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Woz Blog: Why are the Raptors so good defensively?

Marc Gasol is one of the reasons why Toronto is so good defensively.
Marc Gasol is one of the reasons why Toronto is so good defensively.

The NBA is pretty much all about offence these days. This was already the highest-scoring season in league history before the shut-down, but offence is up even more at the bubble in Orlando. Toronto’s been scoring at will for large stretches over its first three games, though there have been some lulls, but what separates the Raptors from most other teams is they still manage to excel defensively.

The Raptors boast athleticism, length, depth and sky-high basketball-IQ. They can switch everything, cover ground like few other teams and lock down the paint. Yes, they give up a lot of three-point attempts, but that doesn’t seem to hurt them because opponents miss so many of those shots.

Opponents hit only 33.4% of their three-point attempts against Toronto, that’s the best three-point defence in the NBA. Only Milwaukee surrenders more three-pointers, but the Bucks also give up the most three-point makes, while the Raptors give up the seventh-most per game.

A big part of the success stems from having players like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby flying all over the place to make long shots tougher.

It isn’t just that though. Only Milwaukee defends the rim better than Toronto. Only Milwaukee and Portland surrender a lower field goal percentage from less than five feet from the basket.

Orlando could not get anything going from deep on Thursday, shooting just 26.8% and managed only 11 points in transition.

Head coach Nick Nurse, the architect of this defensive, along with assistant Adrian Griffin and the rest of the staff, weighed in after the game about why Toronto is so good defensively.

“It’s always first of all getting it set up, that there aren’t any transition opportunities, so (opponents) have to play against five,” Nurse said.

Aand the next thing for me is how into the basketball are we? Are we pressuring, are there active hands, making just kind of one-on-one disruption and that kind of gets into the rhythm of some of the things they’re trying to do and it kind of goes from there.

Then it kind of becomes a really good helping situation from there.”

Nurse told me in Las Vegas right after taking over as head coach that quick, aggressive hands are a huge part of what he wants from his defenders. He’s gotten what he’s wanted there. Fred VanVleet leads the league in deflections, Kyle Lowry is always everywhere and Siakam and Anunoby get their hands dirty too, as does Gasol.

“Before a pass is ever made you’ve got to have some desire, you have to have some readiness, you got to have some anticipation, you’ve got to have some IQ before the ball’s even started in an offensive sequence,” Nurse said of defending.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys that are locked in on that. They pay attention to the game plans, they’re basketball guys, they watch the other teams, they study them, they like stopping them, it’s kind of an interesting thing that they got going. They come to the game and they start figuring out how we’re going to stop them. They really try to make adjustments, there’s communication amongst them, each other.”

Toronto is now 24-5 against Orlando over the last five regular seasons, along with 4-1 in the playoffs. A potential playoff rematch would not do wonders for the NBA’s ratings. It would not be close.

After shooting above 70% on corner three-pointers over the first two games, Toronto was held off the board, going 0-for-5 against Orlando. The Raptors only got up one corner three-point attempt from the right side. Shooting 65% in the paint helped make up for some of that.


1 — Fred VanVleet

2 — Marc Gasol

3 — Aaron Gordon

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