What they’re saying about the Raptors ahead of Game 3 of NBA Finals

Legendary former CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge joins the Starting Lineup to give his take on Kawhi Leonard's upcoming free agent decision, and his love for Drake.

After the Golden State Warriors responded on Sunday night, evening their series with the Toronto Raptors at one game apiece, the 2019 NBA Finals has taken on a different feel heading to Oakland for Game 3 on Wednesday.

But if we’ve learned anything from each team’s opening salvo, it’s that we can expect a close series in which the Raptors are putting up a real fight against the two-time defending champs.

As Game 3 approaches, there is plenty to focus on with regards to Toronto and any potential adjustments in the works — from leaving their missed jumpers beyond the arc on Sunday at home in Toronto, to Kawhi Leonard dealing with the Warriors’ effective hawk-like defence, and a more impactful showing from Kyle Lowry. Oh, and there was also plenty of talk surrounding the Raptors fans still making their way back to their seats on Sunday as the Warriors went on a signature run.

As we’ve done throughout this post-season, here’s a look at what the out-of-market media are saying about the Raptors ahead of Game 3.

ESPN — Can the Raptors break through against this depleted defense?

Kirk Goldsberry takes a deep dive into the “nerdy details” of the Raptors’ Game 2 performance — namely their struggling shot-making — as he looks at how Toronto can turn it around in time for Game 3 on Wednesday.

Diving into the postgame stats, the biggest differences between the first two games were on the Toronto Raptors’ side — most specifically their shooting numbers.

Simply put, the Raptors’ failure to convert shots cost them Game 2.

Toronto’s shot quality was almost identical in the two games, but its shotmaking was not. Based on the nerdy details of their shot profiles including shot locations, shot types and defender distances, the Raptors were expected to shoot a 51.5 effective field goal percentage (eFG) in Game 1 and 52.1 eFG in Game 2. But the Raps shots 7.6 percentage points better than expected in the first game and 9.1 percentage points worse in the second, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

Toronto’s offense actually created more uncontested 3s in Game 2, but the shooters couldn’t make them:

In Game 1, Toronto shot 5-of-6 on uncontested threes (83.3 percent).

In Game 2, Toronto went 3-of-10 (30 percent).

Nobody was more disappointing than Pascal Siakam, the best player on the floor in Game 1 (14-of-17 shooting, 32 points). On Sunday, Siakam regressed to the mean in brutal fashion, shooting just 5-of-18 and scoring only 12 points. He shot an atrocious 1-of-11 outside of the restricted area and went scoreless from beyond the arc.

His struggles away from the rim were a microcosm of his team at large.

USA Today — Stephen A. Smith blamed hungry Raptors fans for that 18-0 run in Game 2, which is ridiculous

Much was made of the large swaths of Raptors fans at Scotiabank Arena who weren’t in their seats for the start of the second half, creating a subdued and lifeless atmosphere as the Warriors took off on their 18-0 run to start the third quarter. Yesterday, Stephen A. Smith called out the Raptors faithful for their disappearing act, a sentiment echoed by many of his peers. But USA Today‘s Andy Nesbitt calls Smith’s stance “ridiculous” in this piece.

That is quite a reach, and a bad one at that. First of all, this happens at every major sporting that has a halftime or intermissions. It’s not crazy to see a football stadium, basketball arena, or hockey arena half empty when play resumes after a break. Lines get long for food and fans get hungry after watching the first half or period. It’s OK to go get food.

And that shouldn’t have any impact on the home team. These are professional athletes that aren’t just going to look around and get sad that everybody is still getting food and then just let the road team run all over them.

The Raptors gave up an 18-0 run because they played really bad basketball and handed the Warriors the game after not being able to put them away in the first half, which stunned many people considering how poorly Golden State played in the first 24 minutes.

Also, I don’t care how loud the fans are, no amount of noise is going to help a player sink a shot, which the Raptors struggled at doing for large parts of Game 2.

Forbes — 5 Years After His Breakout Game 3 Finals Performance, Kawhi Leonard Needs Another

Forbes’ Wes Goldberg says it’s time for Leonard to put his stamp on this Finals series like he did in 2014 against the Miami Heat en route to a breakout effort and Finals MVP award.

Defensively, after racking up more than two steals per game against the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals, Leonard has just two steals so far in the series. He hasn’t been bad, just somewhat defanged.

The Raptors need the fangs. After Toronto’s Game 1 win, Leonard said he simply tries to make the right basketball play — find the open guy, keep the ball moving, etc. — when he encounters a defense that is doubling him.

