The Toronto Raptors have dissected film of every intercepted pass in Game 1 of the NBA playoffs, every ball that bounced off a shoe or slipped out of a pair of Raptor hands and was scooped up by the Brooklyn Nets.
Since turning the ball over 19 times – which led to 17 easy points and helped the Nets to a 94-87 victory on Saturday – cleaning up turnovers has topped the list of adjustments the Raptors are making for Tuesday’s Game 2.
“Our turnovers were dribbles off a foot, some things we don’t normally do, passing to a guy who’s not looking at you,” said coach Dwane Casey. “Those things let me know we were a little anxious, which is good. It means they care; it wasn’t from a lack of hustle, hard play or anything like that.”
While one might expect to see a reasonable number of turnovers from a point guard who handles the ball often, one wouldn’t anticipate a seven-foot centre leading in that stats category. But that was the case Saturday, from a Raptor who had an otherwise very impressive playoff debut. Jonas Valanciunas contributed 17 points and a game-high 18 rebounds, but he also had six costly turnovers, more than anyone else on the floor. It was more than triple his average of 1.7 turnovers per game this season.
“Sometimes it was just the ball slipping out of my hands, so you know, it’s bad because I had six, but I will try to fix it,” said the 21-year-old second-year centre. “Maybe nerves a little bit. First playoff game, so maybe I was too nervous.”
Kyle Lowry had five turnovers, DeMar DeRozan suffered three, and Greivis Vasquez, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross all had one apiece. The Nets only turned the ball over eight times.
“We understand that’s not us turning the ball over, that’s not us at all,” said DeRozan. “That played a major part in our loss because we usually take good care of the ball.”
The Raptors have also made some adjustments to spacing on the floor and to slow the specific Nets who troubled them on Saturday, such as Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. Casey admitted he is considering using Landry Fields to help on defence.
Improved offensive execution is also among the top priorities after the Raptors shot just 39 per cent from the field in Game 1. The team’s leading scorer, DeRozan, made just three of 13 attempts from the field.
Casey told his players this week to respect the Nets because so many of their stars like Pierce, Johnson and Kevin Garnett have accomplished a lot in the NBA, “but you can’t fear them.”
Casey said the loud and intimidating playoff crowd in Toronto, which has been starved for playoff basketball since the team last appeared in 2008, is creating an atmosphere that rivals any he’s seen, including during his run to the NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks. He said the Raptors play best when they feel like underdogs.
“We have to go in with an edge and be the underdog team and attack it that way – we’re the better team that way, when we’re the underdog,” said Casey. “We’ve been that way all year, nobody counted us in, so for us to give ourselves a chance to be successful, we’ve got to be that team.”
“We gotta go out there and have fun and understand that if we win this game, which is a must-win, I don’t know how to explain it to you, it’s going to really put pressure on them,” said guard Vasquez. “And I say this in a humble way: I don’t feel like I need to put pressure on our players or anybody, I just feel like we’re confident enough to be able to win this game.”