Can the Raptors break through against this depleted defense?

ByKirk Goldsberry ESPN logo
Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Following a weird Game 2 in Toronto, the NBA Finals are tied 1-1 going back to Oakland. Diving into the postgame stats, the biggest differences between the first two games were on the Toronto Raptors' side -- most specifically their shooting numbers.

Simply put, the Raptors' failure to convert shots cost them Game 2. With Kevon Looney out indefinitely and Klay Thompson questionable for Game 3 (Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET on ABC), can Toronto's offense find a new rhythm on the road against a Golden State Warriors team facing real depth questions?

The Warriors scored 109 points in both games. But after dropping 118 points on 77 shots in their Game 1 win, the Raptors managed only 104 points on 93 shots in a disappointing Game 2 defeat. That's 14 fewer points despite 16 more shots. Not good, eh?

Toronto's shot quality was almost identical in the two games, but its shotmaking was not. Based on the nerdy details of their shot profiles including shot locations, shot types and defender distances, the Raptors were expected to shoot a 51.5 effective field goal percentage (eFG) in Game 1 and 52.1 eFG in Game 2. But the Raps shots 7.6 percentage points better than expected in the first game and 9.1 percentage points worse in the second, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

Toronto's offense actually created more uncontested 3s in Game 2, but the shooters couldn't make them:

  • In Game 1, Toronto shot 5-of-6 on uncontested 3s (83.3 percent)
  • In Game 2, Toronto went 3-of-10 (30 percent)

The Raptors' jumpers just wouldn't fall on Sunday. In Game 1, Toronto shot 23-of-56 (41.1 percent) away from the rim. That slipped to 17-of-64 (26.6 percent) in Game 2. In a game eventually decided by five points, those 47 missed jumpers proved fatal for a team trying to upend a dynasty built around reliable jump-shooters.

Nobody was more disappointing than Pascal Siakam, the best player on the floor in Game 1 (14-of-17 shooting, 32 points). On Sunday, Siakam regressed to the mean in brutal fashion, shooting just 5-of-18 and scoring only 12 points. He shot an atrocious 1-of-11 outside of the restricted area and went scoreless from beyond the arc.

His struggles away from the rim were a microcosm of his team at large. In Toronto's seven playoff losses, Siakam is shooting 6.3 percent on 2.3 uncontested 3s per game. He missed both such looks in Game 2. In his team's 13 playoff wins, Siakam is converting 44.4 percent of his 1.5 open triples, per Second Spectrum. Siakam is the enigmatic bellwether of these Finals thus far, and his 1-of-7 performance in the third quarter set the dismal tone for his team in that key frame, which began with a defining 18-0 Warriors run that changed the tone of the series.

The weirdest part of an NBA game is the first few minutes of the third quarter. As the second half begins, much of the home crowd is still in the concourse getting drinks and hot dogs. Even Finals games can suddenly exhibit a lack of crowd energy in these moments. This is exactly when the Warriors stole the game, and when Toronto started flailing. The Raptors made just 14 of their 48 second-half shots, and Kawhi Leonard and Siakam combined to go 6-of-22.

Speaking of Leonard, both Thompson andAndre Iguodalahave been terrific at slowing him down. Out of the 29 NBA players who have matched up against Leonard at least 50 times this season, Iggy and Klay rank Nos. 1 and 2 in suppressing Leonard's individual scoring activity. But Iguodala was nursing an injury in his Achilles tendon area heading into Game 2, and now Thompson is questionable for Game 3 with a mild hamstring strain.

It's anyone's guess who will play for Golden State on Wednesday or how coach Steve Kerr will adjust his rotations.According to a report by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Warriors are optimistic that Thompson will suit up after two days of rehab.

When healthy, the Warriors start three of the world's best jump-shooters. Two of those dudes are also awesome defenders, especially in this matchup. But as of Tuesday, both Thompson and Kevin Durant have injury concerns with unknown severity, which translates to uncertainty on both ends.

Thompson and Durant are wildly important on offense, of course, and if they can't play, the Warriors won't score as easily, potentially relieving some of the pressure on Toronto's shooting. Their absence would enable Toronto to hone in on Curry defensively. Heck, after Thompson left Game 2, we already saw the Raptors break out the crazy box-and-one, a tactic Toronto could've never even tried against a healthy Golden State squad.

Thompson and Durant are both key to Golden State's defensive identity as well. If they don't play, the Warriors' perimeter defense takes a real hit. Less Thompson, less Durant and less Looney means more DeMarcus Cousins, more Andrew Bogut and more Alfonzo McKinnie.

That's less versatility and athleticism to throw at Toronto's attack, so wing scorers such as Leonard won't have as much to worry about. The Raptors should be able to create a few more open jumpers on the edges, but it doesn't mean they'll make them.

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