On one hand, it’s hard to critique Leonard for any of this. He’s right, after all. This series, where he is Enemy No. 1 for the Warriors, is much different than in 2014, when he was an after thought. Asked about how he went about scoring 29 points after that breakout game five years ago, Leonard said then “I just found a rhythm, and my teammates found me the ball. I made shots.” In other words, the old take what the defense gives me.

On the other hand, the Raptors need more from Leonard. They need him to be more forceful while also being more efficient, for him to make the Warriors feel him just as the Heat felt him in 2014. Golden State is limping into Oakland. Blood is in the water.

ESPN — Coaches, trainers and Kyle Lowry: What we think we know in a 1-1 Finals

Brian Windhorst offers a flurry of thoughts and analysis of the series so far, including what the Warriors are doing well to limit Kawhi Leonard on offence, the accidental advantage of Golden State being forced to play bigger lineups, and Kyle Lowry’s “foul performance.”

Steve Kerr and Nick Nurse are working hard trying to surprise each other. In Game 1, Kerr threw a defensive scheme Nurse had never seen the Warriors use, a gimmick defense aimed at Kawhi Leonard. Called the “switch-then-blitz,” the Warriors tried to bait Leonard and the Raptors into one read, only to flip into another scheme, trapping Leonard when he wasn’t prepared.

Kerr has gone old-school, using traditional bigs Cousins and Andrew Bogut as centers while keeping Green at power forward.

Doing so has hurt the Warriors’ ability to trap Leonard because the Raptors have put the big men in pick-and-rolls with Leonard as the ball handler. The big men have no choice but to back up and allow more room. Leonard was more effective in Game 2 because of it, as he scored 34 points after posting 23 in Game 1.

But the side effect is this: It has given the Warriors great size around the rim, which has bothered the Raptors. Toronto has smaller guards, Lowry and VanVleet, who often struggle to score against size at the rim. It also can bother Siakam, who can be pushed around inside.

That said, Lowry’s play the first two games simply hasn’t been what the Raptors need. He shot 2-of-9 in Game 1, which was covered by his teammates’ strong shooting performance. He was 4-of-11 in Game 2 and fouled out in 27 minutes.

For the second time this postseason, he wasn’t there for the game’s most important minutes, which forced Nurse to alter his rotation at a delicate time. Lowry has been in foul trouble regularly the past two rounds, something Toronto simply cannot afford.

The Ringer — What the Computers Knew About the Raptors Before We Did

The Ringer’s Zach Kram takes an interesting look at the statistical models that suggested that, despite what most pundits thought, the Raptors actually have a chance to win the series. He specifically mentions the FiveThirtyEight projections that awarded Toronto a 55 per cent chance to beat the Warriors before the 2019 Finals tipped off.

The computers were comparatively enamored of Toronto’s chances. FiveThirtyEight favored Toronto. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index calculated the split at Golden State, 52 percent; Toronto, 48. Basketball-Reference’s formula spit out a result in the same range. A University of Toronto statistics professor’s model gave Toronto a slight edge. Yet even then, few believed the numbers. In a published staff chat, FiveThirtyEight writer Chris Herring wrote, “Our model is wrong. All due respect to our model.”

Running a Log5 calculation — a method invented by Bill James to estimate the probability of each team winning a game — with the two teams’ regular-season records shows that the Raptors would have a 51 percent chance of winning a game against the Warriors on a neutral court. Using their point differential during the course of the season (a more powerful predictive measure than overall record), that probability would be 49 percent. So either way, the result denotes a toss-up.

Durant’s uncertain health proved the final factor that balanced the two teams’ odds. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver wrote that Golden State would have been roughly a 2-to-1 favorite by FiveThirtyEight’s calculation if both teams were fully healthy — a ratio more in line with the public perception.

FiveThirtyEight’s model uses dynamic health estimates, which means it accounted for the fact that Durant would be more likely to play games later in the series. That reason helps explain why that site thinks the Warriors are now 62 percent favorites to win the Finals, although Klay Thompson’s injury may further change the calculus. But 62 percent is still closer to a toss-up than a sure thing; it means the Raptors have a 38 percent chance, or the same chance that Leonard has of making any given 3-pointer.

The Raptors definitely still have an opportunity, even after letting Game 2 slip away. If anything, the first two games demonstrated that they have a better opportunity than many people thought. If only we had listened to the computers, or sought to see what they saw.

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