TORONTO – If the Raptors’ rout of the rival Cleveland Cavaliers was a clash of styles, then their game Saturday against the visiting Golden State Warriors will be more like the students taking on the masters.
Fred VanVleet and the Raptors bench ran LeBron James and the Cavaliers off the court on Thursday night, playing hard on transition and moving the ball rapidly to get open three-point shots. It was lethal against a Cleveland team that prefers to set up plays in the halfcourt.
But it will be another story against the Warriors, who pioneered the run-and-gun style and used it to beat the Cavs in last year’s NBA Finals.
“Completely different, completely different dynamic of the game,” said DeRozan on Friday when comparing the Cavaliers and Warriors. “Two different styles that they play with.”
VanVleet had a career-high 22 points, including 6-of-8 from three-point range, as Toronto went 18-of-42 from beyond the arc to torch Cleveland 133-99. The Cavs shot 6-of-26 on three-pointers in the loss.
“Playing with a lot of speed, man,” said VanVleet of the win over Cleveland. “We got stops, we were able to get out in transition and then the threes started falling somewhere in the second quarter. We just played with incredible speed and energy.”
By contrast, the Warriors lead the league in scoring (115.7 points per game) and three-point shooting (39 per cent).
“The way Golden State moves the ball, I mean, Cleveland moves the ball well but Golden State is different,” said DeRozan. “You’ve got Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, arguably some of the best shooters in the game today. That changes the whole dynamic.”
Fast transitions, three-point shooting and rapidly switching on defence are hallmarks of a Golden State team that has gone to the NBA Finals three straight years and won the title twice. Toronto relied on the backcourt tandem of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to make the Eastern Conference final in 2016 and the conference semifinal in 2017, losing to Cleveland both times.
But Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri made some tweaks to his roster in the off-season, making the team younger and faster, with head coach Dwane Casey implementing an uptempo style much like the Warriors. Although they have yet to master it like Golden State, Toronto’s 29-11 record is a franchise best at the 40-game mark of a season.
Toronto lost to Golden State 117-112 in Oakland, Calif., on Oct. 25, just the fourth game of the season for the Raptors. DeRozan said on Friday it’s a game Toronto could have won, pointing out that they had a lead with less than two minutes remaining, and said the Raptors have grown within their new system since.
“We’ve been learning it, appreciating it, understanding it, since Day 1 of training camp,” said DeRozan on the court of the Biosteel Centre, the Raptors’ practice facility. “It’s just been a process of us learning a right rhythm, finding a comfort within it. We’re still getting better at it. Every single time we come in here to practise.”
According to Casey, having success with the new system helps but isn’t everything.
“You’re talking about people instead of computers or statistics, you’re talking about feelings, a guy maybe had a long day or whatever,” said Casey. “There’s a lot of factors that go into it, moreso than just looking at numbers.
“You’re dealing with human behaviour and human behaviour is unpredictable sometimes.”
Lowry is still a game-time decision for Saturday night after missing the past two games with a bruised tailbone. He’s averaging 16.2 points, seven assists and 6.1 rebounds per game. Forward Serge Ibaka will return for Toronto after serving a one-game suspension for fighting Miami’s James Johnson.
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