No one can say the NBA schedule makers don’t have a sense of humor. The NBA’s fourth place overall Toronto Raptors face the favorites in the Eastern Conference tonight in Cleveland (second place overall) and then return home on the back-to-back to face this season’s Western Conference favorites Golden State (third place overall) in Toronto. This will be the ultimate test of style for the midrange focused Raptors. The Cavs and the Warriors love the long bomb, tossing up over 30 three-point attempts per night and burying opponents in an avalanche of points.
Led by the NBA’s leading scorer and midrange specialist DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors reside near the bottom of the league in three-point attempts and makes and are 15th in the NBA (opponents shoot 34.2 percent) at defending the long ball. Overall their defense holds opponents to a 7th best 43.4 percent shooting versus the Cavaliers 8th best 43.8 percent and the high scoring Warriors NBA median 44.7 percent, but they all do it so very differently.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey sets his defense to protect the paint first then runs teams off the three-point line, but so far Toronto’s opponents are attempting an NBA 7th most 30.2 attempts in the restricted area, although, the Raptors defense here is holding teams to a 6th best 57 percent shooting. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise practicing against DeRozan that the Raptors are the NBA’s 2nd best team at defending the midrange (34.5 percent) and the fifth best team defending two-point shots (47.5 percent). It makes up for their very average defense of the three-point line.
As Casey often says, you have to take away something, and in Toronto they protect the paint.
The Cavaliers are one of the better teams at keeping opponents out of the paint altogether, giving up just 25.6 field goal attempts in the restricted area, but once there, teams score relatively easily (top 10 worst) at a 62.6 percent clip. The Cavs also give up a top 10 worst (41.9 percent) from midrange, but overall their defense has been more than adequate while scoring 109.4 points per game. It’s early in the season and the Cavs might be excused for playing just enough defense to win.
The Warriors “started slow” this season, but only by last year’s standards and they currently lead the NBA scoring 116.4 points per game. No other team has cracked 110 points on average. However, the Warriors give up 108 points per game, so they don’t appear to be winning with defense and their only losses have come when scoring 100 points or less themselves.
Opposing scorers that like to drive must be looking at the Warriors defense and licking their chops, it should be a big night for points. Golden State gives up an NBA 4th worst 64.4 percent opponent’s shooting in the restricted area. However, while the Warriors are bottom 10 at defending two-point shooting overall giving up 49.7 percent inside the arc, they are top 10 at defending the midrange (38.5 percent opponent’s shooting) and top 10 defending the three-point line (33.2 percent opponent’s shooting). They are a jump shooting team that can defend jump shooters.
The Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight at The Q where they completely dominated Toronto last season. Recently the two teams met in the second game of this season in Toronto with the Cavs pulling out a 94-91 victory on a last minute Kyrie Irving three-pointer followed by three-point misses by Patrick Patterson and Kyle Lowry. The Cavs were able to make their 12 made three-pointers standup in a tough defensive battle.
Toronto lost two close games with the Warriors last season by an average of 113.5 to 109.5 with Golden State sinking 27 three-pointers over the two games. If the Raptors want to steal a game here, they have to slow the pace down to something more to their liking and not get sucked into the “fun” of scoring easy buckets. The Warriors aren’t going to lose many shootouts this season.
The Raptors have been successful bucking the three-point focused trend in the NBA, but they face two of teams that have dominated by moving in this direction and these two games represent an early season ultimate test of opposing styles for Toronto.