TORONTO — In Game 4 of The Finals on Friday, the Toronto Raptors went back to the box-and-one defense – four guys in a zone and Fred VanVleet chasing Stephen Curry – that helped them come almost all the way back from 12 points down in the fourth quarter of Game 2.
This time, the Raptors went to the box and one for just three possessions late in the third quarter. The Golden State Warriors scored just one point on those three possessions, but then Klay Thompson checked back into the game and the Raptors returned to their standard defense.
Their standard defense is, technically, a man-to-man. But often, there’s at least one Toronto defender playing zone and ignoring his assignment. And in Game 4, the Warriors being ignored weren’t able to do anything about it.
This was the ninth straight game that the Warriors played without Kevin Durant. And it was the one where his presence, at least on the offensive end of the floor, was missed the most.
Over the previous eight games, the Warriors had scored 113.3 points per 100 possessions. They were better in their 11 playoff games with Durant (117.0 per 100), but 113.3 was still sufficiently efficient.
Game 4 was the Warriors’ worst offensive game of the postseason, though. They scored just 92 points on 95 possessions, a rate more than 10 points per 100 possessions worse than any of their previous 19 games. Even with both Curry and Thompson on the floor, the Warriors were held to just a point per possession (77 on 77).
It’s hard to think that a team with Curry and Thompson doesn’t have enough shooting. And the pair combined to score 55 points in Game 4. But most of those 55 points did not come easy. And getting enough offensive production from elsewhere on the roster was even more difficult.
On the Warriors’ very first possession of Game 4, Pascal Siakam left Andre Iguodala alone once he cleared out to the weak side. Siakam hung near the basket for a full 12 seconds before DeMarcus Cousins committed the first of the Warriors’ 19 turnovers.
For contrast, note how Siakam followed Klay Thompson on a similar action just three possessions later, when Danny Green left Draymond Green to help force another turnovers out of Cousins…
In regard to Golden State perimeter players not with the ball, the Raptors chased Curry and Thompson, while ignoring Green, Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston. And it’s hard to argue with the results, as the latter three shot a combined 1-for-8 from outside the paint.
Livingston, of course, has attempted just five 3-pointers (not including shots from the backcourt) over the last three years. Iguodala attempted six threes in Game 3, but is just 4-for-24 (17 percent) from beyond the arc since the start of the conference finals. And the 10-for-49 (20 percent) that Green has shot from 3-point range in the playoffs is the worst mark among 71 players with at least 25 attempts.
Green was given two wide-open looks from outside in the first half om Friday. The first came off an Iguodala drive when Siakam was ignoring him on the right wing. Danny Green could have rotated off of Curry to contest, but chose (wisely) to stay with his man. The second jumper for Green came when Siakam helped on a Curry drive, and it doesn’t get much worse than a wide-open corner three off the side of the backboard…
After that shot off the side of the backboard, Green didn’t attempt another shot from outside the paint. Not only was he not making shots, he wasn’t even threatening to take them.
Midway through the third quarter, a quick-hitting Iguodala screen for Thompson drew two defenders to the shooter. Iguodala was open on his roll to the basket, but the Toronto defense collapsed, and the ball found its way back to Green at the top of the arc. Instead of shooting an open three himself, Green got the ball back to Iguodala, who had relocated to the left corner, doing his best Curry imitation. Alas, Iguodala’s shot (with 12 seconds still on the shot clock) barely touched the rim…
Notice that, after Thompson gave the ball up, Kawhi Leonard never left Thompson and VanVleet never left Curry.
The screen option
The Warriors have ways to take advantage of a defense that doesn’t want to guard their non-shooters. On the possession following the Iguodala miss above, Siakam was sagging way off of Green, who was on the right wing…
Green set two screens on Kyle Lowry, the second freeing Thompson for a catch-and-shoot three before Siakam could recover and contest…
But there wasn’t enough of that. And even if there was more, it puts a lot of stress on Thompson and Curry to keep moving until they get open, and when they do get open, make 25-foot shots at a high rate.
There also weren’t a lot of Curry/Green pick-and-rolls. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Curry used a Green screen only nine times in Game 4. The first resulted in a Curry hitting a step-back jumper over Leonard, but those nine plays resulted in only eight points for the Warriors.
You could certainly argue that Curry’s tank wasn’t full after scoring 47 points in Game 3 (with 3 and 4 being the only games with just one day of rest in between). But according to Second Spectrum, Curry’s average speed on offense in Game 4 (5.02 miles per hour) was faster than he averaged through his first 19 playoff games (4.79).
The missing piece
The Warriors can obviously be better offensively than they were on Friday. But Game 4 was a pretty desperate situation (33 of 34 teams to take a 3-1 lead in The Finals have gone on to win the championship), and they just couldn’t summon up the offense they needed to keep up with the Raptors.
The difference between having three shooting threats on the floor and having just two is huge, especially against a defensive team as good as the one the Warriors are facing in this series. Toronto has earned this 3-1 lead and there should be no implied asterisk should the Raptors win one of the next three games.
But there’s no denying that a big part of their success has been their ability to have smart and athletic defenders like Siakam and Leonard play off their primary assignments and help their guards defend the Warriors’ remaining threats.
Durant’s status for Game 5 in Toronto on Monday (9 ET, ABC) is unknown as of Sunday morning. If he remains out, the Raptors’ defensive priorities remain clear.
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