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Toronto Raptors

One Play: Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby is a defensive mastermind

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OG Anunoby (NBA Getty Images)

Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.

Today, Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby takes the spotlight.

Context: Led by Fred VanVleet's 30 points and 11 assists, the Raptors defeated the Brooklyn Nets on Monday to earn a rare Game 1 victory.

As good as VanVleet and the Raptors were offensively in the wire-to-wire win, their defence was once again firing on all cylinders, particularly in the first quarter when the Raptors smothered the Nets to jump out to an early double-digit lead. Brooklyn was able to climb back and make things interesting in the second half with a 35-point third quarter, but Toronto once again turned to its defence in the fourth quarter to lead it to victory.

There was one particular play in the fourth quarter that The Athletic's Dave DuFour pointed out that put the defensive IQ of everyone on the Raptors on full display, most notably OG Anunoby.

Let's take a closer look at it.

The play: The Nets miss three consecutive shots late in the fourth quarter.

Breakdown: Following a made 3-pointer from Anunoby, the Nets run a high pick-and-roll with Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

Joe Harris spaces the floor by parking himself on the opposite wing while Garrett Temple, who is being guarded by Anunoby, clears out to open up the left side of the court.

The Raptors double LeVert with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka as soon as he comes off of Allen's screen. LeVert responds by picking up his dribble and swinging the ball over to Harris on the opposite side of the court.

The player to watch is Anunoby, who is doing a, uhh ... squat underneath the basket?

While Temple is now in the corner, Anunoby hangs back to see if Allen will roll to the paint. (According to NBA.com, only nine players averaged more points per game than Allen as the roll man during the regular season. Anunoby knows the scouting report). Otherwise, with Ibaka recovering from doubling LeVert several feet beyond the 3-point line, Allen would've had a wide-open dunk or layup.

Anunoby lurking in the paint prevents Allen from getting a clear lane to the basket. Next order of business? Find someone to defend.

Pascal Siakam switches onto Temple in the corner, so Anunoby picks up Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (otherwise known as TLC), who was Brooklyn's leading scorer in the game with 26 points.

Before Anunoby can get out to Luwawu-Cabarrot, Harris puts the ball on the floor to attack the basket.

Fred VanVleet is credited with coming up with a block, but Anunoby uses his long arms to swipe at the ball.

The ball ricochets off the backboard to LeVert at the top of the 3-point line, giving Anunoby time to finally get out to Luwawu-Cabarrot at the 3-point line. Not that he sticks with him for very long. This time LeVert puts the ball on the floor to attack the basket.

Anunoby once again swipes at the ball.

Ibaka contests LeVert's shot in the paint, leading to a miss. Allen is able to get the offensive rebound, but he misses the putback.

Why it matters: A big reason why the Raptors have been as dominant as they have on defence this season is because they don't have a single weakness in their starting lineup.

This play is a perfect example.

Nobody on the Raptors defended No. 1 options as much as Anunoby this season, but this isn't a series where they necessarily need him to shut someone down. (Without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Spencer Dinwiddie, LeVert is the one who is driving Brooklyn's offence. With him basically functioning as the team's point guard, VanVleet drew the assignment of slowing him down in Game 1, albeit with quite a lot of help). Instead, this is a series in which Anunoby can roam around more as a free safety.

Anunoby doesn't even come up with many blocks or steals, but he knows where to position himself and how to use his massive 7-foot-2 wingspan to shut down plays.

First things first, Anunoby sniffs out what the Nets are doing - they're trying to punish the Raptors for aggressively doubling LeVert by swinging the ball to the opposite side of the court to get Allen rolling to the basket. You can see Anunoby processing it in real-time, pausing as Temple clears out to figure out what the Nets are going to do next.

He then disrupts two different drives by reaching for the ball when both Harris and LeVert attack the basket. One thing you hear about the Raptors on defence is that they're all arms and legs. Harris is able to beat VanVleet off the dribble and LeVert is able to beat Lowry off the dribble, but Anunoby jabbing at the ball makes them uncomfortable.

In the case of Harris, he has to readjust before going up for the layup that VanVleet gets his hand on.

In the case of LeVert, he picks up his dribble sooner than he probably wanted to.

Does Anunoby get credit for any of this on the box score? Not at all. And yet, it was him who was a step ahead of the Nets from start to finish.

It helps that Anunoby is surrounded by four other genius defenders at all times - Siakam covers for him when Temple clears to the corner, Ibaka contests not one but two shots at the rim, and so on and so forth - but that's what makes the Raptors special. Against the Nets, Anunoby is the one floating around and wreaking havoc, doing so with the same ease that he guards the best players in the league with. Against a team like the Boston Celtics, who the Raptors could face in the second round should both teams advance, he might be the one who draws the assignment of guarding Jayson Tatum while Lowry, VanVleet or Siakam are the ones flying around the court and generally being pests.

In other words, no matter who the Raptors face, they always seem to have an answer.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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