“I don’t talk trash often, but when I do, I go for the jugular.”
- Kobe Bryant
Let me begin with this:
Yes, Kyle Lowry was terrible.
Yes, DeMar DeRozan was even worse.
and, yes, there was some sloppy officiating, and some sloppy play from the 2nd-seed Raptors throughout a series in which the 6 barely overcame a bare-bones Indiana team which limped into the playoffs as a 7th seed.
Damn – this is the coolest playoff dunk of this post-season – hands down; but, I digress…
The series, however, never should have been gone to game 7. This series wasn’t supposed to be as close as it ultimately was; but it was.
So let’s start at the top – addressing what brought us all here today to this inglorious article in which there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth as I lie at the feet of my conqueror, the worthy, the talented, the consummately professional, Oliver Maroney.
I was hardly wrong about many of my predictions going into this series – most notably the poor shooting of Toronto’s starting guards, the defensive stopping of Indiana’s twin big men Myles Turner and Ian Mahimi – but what put the Raptors over the top was a point that Oliver stressed in our series preview podcast “Gettin; Hurt Up in the 6” (find part 1 here, and part 2 here).
To the right are the 5 line-ups which played the most minutes for the Pacers’ squad. Notice the precipitous drop-off after the 1st three line-ups, all of which post positive net-ratings for their minutes on the court. This indicates a the troubling reality of this Indiana Pacers team – they lack depth behind their starters at nearly every position (Solomon Hill being the only outlier). Going into the series, Oliver and I were in agreement about this; I just asserted that increased minutes played by the starters and handful of key adjustments would put the Raptors over the top.
To your left are the equivalent statistics for the Raptors. Only one of those lineups had a negative net-rating: it’s not a coincidence that this particular line-up was the starting line-up used during the duration of the entire season (Demarre Carrol not included) up until the 4th game of the series, whereupon Coach Casey relented and utilized his floor-spacing PF Patrick Patterson rather than his Luis Scola, a veteran who he repeatedly defended as a starter due to his “stabilizing effect on the starting squad.”
Whatever the hell that means.
The Raptor’s simply had enough talent deep enough into their bench to continue testing out rotation changes until they found sweet spots, and then stuck with them. Mind you, the flexibility in terms of go-to lineups was a deviation for Coach Casey, who despite the protests of fans and media members, insisted on playing lineups which either barely clung to a positive net-rating, or were straight-up negative. He then relied on bench line-ups to pull out wins. The Luis Scola/Jonas Valanciunas combo in particular was a questionable starting duo during the regular season.
This was vital in a series during which their two all-star guards struggled to shoot: DeMar DeRozan shot a pathetic %31.9 from the field and %16.7 from deep, while Kyle Lowry shot and even more pathetic %31.6 from the field and %16.3 from deep.
To your right you’ll now find the 5 lineups with the most severe Net Ratings during their play in the series.
Quick aside: Terrence Ross was featured in every one of them. Take from that what you will.
Coach Casey not only, as I mentioned before, was willing to move away from his beloved Luis Scola, he benched him literally for every minute after the Pacers tied the series 2-2 in a brutal game 4 smackdown which highlighted many of the concerns that I had with his rotation choices.
If you have the time to listen to my mid-season Raptors’ podcast series, part 1 of which can be found here, you’ll notice my overall positive feelings about Dwayne Casey; nevertheless, I mention that his rotation decisions are chronically head-scratching.
So, going into a playoff series that, indeed, was defined by the player-to-player match-up problems, I expected Casey to have his pants out-coached off by Frank Vogel – an assumption that was ultimately true. However, equipped with a roster with an overwhelmingly higher level of talent, he avoided what would have been an embarrassing upset by finally embracing a flexible rotation philosophy which put him over the edge.
Though many stars aligned in the Raptors’ 1st round defeat of the Pacers, a notable ‘X-Factor’ mentioned by Oliver, the 2nd round rookie Norman Powell, was the most explosive and electrifying among them.
Posting the highest +/- on a talented Raptors’ team, Raptors fans are singing his praise, and for good reason. With the 46th pick of the 2015 NBA draft, the Bucks selected, and subsequently traded, the talented young UCLA star for the underwhelming Greivis Vásquez.
The Raptors were the decisive winner in the exchange, much like Oliver was the decisive winner in ours:
It’s unclear why the Bucks would give up two picks – including a future first round pick, for which other teams have paid handsomely in other transactions – for Vasquez. Milwaukee could view Vasquez as a superior option to Jerryd Bayless, although both are prone to similar stretches of bold, sloppy play. While Vasquez’s ability to play the passing lanes is well-suited to Milwaukee’s defensive style, this deal still doesn’t make much sense. Landing a marginal upgrade over Bayless for $6.6 million in cap space, a future first-round pick and an immediate trade chip is remarkably thriftless.
Toronto, in addition to the acquired picks, sheds salary at a point where cap space could be of consequence.
Regardless of who the Raptors select with that pick, it’s already clear that they came out on top. This move, combined with many others, formed a Raptors team that finished with the 2nd best record in the East, nearly upsetting the Cavaliers for the 1st seed.
Throughout the series, Norman Powell was arguably the most effective, the most clutch, player for the Raptors when he was on the court. Give credit to Coach Casey, who navigated outside of his comfort zone and decided to give the rookie significant minutes – particularly during the most crucial stretches of the game.
Give even more credit to Oliver for seeing that coming.
Much has been made about my basketball acumen – particularly my predictive capabilities – and I’ll be the first to savor a victory in which a #PROPHECYALERT tips in my favor. Furthermore, I exclusively make prophecies in which I am the underdog: who cares if I predict that Steph will win MVP?
And though I could list some of the excuses and justifications I might have about the series, I won’t mention them any further than this.
A bet is a bet, and I lost to a superior foe, superior both in professionalism and journalistic excellence.
Those of you who have followed the podcast for a while, particularly in Episode 67, know that I am not humble when I am right. You might notice the youtube video at the bottom of Lux’s staff profile.
I even wrote an excellent article about my victory:
So it’s only fair that I give the nod to the victor, Oliver Maroney, who bested me in this particular challenge.
It will not be the last time we square off, and I am confident that I will be right in the future, as I have been many times in the past.
In this matter, however, I was wrong.
Kudos, my friend.