Title: Raptors looking every bit the contender they hoped to be as defence wins third in a row against Magic
Date: April 21, 2019
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic, I wrote about the Raptors’ starters dominating in Game 3 but the Magic finding some weaknesses to poke at in the second unit.
It was at times surprising to look at the NBA leaderboards in defensive efficiency this season. No matter the time of year, somewhere in the top 10 would sit the Raptors. Sometimes, they’d have nudged into the top five. By the time the season wrapped and a soft late schedule had taken effect, the Raptors were the league’s fourth-best defence on a per-100-possessions basis.
This, despite it feeling like the defence had not quite galvanized.
The pieces were obvious: Two former Defensive Player of the Year winners brought in over the course of a few months in Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol; another pair of players frequently in the All-Defense voting mix in Kyle Lowry and Danny Green; a potentially ascendant positionless defender in Pascal Siakam; plus a few really solid bench pieces. It made for a heck of an on-paper defensive upside.
The NBA is a show-me league, though, and only the most established of teams get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a certain perceived upside or “switch flipping.” The Golden State Warriors or any LeBron James team, this year excluded, essentially make up the entire list of regular season free-passes. Siakam took the jump but with some inconsistencies on the way up, Gasol and Lowry and Serge Ibaka had aged another year, and Leonard never quite got back to the level of his reputation, for very understandable reasons. That the Raptors cruised to fourth on the defensive end suggested an enormity of floor — there was too much talent, too much versatility, too many advantages for them not to be really solid. The ceiling remained a matter of question though, in terms of fit, whether certain players had extra in reserves and whether others could reach their personal upsides for extended stretches.
The Raptors defensive ceiling is no longer theoretical.