Raptors: How Lowry, DeRozan Were Trapped in Game 5 Without Valanciunas

Feb 2, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) and guard DeMar DeRozan (10) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Raptors defeated the Suns 104-97. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 2, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) and guard DeMar DeRozan (10) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Raptors defeated the Suns 104-97. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

In game 5 of this series the Cavs chose to stop the Raptors all-star guards, Lowry and DeRozan, and let everyone else beat them.

When a team gets blown out it’s hard to draw any information out of it, but in the playoffs things are constantly changing. So even if your team gets blown out, there is a recent event the coach can draw on before the blowout to decipher what went wrong with their team. In Game 5 it was the defense of the Cavaliers that changed, drastically.

Defense is all about picking your poison. Basketball is a game where the score regularly makes it over 100 points per team so you can’t stop everything. You’ll notice every good defense chooses to give up one thing.

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During last year’s finals the Warriors chose to take away everyone else and told LeBron James he is going to have to score 45 points a game to beat them. In Game 5 of this series the Cavs chose to stop the Toronto Raptors all-star guards, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and let everyone else beat them.

The team obviously runs other sets, but their most used action is the pick and roll. I know this, you know this, and everyone in the league knows this. The Cavaliers have now changed their pick and roll coverage to throw the Raptors off balance. What were open lanes to drive have now become walls that Lowry needs to navigate and pass around.

In the first 4 games of the series the Cavaliers would have the primary defender go over the screen while the secondary defender will zone up, containing any further penetration but giving up the mid-range shot

Now Lowry’s primary defender is going over the screen while the screener’s defender is jumping up to meet Kyle, trapping him and pushing him further and further away from the basket. The trap is especially effective when used against the sideline since the sideline creates what is essentially a third defender, allowing the Cavs to cause a three versus one instead of a two versus one.

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Lowry and DeRozan either seem unprepared for it, or just never recognized that the trap was coming, because almost every time they ran a screen and roll it led to some ugly possessions. At first the guards would continue their dribble and try to avoid the double team but that strategy proved fruitless leading to on-ball steals. Reluctantly Lowry and DeRozan finally passed out of the double but the passes were either errant or mishandled by their teammates resulting in a series high 18 turnovers.

When the all-star guards did make passes out of the defense they played right into Cleveland’s hands. Cleveland doesn’t believe that the Raptors have enough firepower outside of Lowry and DeRozan to beat them. The Cavaliers are now collapsing on the paint on any sort of drives and sprouting out to cover the shooters.

The problem with the shooters are that they aren’t shooting effectively. Patrick Patterson and especially DeMarre Carroll haven’t been able to punish teams from three, as they’re shooting 30.8 and 32.5 percent respectively. So even though these are good looks, they don’t hurt.

Biyombo isn’t an offensive decision maker on the floor. He’s there to set screens, get offensive rebounds and dunk the basketball. If he receives the ball from Lowry he looks lost with the ball so far away from the rim. He could take his once-a-game jumpshot but that’s a win for the Cavs because there are so many other things the Raptors can do as an offense that result in a better shot.

It’s pretty amazing that the Raptors have made the series this competitive without the player most fans would consider their best player in the playoffs. Jonas Valanciunas was averaging 18.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in the first three games of the Heat series before he got injured. He was the best player in the series and had been a key contributor with his post ups, mid-range shots and offensive boards.

Most of these scoring problems could be mitigated by Jonas Valanciunas coming back. JV is sure handed with the ball and is very capable of hitting the mid-range shot. He is also great in the post. Those doubles could result in him being wide open in the lane, where he only needs one or two moves to put the ball in the bucket. We got a small glimpse of this in Game 5.

Kevin Love is going to have to meet JV in the paint and that might as well be free money for the Lithuanian. Jonas got a lot of run with the bench and he looked great. He was fine, his jumpshot was there, and he continues to battle for rebounds. JV has all the physical and skill advantages over K-Love and with all the defensive adversity the Raptors are going to face they are going to need Valanciunas to step up for them.

The Cavs have also been switching action below the rim, leaving mismatches everywhere. If the Raptors could hit JV in the post there could be some dire consequences for the Cavs. Double teams could be drawn and it could open lanes for DeRozan and Lowry, or open jumpers for role players. Hopefully the Raptors knock them down.

Next: Chess Match Between Casey, Lue Will Decide Series

If Casey can trust JV enough to actually play him significant minutes, his arrival could prove to be a huge turning point in the series where DeRozan and Lowry have struggled mightily on the road and with the trap.