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The Golden Breakdown: The Raptors outplay the Warriors on both ends of the floor to take Game 1

The Raptors proved that they belong in the NBA Finals by punching the defending champs in the mouth, courtesy of solid two-way play that caught the Warriors off-guard.

2019 NBA Finals - Game One Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The aftermath of a Game 1 of any particular series is often a den full of rapid takes, feelings of vindication that often evolve to even bolder predictions, and a sense of impending doom and the feeling that the sky is falling.

Those sentiments are normal, part-and-parcel of the experience of watching a heart-pounding game of basketball where the stakes are raised. The NBA Finals provides the highest stakes of professional basketball in the world — the team who manages to win Game 1 is, rightfully so, the one who earns the driver’s seat and gains control.

The Toronto Raptors rightfully earned their advantage by winning Game 1 against the defending champs, who were caught with their hands down by the Eastern Conference champions. Unlike the Warriors’ previous opponents, the Raptors proved that they were an entirely different beast on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, the Raptors were able to find holes in the Warriors defense. Despite holding Kawhi Leonard to a relatively subdued offensive performance — 23 points on 5-for-14 shooting from the field (35.7 percent) — it was the Raptors’ supporting cast who stepped up to give their main man some much needed backup.

The Warriors were expected to give Leonard special attention on defense — trapping him on pick-and-rolls, or throwing a double team at him as the shot clock winded down. They were intent on testing Leonard’s snap decision-making skills under pressure. At times, it worked to the Warriors’ advantage.

When the Warriors throw a double team toward Leonard after a pick, they accomplish what they set out to do — get it out of his hands, and force the Raptors’ supporting cast to make plays. Kevon Looney does an excellent job of recovering back to his man. Draymond Green, assigned to Pascal Siakam, manages to draw a charge. A successful double-team of Leonard is accomplished, all things considered.

While the Raptors have been heavily reliant on Leonard to shoulder the majority of the burden on offense, they are far from being a team bereft of depth and options. The Warriors gambled on the off-chance that any Raptor not named Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t be able to provide consistent contributions on offense. It was a gamble worth attempting, but in the end, it largely failed.

The Warriors double Leonard again, but the outcome this time proves to be far different.

Leonard doesn’t panic and finds Gasol on the elbow, ready to relieve pressure. At the same time, Fred VanVleet flashes to the right wing, lets Green fly by him with the fake, and steps inside the arc and buries the wide-open jumper.

It was a portent of things to come. Leonard may have been “stifled” — as stifled as a superstar can be, to clarify that statement further — but his teammates stepped up to burn the Warriors defense, who were uncharacteristically leaving shots on the perimeter wide-open for the Raptors to take.

In both instances, Marc Gasol manages to bury wide-open 3s that the Warriors essentially dared him to take. Green doesn’t even try to run at Gasol to contest or run him off the line — he just stares at the big man and virtually tells him to shoot his shots, which he does with aplomb.

Danny Green, in particular, was left wide-open on several occasions, which is an entirely risky proposition for the Warriors to face, despite his recent struggles from behind the arc. Against the Milwaukee Bucks during the Eastern Conference finals, Green notoriously slumped from 3-point range, going 4-for 23 (17.4 percent). It wasn’t a great series for the streaky veteran sharpshooter, but sooner or later, Green was bound to break out and start hitting his shots.

Whether by design or due to just being uncharacteristically slow to rotate or close out on the perimeter, the Warriors let Green fly away with his shots. As shooters who are undergoing a rut are wont to do, they will maintain their faith in their ability to make a shot — and Green’s faith in himself is rewarded.

The last 3-point shot in the clip above by Green was an especially egregious one for the Warriors to give up. It was 3 of the Raptors’ 24 fast-break points, an area that the Warriors will need to seriously address. On several instances such as the one above, the Warriors were caught jogging back on defense or losing track of their assignments in transition, and against an elite team such as the Raptors, that kind of defensive effort isn’t going to cut it.

