Moore: 4 Things to Know Before Betting the Raptors vs. Nets Round 1 Playoff Series
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Pascal Siakam
The NBA Playoffs begin Monday, and Nets-Raptors is the second game on the slate. Will Toronto exercise its Game 1 demons? Or will Brooklyn continue its upstart ways? Here are four things you need to know before you put money down.
Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets Series Odds
|Win in 4||-125||+10000|
|Win in 5||+170||+10000|
|Win in 6||+625||+10000|
|Win in 7||+2500||+6600|
1. I have to force myself to stay away from the Nets.
The Raptors are better. Way better. So much better. I know it, you know it. They’re the champs! They beat the Bucks! And the Warriors (kind of)! They have the best defense! They have the best coach! They have shooters and Lowry and Siakam. They have so much depth! Fred VanVleet is about to make an obscene amount of money in free agency!
Look, Toronto was 18th in regular-season halfcourt offense per Synergy Sports, and if you take out garbage time, still just 15th. In the bubble? They were 19th in halfcourt offense. That’s bad. That’s objectively not good.
The Nets, meanwhile, were 24th in the regular season, 21st in non-garbage time. They’re missing Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie. But in the restart, they were still sixth in halfcourt offense and seventh in location-expected effective field goal percentage (Toronto was fifth; both of them took good shots, the Raptors missed everything.)
Caris LeVert is a bad man. The Nets have a phalanx of shooters led by Joe Harris (shooting 54% in the restart). If you look at their games in the bubble, in their three losses, they lost to the Magic who at the time were on fire offensively, Boston, which they gave up 149 to and has weapons all over, and the Blazers who were red-hot. In other words, it took high octane offenses to beat them. Toronto is not that. Also, just throwing this out there:
The Toronto Raptors are ranked 30th in halfcourt offense against a zone defense, per Synergy. 30th. Dead last.
Paging Jacque Vaughn.
— Matt Brooks (@MattBrooksNBA) August 15, 2020
Am I brave enough to take the Nets for any meaningful amount on the series price? No. The Raptors are too good.
But I do think the Nets find a way to take a game.
2. Toronto is a disaster in Game 1s
This isn’t the same Toronto team that got bounced by Brooklyn and Cleveland all those years ago. And yet … it still lost Game 1 to the Magic last year. Toronto is 1-7 straight up and against the spread in all Game 1s of the playoffs in franchise history, including 1-5 with this current amalgamation. They just lose these games.
I’m not saying it’s smart to take a team missing three of its four best players vs. the defending champion two-seed. I would never say that. I’m just saying, Toronto is a disaster in Game 1s.
3. The Raptors’ wet blanket
Toronto was an incredible 37-4 vs. teams under .500 this season, with the Nets, of course, finishing 35-37. The Raptors really are the best defensive team in the league, if not statistically then tactically.
They can play zone. They can play man. They can double, trap, blitz, hedge, drop, switch, box-and-one and anything else you can design. It’s one thing to have a coach willing to employ and teach those principles; it’s another to have a group both talented and disciplined enough to pull it off.
The only area where the Nets are decent offensively given their lack of firepower is in transition (fourth per possession, via Synergy). The Raptors are the No.1 transition defense. The Nets generate 22% of their offense from spot-up shooters; the Raptors allow just 36% shooting on spot-ups. Toronto should absolutely put the clamps on the Nets. They will key in on LaVert:
And manage Jarrett Allen at the rim. They’ll keep range on the shooters.
It’s just hard to see this upstart group toppling the best defense in the league, more than once.
4. Kyle Lowry has had a rough time vs. the Nets
His numbers vs. the Nets in the regular season were poor (18 points on 37% shooting). The Nets layered their defense against him on pick and rolls and ISOs, using zone defense to present problems for him.
Lowry’s over/under for points is 19.5 for Game 1. There’s danger in free throws not going the Nets’ way, but overall their approach to Lowry has been good.