Playoffs 2019 East Semifinals: Raptors (2) vs. 76ers (3)
Raptors looking for more offense in pivotal Game 4
Looking to avoid 3-1 deficit, Toronto needs boost from Kawhi's supporting cast
It’s gut-check time for the Toronto Raptors.
Their season isn’t over if they lose Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), but this is as pivotal as a Game 4 can get. A win draws the Raptors even at 2-2, with two of the last three games in Toronto. A loss puts them in a 3-1 hole that few teams have climbed out of.
Most of the Toronto rotation has played in bigger games. Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka have all played in The Finals. Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, meanwhile, have played in the conference finals. But this is a new level of stress for a new group and a new head coach. In a series between two teams that went all-in for this season, the Raptors are the first to come face-to-face with their own mortality.
To win on Sunday, the Raptors will need to slow down the Sixers’ best player while providing more help for their own. And they may have to do it without Pascal Siakam, who is listed as doubtful for Game 4 with a right calf contusion. In this series, Leonard and Siakam have combined to average 61 points per game. All other Raptors have combined to averaged just 36.3.
After Game 1, it was easy to point out the flaws of the Sixers’ rotation. Three of their five starters couldn’t guard Leonard, and their bench was painfully shallow. But two games later, the Sixers have never looked better (or more cohesive) and it’s the Raptors that seem terminally flawed, especially on offense, where they’ve scored less than 97 points per 100 possessions over Games 2 and 3.
Where it matters most
The Raptors have a higher free throw rate than they did in the first round. They’ve turned the ball less often than they did against Orlando and their offensive rebounding percentage has only dropped a bit. Their offensive struggles have been mostly about the biggest drop in effective field goal percentage from the first round (55.0 percent) to the conference semis (48.4 percent).
Two key areas on the floor have hurt the Raptors:
- They’ve taken just 26 percent of their shots in the restricted area, down from 35 percent in the first round. And having shot a little worse (with Raptors not named Leonard or Siakam shooting 11-for-27 in the restricted area), they’ve averaged 10.8 fewer restricted-area points against Philly (26.0) than they did against Orlando (36.8).
- They’ve shot just 28.6 percent from 3-point range, down from 36.8 percent against Orlando. They’ve also swapped some 3-point attempts for less efficient mid-range shots.
The Raptors’ shooting issues begin early in the shot clock. In the regular season, Toronto averaged a league-best 1.19 points per possession in transition, according to Synergy tracking.
That number is down to just 1.01 points per possession in the playoffs, with only Orlando and Oklahoma City having scored less efficiently in transition.
The Raptors’ transition issues haven’t begun in the conference semis. They scored 86 points on 85 transition possessions (1.01) in the first round and have scored 62 on 62 (1.00 per) against the Sixers.
But they have shot worse early in the clock than they did against Orlando. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Raptors’ have an effective field goal percentage of just 43.6 percent in the first six seconds of the shot clock in the conference semis, down from 54.1 percent in the first round and 63.1 percent (the league’s second best mark) in the regular season.
|eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
via Second Spectrum
Effective field goal percentage is typically highest in the first six seconds of the clock, but for the Raptors in this series, it’s been lower than it’s been in the middle 12 seconds (49.7 percent) or in the last six seconds of the clock (48.9 percent).
Credit the Sixers and their size. Most of those 2-point misses in the first six seconds of the clock have been contested layups. The Raptors have shot just 55.4 percent at the rim when there’s been a Sixer there to defend it.
The Raptors clearly need more from Leonard’s supporting cast, especially if Siakam can’t play on Sunday. And the obvious culprits in regard to lack of offensive production are Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol. Through Friday’s games, there were 39 players with at least 100 touches in the conference finals, and while Leonard led the 39 with 0.604 points per touch, Gasol (0.132) and Lowry (0.130) ranked 35th and 36th. Fred VanVleet (0.040) ranked last.
The all need to shoot better. Through three games, Lowry has shot 36 percent, Gasol has shot 30 percent, and VanVleet is 1-for-11.
They also might need to get more touches. According to Second Spectrum, Lowry has averaged 33 front-court touches per 36 minutes in the conference semis, down from 42 per 36 in the first round. Gasol has averaged 41, down from 46. And VanVleet has averaged 23 per 36, down from 37 per 36 in the first round.
Leonard has had the ball a lot more than usual. He has averaged 5.0 minutes of possession against Philly, up from 3.9 in the first round and 4.0 in the regular season. The 5.0 still only ranks 13th in this round of the playoffs (though that’s partly because Denver and Portland played four overtimes on Friday).
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