The Raptors are an excellent transition team — just like the Warriors, they place a huge emphasis on getting quick buckets as fast as possible. Normally, trying to play this kind of fast-paced game with the Warriors is a questionable tactic, since the Warriors are the kings of playing at breakneck speeds. But the Raptors are perhaps the only team who can match the defending champs’ speedy play — in Game 1, they managed to beat the Warriors at their own game.

Siakam was an especially notorious culprit behind the Warriors’ woes in transition defense.

But it wasn’t just in transition that Siakam feasted on offense. The Raptors counted on Siakam to be aggressive, especially with how the Warriors were laser-focused on stopping Leonard. Using a variety of drives and jumpers, Siakam was able to take the Warriors by surprise, scoring 32 points on an extremely efficient 14-for-17 shooting clip (82.4 percent). For most of the game, Draymond Green was assigned to defend Siakam, and even he was taken by surprise at how aggressive and capable Siakam was offensively.

“I think he played an amazing game, obviously,” Green said of Siakam. “But he got out in transition a lot. Our transition [defense] was horrible. I let him get in a rhythm in the first half, first quarter really. I got to do a better job of taking his rhythm away, and I will. But he had a great game, but that’s on me.”

Offensively, the Warriors were hard-pressed to generate any sort of consistent half-court offense in the first half. It was widely expected that the Raptors would give the Warriors several problems on that end; a team with lengthy and switchable personnel such as the Raptors is the perfect foil to the Warriors offense. Coupled with their excellent defensive pedigree that has claimed victim teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers and the Bucks, the Raptors are clearly the best defense the Warriors are playing against this postseason, and it showed.

Stephen Curry managed to have an excellent offensive showing, dropping 34 points on 8-for-18 shooting from the field (44.4 percent), 4-for-9 from behind the arc (44.4 percent). Despite that, the Raptors managed to find a formula for defending Curry.

Instead of opting to use drop coverage or switching their bigs onto the smaller and more nimble Curry, the Raptors opted to trap him.

This approach worked when the Raptors were able to draw Curry to the side, trapping him between a rock and a hard place and forcing him to turn the ball over. Curry was largely able to adjust by ramping up his aggression at the point of attack. Using his handles and agility, Curry was able to turn the corner against his defenders, scoring inside and drawing fouls that sent him to the line.

After scoring 13 points on only 3-for-10 shooting in the first half, Curry game back in the second half with a vengeance, scoring 21 points on 5-for-8 shooting. His aggressive approach forced the officials’ whistles, allowing him to go to the line and go 14-for-14 from the charity stripe. Despite the Raptors zeroing in on him and trying to prevent him from getting open looks, Curry still found ways to be effective.

This is something the Warriors can build off of going into Game 2 — having Curry being more aggressive, preventing him from getting trapped along the sideline, and finding additional ways to leverage his aggression and gravity can be the initial steps toward a much better showing offensively come Sunday evening.

Additionally, the Warriors will simply need to take better care of the ball. Their 17 turnovers gave their adversaries additional possessions, and in a high stakes series such as the Finals, possessions are crucial commodities.

Now that they have had an up-close look at what lies between them and a third-straight NBA championship, the Warriors will have plenty to work with in order to make adjustments for Game 2. The calls for Kevin Durant to come back are understandable, and it is clear that in a series where the Raptors are capable of slowing down the Warriors’ half-court offense, Durant’s services are obviously a necessity that they would want to have.

As Curry displayed in the second half, all it takes is some simple adjustments as well as team-wide discipline in taking care of the ball and running back on defense. As simplistic as it may sound, it’s the simple things like these that can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

The Warriors failed to do the simple things, and they paid for it in Game 1. Let the hot takes, the bold predictions, and the impending sense of doom come over you. Let it stew for a while, if you must. But in two days’ time, it’s back to square one, and the Warriors will have another clean slate to work with — only this time, they can be counted on to know what to do with it.

In the meantime, back to the drawing board.

Twelve wins down, 4 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.

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