To say that game two was a disgrace is an understatement, but rather than letting themselves get swept, the Raptors need to make some serious adjustments prior to an obvious must win game three.
Here are a list of some adjustments the Raptors should make:
- Start Norman Powell over Serge Ibaka
You know it’s early May when Norm is suddenly the possibility to save the team from their playoff misfortunes! However, I really believe that this series is one that calls Norm’s number. This is because of Powell’s ability to penetrate, switch on the perimeter, and push the pace. It is also because Serge Ibaka has been a joke in this series, and does not fit on the court against the Cavaliers small ball lineup that they start the game with.
The Cavs have been hiding Kyle Korver on defence on Ibaka, and despite having a huge height advantage, Ibaka has not made a single three or made his presence felt in the paint. He is simply not good, and his defensive shortcomings are most certainly not worth the tradeoff for a measly 5.5 points on 29% shooting in his last five games. While you can argue that slumps happen, if you’re getting paid 22 million dollars, they simply can’t happen or else it leads to things like having your city being dubbed as “Lebronto”
Norm, who’s most impactful playoff sightings are highlighted by halftime GoDaddy commercials forcing watchers to hit the mute button, can make his presence felt in other ways. The “piano player” can force the Cavaliers poor wing defenders like Kyle Korver (114 defensive rating) to actually play defence like the Pacers forced him to.
The Raptors aren’t doing enough to expose Korver on defence, and his shooting ability has given LeBron all the free room to work with. Getting Korver in first half foul trouble was key last game, and was a big part of the reason for the first half lead. However, he is the Cavaliers worst defender, and Powell is somebody who can expose that a lot more than Serge can.
While you can argue that Powell has been terrible offensively this year, and he has, this is a perfect series for him to get involved, and there is no reason to believe he can’t play better than Ibaka offensively, while giving the team an obvious upgrade on defence. The Raptors need someone who can penetrate, and besides DeRozan, there is no one on this team showing the ability to slash through the defence and create shots for themselves and other players on the team.
On the defensive end, Powell will be a huge upgrade, as he can match up with Jeff Green, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith. Furthermore, with the Raptors showing a way too generous willingness to switch on defence, Powell is someone who can hold his own on a switch on LeBron for a play or two.
Is he going to be the Milwaukee Bucks series type of saviour? Hell no. But, he fits the mold of this series way better than Ibaka.
2. Run OG to the ground and make LeBron beat you
Make LeBron beat you is exactly what happened in game two, and while the game was up for grabs, the King began hitting ridiculous fadeaway after fadeaway to the point where even Kawhi Leonard would be left scratching his head.
I am willing to gamble that LeBron won’t shoot like that the rest of the series and because of that, I would gamble to tell OG to play as many minutes as he can handle, and continuously go under on screens, and make LeBron do what he did last game to beat you.
This will be effective because you are living with an average jump shooter beating you, it keeps other guys like Kevin Love (31 points in game two), Kyle Korver, and J.R. Smith disengaged in the game. Bringing help and getting switches after going over screens and failing is going to lead to these guys getting wide open looks.
During the regular season, when OG Anunoby guarded LeBron James on 106 possessions, Cleveland posted an offensive efficiency of 109.4 on those possessions compared to a 137 rating when anyone else guarded him on 84 possessions.
I know it’s asking a lot for a 20 year old rookie, but he needs to do what the Raptors chose to do with P.J. Tucker in game four last year, when he played nearly the whole game start to finish. It’s the Raptors only hope of stopping LeBron.
Every time Miles or Siakam are on James, it is a free drive to the rim and either a hardly contested and one layup, or help D and a few extra passes later and a wide open three. The Raptors simply cannot afford to experiment anymore with figuring out who their best LeBron “stopper” is and that is Anunoby.
I wouldn’t even mind seeing OG play with the bench instead of Miles too because the bench’s offence has not been reliable like it was in the regular season, and it’s too much of a sacrifice to have continuity in the second unit without putting someone who can legitimately make James earn his points on the court at all times.
Anunoby has been unafraid, and has been shooting the ball nicely in these playoffs at a 42% clip from three point range.
3. Maybe Try Harder?
It’s hard to think of a team that has used the “we need to work harder” and “we didn’t play our brand of basketball” excuses so consistently throughout the past few playoffs. It seems like such results oriented narrative to say this team is not trying, but the effort level last night was at a Tuesday night regular season game on a snowy November night against the Hornets level. You really don’t need to change much, you just need to want it more sometimes. Play with a little fire, dive for loose balls, jump in the third row for a ball, show a little heart and stop making excuses. Losing game one stung, but you could see the team gave it their all. Game two was disgusting and hopefully things change or else this will be a really short lived “different culture” as I believe major changes will be made if the team gets swept.