Here are five thoughts on the Eastern Conference first-round series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets following Game 1.
1. NETS DEFENSE: I'm giving Brooklyn credit. Their offense can sometimes betray you on the road but the D is always a constant. It's ironic; just recently an advance scout who I have a lot of respect for gave me his quick thoughts on how he'd defend the Raptors. 'Extend your pickup point and really pressure their guards. Get out and challenge threes and chase them off the line at all cost. Keep the ball out of DeMar DeRozan's hands with very physical denials. Body up to their people - they don't like contact and they'll turn it over. If you allow them to have flow they'll punish you.' It's interesting in the last two games that the Raptors played versus the NY Knicks on April 11 and 16; the Knicks used this strategy to force the Raptors into a combined 38 turnovers in those games. The Nets came in and did a terrific job in their coverage and forced the Raps into 17 turnovers and never allowed them to get comfortable. Raptors half-court offense needs to toughen up and get sharper.
2. RAPTORS OFFENSE: I say this a ton of times - playoff offense is like having to go five-on-six against an opponent. Some teams will even use this in practice to toughen their teams up and require even higher-end execution. It's that hard, plain and simple! You could see it on Saturday afternoon that the inability to execute their schemes and go to counters/pressure releases when they got taken out of what they wanted was evident. The ability to establish a consistent paint presence with post-ups and penetration was inconsistent. Overall, the level of offensive toughness that you must have to succeed in the playoffs was lacking. Am I surprised? No. A young team in their first playoff game and it looked it. They'll steadily improve and fight through that and begin to establish their style of play. They looked at their best when they were able to run off their defense and have space to do their thing. A key to the Raptors offense - pick up the defensive pressure and get the Nets on their heels more. Creator of circumstance vs. creature of it - choose your approach.
3. NETS 3-POINT SHOOTING: They were abysmal, shooting 4-24, which is uncharacteristic for them. Raptors brought good energy in trying to defend the line, yet some of the shots that Brooklyn missed were just plain decent looks that didn't go down. Will be important for Toronto to stay after it and not allow the Nets to get comfortable with the long range game.
4. PLAY BETTER: (DeMar DeRozan / Terrence Ross / Amir Johnson / John Salmons): Just look at their numbers. They'd all be the first to tell you that they have to play a whole lot better. They're all good players who've been significant to the success of this team and they can't win without each of them playing at the level they're capable of playing at. Bounce back time for each in Game 2 and beyond. Can't force it yet - come in with that approach that's made you successful all year and get after it.
5. MATCHUPS: I'm concerned with the Joe Johnson (24 Points) and Paul Pierce (a very difficult cover at the four-spot) matchups. The Raptors struggled with this and have to do a better job in both instances. Johnson hurt them with his physicality and efficiency in the mid and low post, while Pierce's outstanding ball skills and smarts along with his three-point shooting ability at the four-spot are a tough scenario for traditional power forwards to cover. Better effort in these two matchups, along with improved defensive assistance to help the guy having to guard those guys counter the issues will help, yet it can't compromise the ability to rebound and defend the three-ball. Energy level, communication, multiple effort, help/recovery and tight rotations will be things to watch. Just a first guess here; I try not to second guess a whole lot and try to put out there a thought to consider as we go forward. I have no issues with the defensive approach in Game 1. Dwane Casey and his staff are excellent and are on top of the details. They know their team better than anybody else. Not even close. Just a thought as a respectful first guess; in my opinion, I think Landry Fields is someone to consider if the current players in the Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce matchups aren't able to get the job done. He's got the size, athleticism, smarts, defensive range and toughness to hold his own in both instances. Any time you call on him, he's ready to go and does a nice job. I understand the concerns with his lack of perimeter shooting but in the playoffs, matchups become even more important to try and counter. Johnson's size, strength and physicality are an issue and Pierce's mobility and distance shooting are a problem. I'm confident that if he were ever called upon he could hold his own against both. It's just something to consider, again, as a respectful first guess.