by Niccolò Scarpelli
One of the most underrated aspects of the trade that led Kawhi Leonard to wear the Toronto Raptors shirt was that he got Danny Green in his hands. Although Green was one of the less talked-about men on the way to the title in Toronto-with Nick Nurse, who often favored Fred VanVleet, who was already an immortal icon of Canadian culture-his presence as a cadre was fundamental to the transformation of physiognomy and philosophy defender of the Raptors, a team that has been able to count on a good defense (from the regular season) for years, but only made it the mainstay of strength this season.
General Manager Masai Ujiri, after another bitter disappointment over the playoffs, knew that changes were needed to overcome the technical and emotional plateau the Raptors had achieved. Starting from the technical manual could have been a start, but something else was needed as well.
Ujiri has been one of the best NBA managers for years when it comes to interweaving subtle actions that only later turn out to be what they are and open up to larger scenarios: it's unlikely that a decision is hit for no reason. In this context, the acquisition of Green gains in value as it reinforces the simplified concept of the bet . Leonard knew how to improve his point of reference, right down to the vision of a GM who had already begun laying the foundation for an impassable defense.
The ability of the raptor's defense to open and close like a jellyfish's tentacle. The weak side changes of Nick Nurse's team were a feast for the eyes in these playoffs.
As a brain architect, Ujiri was able to draw a new line and build a team that fits in with the modern guns of the ideal NBA. A team that was able to raise and lower its quintets without changing the staff. It was full of players with great agility, speed and basketball intelligence. Basic existence for those who want to make their way from April. In fact, the Raptors have shown in the playoffs that they can be physical (as in the series against Philadelphia), vertical and fast (against Milwaukee) and easily read and vary their defenses, as in the last series against the Golden State Warriors.
Having laid your hands on both sides of the Spurs, not only were you allowed to take along two of the league's best defensive interpreters (to Kawhi, the best of times), but also share their experience with others over the years, securing themselves an almost robotic couple reading game situations and responding accordingly . However, the construction work of Ujiri was not limited to this. For example, having taken advantage of the strong favorable position in the negotiations with the Spurs, O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam keeping a battery of terrible wings intact.
Or Terrence Ross, Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas and C.J. Miles in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, two different long, but also easy to integrate into the established concepts. The versatility has allowed Ibaka to open up from the strong wing, the center and also the "reserve center" after the arrival of Catalan, the last tile added by Ujiri to his own mosaic.
All the ability of petrol to alter enemy penetration lines and protect the iron with great sense of time. In the third clip, one of the main reasons the Raptors wanted to record it was Joel Embiid's one-on-one defense of a hypothetical series with the Sixers.
In addition to the technical-tactical horizon in the offensive midfield through his passport knowledge Gasol also improved the defensive numbers of the team, which went over in the season finale of the fifth to the third defensive efficiency. His Defender of the Year award was awarded to the two of them by Kawhi, a list that includes 10 coins in the first defensive quintets (with Siakam and Lowry, two players who provided superior defensive achievements in these playoffs that did not) never been part of it) and it did not seem to have any weaknesses with players able to adapt to any situation.
The quality of the Raptors players enabled Nick Nurse to better manage the wear of the regular season and to experiment as much as possible. Nurse took advantage of the breaks granted to Leonard to change the wishes of his players and familiarize them with various situations to prepare them for the often chaotic and unpredictable dynamics of the postseason. This flexible approach was fundamental to the success of the playoffs.
The defense allowed the Raptors to race both with line-up and with the series against the Sixers both with "lighter" and with even top-notch (like as in 1 final against the Warriors ). It allowed to vary the pick-and-roll (73rd percentile) proposal, decide when to change blocks as needed, and suck the Bucks shooters into a black hole ( 83rd percentile in certain situations) from spot-up after having understood whom he should entrust the identification of the most dangerous player . He moved the five players of the field in unison, all at the same pace, spinning with energy and precision as indicated by Distractions (first at 14.9 per game) and the lowest granted percentage by three (31 , 3%, without angle). He let the team beat when Lowry and Leonard had to catch their breath, and saw the successful use of two different types of areas, the first in the conference finale Giannis Antetokounmpo and the second in the final for the cage of Steph Curry.
The various Box-and-One curricular limitations that will go down in the history of these finals.
The defense of the raptors was a riot of technique and physicality, of collective engagement that exceeded the positions of players on the field and how to increase in the most difficult moments. During the playoffs, Toronto has used one of the best defense mechanisms in the middle of the last few years and defeated Orlando, Philadelphia and Milwaukee with only 85 points out of 100 possessions and maintained the same efficiency in the final series.
The defense allowed Ujiri to crown his bold vision in triumph. The defense allowed the Toronto Raptors to win their first historic title.