on Kawhi
The Warriors have obviously been defending Leonard aggressively. The second defender on pick-and-rolls has generally stayed with Leonard until he has given up the ball. They’ve doubled him in the post and even sent a second defender at him before he can get into an isolation situation. When Leonard has managed to get into the paint, he’s been met by a crowd of defenders.
All that attention has resulted in a lot of trips to the line. He’s drawn 22 fouls (nine more than any other player in the series) and, with 28 free throw attempts in two games, Leonard’s free throw rate (FTA/FGA) in The Finals (0.824) is more than double his rate through the first three rounds (0.397).
The attention should also result in some open shots just one or two passes away. But Leonard’s teammates have attempted only 25 shots off his passes. That accounts for just 23 percent of the 108 shots his teammates have taken while he’s been on the floor, a rate almost in line with his rate from the regular season (22 percent). For context, Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James had rates of *42 percent and 51 percent in the regular season, respectively.
* In case that last part was a little confusing, here’s the math: Antetokounmpo’s teammates took 3,184 shots while he was on the floor. Of those 3,184, 1,133 (42 percent) were off his passes.
Leonard is one of the most complete players in the league, but playmaking is his shortcoming. When he had nine assists in Game 5 of the conference finals, it was a career high … for both the regular season and playoffs (now 574 total games).
A look at the film from Game 2 of this series can show us why a guy who has the ball as much as he does and who draws so much attention from opposing defenses is averaging less than four assists per game. It also shows us how the Raptors continue to get stuck in late-clock situations.
Dribbling out of the double
Leonard’s reaction when he’s double-teamed is often to dribble out of it. If he can attack quickly and get one defender to screen the other, he can get an open shot …
Dribbling out of the double-team could also get him a better angle to make a pass or allow him to attack again, like he did in the second quarter on a play that led to an open Norman Powell 3-pointer (with some help from Marc Gasol’s screen on Andre Iguodala)…
But often, the results aren’t so great. Here’s a first-quarter play where he dribbled out of a double team, couldn’t get the ball to any of the teammates that popped open, and had to take a tough shot with one second left on the clock …
In the second quarter, after dribbling out of a double-team, he was unable to get the ball to an open Pascal Siakam on the baseline …
A couple of Leonard’s five turnovers were a result of him driving too deep into a crowd.
“I thought we hit an action and something would be there,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said after Game 2, “and they would cover it up with some help defense. Well, when there’s help, there’s got to be somebody else probably open on the other side of the floor, and I thought we kind of shot a few too many into multiple defenders or two defenders around the basket, where those probably should have been maybe swung to the other side.”
Unable to deliver
Leonard’s inability to get the ball to the open man on Sunday wasn’t just about passing out of double-teams. Here was Leonard collapsing the Golden State defense with a drive and Kyle Lowry popping open on the left wing …
But Leonard didn’t deliver the ball right away and by the time he got it to Lowry, the Raptors had lost the advantage they had gained from the paint attack …
Here was an opportunity to deliver a pick-and-roll pocket pass to a rolling Gasol for a four-on-three situation, with Klay Thompson trailing the play …
But Leonard couldn’t make the pass (credit DeMarcus Cousins’ defense to some extent), Thompson got back in the play, and Siakam was eventually smothered by Iguodala …
The Raptors’ inability to take advantage of the attention paid to Leonard in Game 2 wasn’t just about Leonard himself. There were also a few cases of bad spacing, where he was doubled and just didn’t have sufficient outlets with which to make a play …
Example 1, which led to a turnover …
Example 2, which led to a Fred VanVleet miss from 3-point range …
Working off the ball
Leonard still managed to work his way to 34 points in Game 2. Sometimes, the Warriors gave him a little space to operate. There were multiple occasions in which he bullied his way to the basket (see the Looney injury noted above). There were also a couple of nice off-ball cuts and duck-ins.
A need to be better
It’s tough to nitpick Leonard’s performance in these playoffs. He’s averaged 30.9 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 62.3 percent (the fifth-best mark among players with at least 100 postseason field goal attempts). He has hit some huge shots and he has played some stifling defense himself.
While he can save his team some precious seconds on a lot of these possessions by making better and quicker decisions, Leonard’s teammates must ensure the floor is properly spaced around him. Furthermore, Nurse and his staff have to find ways to loosen up the Golden State defense, which will continue to make Leonard play in a crowd in Game 3 on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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