Ball movement is the Toronto Raptors’ key weakness, and Cleveland has exploited it at every possible opportunity in the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals.
After Wednesday night’s 125-103 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors social media team tweeted, “They defended home court now let’s go defend ours.”
That’s only partially true. The Cavs mopped up their home court with the Raptors, eviscerating them in two consecutive confidence-draining blowouts. No one gave Toronto much of a chance in this series, and now, down 0-2, it’s easy to see why.
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A lot went awry for the Raptors in Wednesday’s Game 2 loss. DeMar DeRozan, who averaged 27.3 points per game in the regular season, had five points on 2-for-11 shooting. The Cavs, meanwhile, went ballistic from range, draining 18 of their 33 three-point attempts. One of those factors is enough to lose a game; two is enough to lose by 22.
But aside from outlier shooting performances, the Cavs have dominated the Raptors by exploiting their structural weaknesses. On defense, they’re trapping DeRozan and Kyle Lowry on nearly every ball screen, and daring Toronto’s role guys to make plays. The problem? Toronto cannot pass the ball.
This isn’t exactly a fresh take. During the regular season, the Raptors ranked at or near the bottom of the league in every major passing category: assists, secondary assists, passes made. You don’t need to play Spursian basketball to win; the Raptors finished 51-31, after all. You do, however, need some ability to move the ball.
Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas suffer from particularly severe cases of tunnel vision. As Toronto’s main screeners, they act as the release valve for Lowry and DeRozan. But even in the resulting 4-on-3 situations, Ibaka and Valanciunas are indecisive and unreliable.
On this play, there’s no excuse for not getting a layup or open three:
Raptors got fantastic looks w/ starters (didnt make 3s) early. But in short roll, Ibaka decisions not quick enough (roll deeper or pop to 3) pic.twitter.com/w47BQpaGWi
In the second quarter of last night’s game, Valanciunas missed one of the easiest passes I’ve ever seen:
The big Lithuanian is lucky he ended up scoring. Norman Powell has canned 63 percent of his three-pointers this postseason, and he’s wide open on the right wing. That’s a YMCA-level pass that Valanciunas either misses or ignores. No wonder the Raptors attempted just 17 threes last night. Shooters can’t shoot if the ball doesn’t get to them.
It doesn’t help that Toronto head coach Dwane Casey has few avenues for shot creation beyond his backcourt duo. You can dump the ball to Valanciunas in the post – he put up 23 points on just 13 shots yesterday – but that’s not really the Raptors’ offense. Powell tried to do his best DeRozan impression at times, but he too struggled to find open teammates:
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has constructed a team with a bunch of shooters, yet only two shot creators. When those two are bottled up, the offense collapses. Lowry and especially DeRozan are worthy of blame, but so too are Ujiri, Casey and Toronto’s assortment of indecisive role players.
Ibaka has really struggled to make quick decisions in this series