TORONTO – Can’t recall a time when the Warriors, in the wake of a defeat, talked so much about the need to study video as they did after losing Game 1 of the NBA Finals to the Raptors on Thursday. Every conversation, player or coach, referenced film evaluation.
Which suggests they were, on some levels, taken by surprise with the speed and balance of Toronto’s offense. The Warriors had what seemed a rational plan – devote themselves to containing ultra-dangerous Kawhi Leonard – but the Raptors blew it up.
“Kawhi did a good job of kind of baiting them out a little bit and getting passes off, and then letting us play 4-on-3 and kind of just going out there,” Toronto guard Kyle Lowry said Saturday.
Don’t be surprised if the Warriors blow up that plan in Game 2. They certainly should, even though their switching and blitzing limited Leonard to 5-of-14 shooting from the field.
“We did a decent job overall on Kawhi,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He didn't have his best game.”
Leonard, however, had a highly effective game. He played 43 minutes, and nobody was better than his plus-11. His smart passing (five assists, a game-high five secondary assists) and the shooting accuracy of his teammates (the other starters combined for 57.8 percent from the field) burned the Warriors.
The Warriors surely caught that on video, even if they can’t say so.
“You can't argue with what you see on there, and we learned a lot,” Stephen Curry said.
“The few times we trapped him, he was able to make the right passes out of the traps,” said Andre Iguodala, often the primary defender on Leonard. “He found (Marc) Gasol a few times and they're doing certain things to try to counter that. So, we have a few schemes here and there, turn it on, turn it off. For us it's just our back-line defense, being able to rotate, especially when you know you have a special player who can draw two.”
While the Warriors were committing to Leonard, Gasol scored 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Pascal Siakam scored 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting, though some of it was through porous transition defense. Fred VanVleet came off the bench to score 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
It was as if the Warriors patched one hole only to see other leaks elsewhere.
Again, it makes sense to prioritize Leonard. But given his intellect and the shooting ability of the other Raptors, six of whom drilled at least one 3-pointer, it makes more sense to dial it back.
That’s not to say assign one defender or to utilize the same look. The Warriors don’t do that, and as long as Kerr is the coach they never will.
“With great players like Kawhi or LeBron (James) or Kevin Durant or whoever, it's the old cliché: You can't just do the same thing over and over again,” Kerr said. “But in this case the cliché is true. You can't give a guy the same look every time. So, you just try to mix it up and keep them off balance the best you can.”
Leonard can expect to see lots of Iguodala, and maybe even more of Klay Thompson. But the notion of frequently sending a second defender backfired enough that the Warriors won’t do it as often.
“We always try to say make the game as hard as possible for everybody on the court,” Iguodala said. “You're not going to stop him, but you just try to make (the opponent) expend as much energy as possible while he's on the court.”
The Warriors truly understand that the difference between the Raptors and any other team is they always can spread the floor with five shooters. Coach Nick Nurse went nine-deep through his roster in Game 1, and all nine players launched from deep.
This makes it very risky for a defense to send a second defender. Moreover, it’s extremely deflating to send a second defender and force the pass, only to see another shooter drain a triple.
“It's great to have the videotape,” Kerr said. “That's where you can really learn. We had a good film session yesterday. We'll have another one today.”
The Sunday viewing will be, like that on Saturday, equal parts of horror show and enlightenment. Adjustments are coming for Game 2, and this should be one of them.