Raptors’ dominant defense on full display in series clincher

At film session the day following their late-night flight home from Orlando early Monday morning, Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse finished by screening one final clip — a clip that, in his eyes, was most representative of the team’s growth over the series.

A possession from the Raptors’ Game 4 victory, the clip began with Kyle Lowry dribbling left courtesy of a screen from Serge Ibaka. As Lowry attacks the paint, he kicks the ball to a wide-open Norman Powell behind the arc on the weak side — only Terrence Ross leaps in the air and snatches the pass with his left hand.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

The Magic are off to the races, but if you freeze the frame, something interesting reveals itself. Outside of Ross, who is pushing the ball up the floor, the three figures running with the greatest resolve and stride are Lowry, Ibaka and Fred VanVleet, who is leading the pack. By the time Ross crosses half court, it’s a 1-on-4 break, with Powell sprinting into view, followed by Kawhi Leonard.2

“We were up 19 with 5:46 to go, but we didn’t give them anything,” Nurse says. “This one clip showed how our mindset has changed. Five guys flying in, and they had to pull it out. I said, ‘There’s no better way to impose your will.’ [Ross] steals it and is thinking dunk, and all of the sudden he has nothing.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Even though they feature strong, versatile one-on-one defenders all over the floor, the Raptors help willingly, and with great alacrity. This looks like a vintage-era San Antonio outfit that’s decisive about the help it offers, and timely and precise in its recovery. Leonard has long been the best in the game at announcing his omnipresence with authority on defense, and at the sound of the postseason starting gun, he reverted to his exquisite form. He has a seamless ability to both account for his man on the wing, and provide, as a helper, the key disruption of a possession — or vice versa.

Willing help defense can often yield available 3-pointers to opponents, and the Magic took a ton of them in the five-game series. Fortunately for Toronto, frequency was not matched with accuracy. Against a Sixers team that ranked eighth in 3-point percentage this season, the Raptors might need to be more selective in their help. JJ Redick will run his defender ragged, and Joel Embiid won’t succumb to being pushed out of the post in the manner Nikola Vucevic was by Gasol.

If there are threats, the Raptors will attend to them — blitzing Terrence Ross on the catch or double-teaming Vucevic if Gasol isn’t defending the post. Rotations aren’t ideal, but there’s so much confidence in the collective smarts of the defense that these are risks Toronto will incur. Such is the luxury of a veteran-laded roster with no weak links.