- The Toronto Raptors lost Game 2 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, but the Raptors deployed a defensive scheme that slowed the Warriors down.
- In the fourth quarter, the Raptors played a “box-and-1” defence, which is used more commonly in high-school basketball than in the NBA, and kept the Warriors scoreless for more than five minutes.
- With the Warriors hobbled going into Game 3, the Raptors could use the defence again, or another dramatic scheme, in an attempt to steal a crucial win in Oakland.
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The Golden State Warriors won Game 2 of the NBA Finals, 109-104, on Sunday to even the series at 1-1.
After trailing in the first half, the Warriors used one of their vaunted third-quarter runs, an 18-0 explosion to start the second half, to take the lead, which they never relinquished.
However, in the fourth quarter, the Raptors battled back, bringing the game within two points in the final seconds, thanks in part to a high-school-like defence that slowed down the Warriors.
The Raptors deployed a box-and-1 defence in the fourth quarter. The scheme puts four players in a “box,” guarding the corners of the court, with one defensive player attached to an offensive player and roaming outside the box. Last night, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet was tasked with guarding Stephen Curry, while the rest of the Raptors played the corners.
When the Raptors went into the formation, ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy said he couldn’t recall seeing an NBA team do it before. His fellow ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said he had seen the San Antonio Spurs use it, but only sparingly.
The Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker likened it to an eighth-grade defence.
What the 8th grade basketball is going on lol
— Candace Parker (@Candace_Parker) June 3, 2019
For much of the series, the Raptors have been extra aggressive in guarding Curry and Klay Thompson, leaving the Warriors lesser offensive threats open. In Game 2, Thompson left the game with a calf strain and did not return. With Kevin Durant already out, the Warriors were down to one major offensive threat (Curry), so the Raptors opted to make life as hard on him as possible. VanVleet shadowed him, almost like a cornerback on a wide receiver.
Typically, NBA teams don’t play lots of zone defence because NBA players are skilled enough to break it with their shooting and passing. Teams do occasionally go to zone defence for brief stretches, but the box-and-1 is less common.
On Sunday, however, it seemed to work. For almost five minutes, the Warriors were scoreless, while the Raptors cut into the lead.
Though the Raptors eventually got within two points, Andre Iguodala hit the dagger three-pointer with seven seconds remaining, essentially ending the Raptors run.
“I was feeling really good because we stopped their scoring and finally got something figured out there to slow them down,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said after the game. “And we were getting a bunch of wide-open shots, I think we missed three wide-open 3s in a row there to cut it to maybe four, right, and maybe it was five. I don’t know what exactly what it was, but a bunch of stops in a row and we didn’t get much to show for it at the other end. But I’m really proud of our guys for fighting and battling.”
After the game, Curry called it “janky defence.”
Perhaps the scheme could be written off as a onetime gimmick, but there’s a chance it could also come into play in a crucial Game 3.
The Warriors are hobbled as they return to Oakland for Game 3 on Wednesday. The statuses of Thompson (calf) and Kevon Looney (chest) are unclear, though Warriors coach Steve Kerr didn’t sound concerned about Thompson’s injury. Durant is poised to return for either Game 3 or Game 4. The Ringer’s Bill Simmons said on his podcast that he has heard Game 4 is more likely. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Cousins is just two games back into his return from a quad injury, and Iguodala is playing through a calf injury that was severe enough to require an MRI after Game 1.
The Raptors won’t be able to play box-and-1 for long stretches, but if the Warriors are forced to play lineups with only one of Curry, Thompson, or even Durant on the floor, the Raptors could continue to go to extremes to limit their looks. The idea is to make the Warriors’ lesser offensive threats beat them.
Game 3 could also be the Raptors’ best chance at staying in this series. The Warriors have taken back the home-court advantage, and Durant is poised to return by Game 4 at the latest. If the Raptors lose Game 3, it will be difficult to come back against a fully healthy Warriors squad.
The significance of each game grows throughout a series. Nurse and the Raptors will have to get creative again if they hope to regain the series lead on Wednesday.
- Read more NBA Finals coverage:
- Obama showed up for Game 2 of the NBA Finals in a sharp leather jacket that earned rave reviews
- Draymond Green explained how he lost 25 pounds in 2 months and why it gave him a mental edge for the playoffs
- Kawhi Leonard says his hands are so big that he sometimes has trouble shooting the ball
- How the Warriors built one of the NBA’s all-time greatest dynasties with timing, foresight, and a lot of luck
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