Similar Issues Plague Raptors in Playoff Opener
With Saturday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Toronto Raptors as an organization have now lost every single Game 1 in franchise history. What’s more concerning than this however, is the fact that the Raptors all-star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have yet to win a single Game 1 together in four trips to the postseason.
Since their first playoff appearance four years ago, the duo has had 6 opportunities to take a 1-0 lead only to fail in each and every attempt. Below is a list of each Game 1 the Raptors have played in the last 4 years:
vs Brooklyn Nets (Lost 94-87)
vs Washington Wizards (Lost 93-86)
vs Indiana Pacers (Lost 100-90)
vs Miami Heat (Lost 102-96)
vs Cleveland Cavaliers (Lost 115-84)
vs Milwaukee Bucks (Lost 97-83)
One of the reasons the Raptors perform so poorly in the playoffs is due to their extremely predictable offense. In each of their previous four regular seasons, the Raptors have been one of the top offensive teams in the league, yet once the playoffs roll around, the offense becomes stagnant and easily stopped. Below is a list comparing their Offensive Rating during the season and during the playoffs:
As you can see, the Raptors productivity on the offense end plummets in the postseason. The first reason for this is how reliant they have become on their backcourt to score points. In Saturday’s loss to Milwaukee, the Raptors backcourt attempted a total of 32 field goals, accounting for 43% of all of the entire team’s shots. Had the all-star duo converted a reasonable number of these shots into points, this may have been acceptable ratio, however they combined to shoot a shockingly low 28% from the field. In comparison, the rest of the Raptors squad combined to shoot 42% from the floor.
The over-reliance on Lowry and DeRozan is compounded by the way the Raptors run their offense – the ball sticks, shots are forced and the offense is isolation heavy. During this year’s regular season, the Raptors finished dead last in assists per game at 18.5, but it worked and the Raptors were able to win 50+ games for the second year in a row.
The problem, however, is that this isn’t the regular season anymore. In the playoffs, teams can zero in on your strengths and weaknesses, and right now the Milwaukee Bucks know that if they can take Lowry and DeRozan out of the game, adjustments won’t be made and the Raptors’ offense will flounder.
Perhaps the main culprit in this situation is head coach Dwane Casey. This is not a problem that is exclusive to this season and through four seasons in the playoffs he is yet to find a solution to this problem. The issue is that Coach Casey doesn’t seem to trust the rest of his roster to score the ball in important situations, but the numbers don’t justify his reservations. Just take a look at how the backcourt has performed in previous playoff series:
With how much the pairing has struggled offensively in the postseason, one has to question why Coach Casey hasn’t made an adjustment to their style of offense. Instead, every year the Raptors cruise through the regular season as one of the top offenses in the league only to have their isolation-heavy offense fall apart in the playoffs.
In 2014, this style of offense conceivably made sense. Outside of their all-star backcourt, the only offensive weapons they had were a rookie Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. But the Raptors’ roster is completely different today. Jonas Valanciunas is a legitimate threat in both the high and low post, Cory Joseph is a very capable playmaker for himself and others, they have one of the NBA’s best stretch-4 options in Serge Ibaka, and the team in littered with capable shooters in DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell.
In order to be successful, the Raptors need a more free-flowing offense that will get more players involved. Their current ways haven’t worked for some time and if they plan on advancing to next round this year, they have to do something about it.