Some teams have the mindset to keep working continuously. At every point in the game you will see that team to show the same work ethic as the very start. As a result of hard work during the game, this hypothetical team can go toe to toe with any opponent. They work hard, fight for every possession and play in an extremely organized fashion on the defensive end. There are many teams that fit that mold. The ’04 Pistons. The Grit and Grind Memphis teams, which Gasol himself was part of. The ’14 Spurs, which ended the Heatles dynsasty, and crushed their hopes at a three peat. The ’19 Toronto Raptors may fit this mold. None of these players play to their talent. They play above it.
What happens to a team when you put together some of the greatest defensive minds in modern day basketball? The Toronto Raptors don’t have pure defensive players like Marcus Smart or Patrick Beverley, but they do have the best defense in the league. It is a combination of athletic defenders who have the smarts to switch 1 through 4/5 (Siakam and Leonard) and high IQ guards who are quick enough to keep up with similar sized guards on the perimeter (Lowry, Green and VanVleet. This defense is anchored by two centers, who provide different kinds of defense: Gasol excels at locking up other 5s, while Ibaka is an athletic rim protector, who can come out of nowhere to send a shot flying into the stands. I’ve said before: the Raptors may not win if KD comes back, but this truly is a modern day defensive answer to the Warriors.
Grind it Out
Danny Green said it himself. It starts with Kyle Lowry and he works and works for every possession. There is no slacking off among the Raptors defense, and Kyle Lowry’s energy is a big part of that. He can be overzealous on the defensive end, as evidenced by him fouling out in Game 2. This team feeds off his energy and his clutch plays. If Kawhi is the person who brings the cold calculated mentality, Lowry embodies the hardworking culture of this team. These are all guys who have worked to be in the spotlight, and have taken sacrifices for team success. Kawhi Leonard may grab the headlines with his 30 point outing in Game 3, but Lowry was just as important, tallying 23 points and 9 assists. This is peak Lowry and he unlocks the ceiling of this team.
Good defense usually leads to good offense. For the Raptors that meant hustling on defense. If there is one thing the Raptors do, it’s run. They score a lot in transition when opposing defenses aren’t set, due to the amazing playmaking ability present around the roster, allowing the team to get a high percentage shot. The way they move the ball shows that they are not afraid of sharing the basket and getting a good look as a result. This team is full of players who got where they’re at with hard work and dedication. No one could have predicted that any of these players would be where they’re at. This team is a team full of blue collar guys who work hard every possession, and do everything necessary to win the game.