The second game of the NBA Finals is tonight and the Warriors will be looking to get back on track after being thoroughly beaten in Game 1. In many ways, this is not something new, as the Warriors have fallen behind in several series over the course of their domination of the NBA in the last five years. They were even pushed to six games by the Clippers in the first round during this playoffs.
But this somehow feels different. More akin to when the Warriors were struggling against the Thunder back when Kevin Durant was still playing for Oklahoma.
The Raptors simply took advantage of the lack of depth on the Warriors, focusing completely on defending Klay Thompson and Steph Curry while ignoring Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. It’s a strategy that many have tried before, which falls apart completely when Kevin Durant is in the fold. The most difficult part of guarding the Warriors, or at least one of the most difficult parts, is the Green-Curry pick and roll that is fundamental to the Warriors success. Teams that hedge against Curry find Green barreling down the lane, picking apart a 4-3 roll. That is the Draymond that destroyed the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference finals.
But the Raptors have Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, and Kawhi Leonard to throw at that action. They are incredibly long and smart defenders who are actually able to give Steph Curry difficulties when he is trying to pass out of the high trap, while being able to rotate back successfully when the ball whirls around the perimeter.
The most important thing for both teams tonight is going to be the differences between their half-court sets and transition sets. The Raptors, particularly Siakam, were able to get out ahead in transition and scored a bunch of easy buckets that way. The Warriors struggled mightily in the half-court, but stayed in the game through points off broken sets and second chances.
The half-court difficulties were primarily due to both teams selling out. The Raptors are essentially playing 5 on 2 on defense, focusing all of their energy on the splash brothers. The Warriors are hedging hard on Kawhi Leonard’s pick and rolls, to the point where Marc Gasol is catching the ball with oceans of space. In Game 1, Gasol and others were able to get some easy buckets in the first quarter with all this room. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors adjust.
The Raptors also got huge games from a variety of role players in Game 1, with Fred VanVleet having perhaps the best game of his life, Gasol looking like 2014 Defensive Player of the Year Gasol, Siakam making every bucket he threw up, and even Danny Green getting in on the action. It would be hard to expect they would all play as well again tonight, but that might be what it takes to beat the Warriors. OG Anunoby is also probable tonight, which would give the Raptors another strong defender to throw into the mix.
For the Warriors, all reporting has pointed to them being unworried about falling behind 0-1, which seems fair for the world-destroying team they have been for the past five years. The game was truly never out of reach for them even with extraordinary performances from the Raptors role players. The Warriors maligned bench was fine, Curry still scored an easy 30 points, Klay Thompson got his points, and Draymond had an easy triple-double.
No strategy has held down the Warriors for long. The Raptors may be one of the few teams in the past five years to have the personnel to give the Warriors discomfort, but Durant is coming just around the corner. Better make hay while the sun shines.