Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 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, the Toronto Raptors early-season defensive struggles take centre stage.
Context: "We're nowhere near it," All-Star guard Kyle Lowry told the media when asked about how close the Raptors are to where they want to be defensively following the team's 119-114 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Falling to 0-2 for the first time since the 2012-13 season - the last time they missed the playoffs - Toronto's defence has been subpar of its typical standing and the team's vocal leaders Lowry and Fred VanVleet had no hesitation in announcing their displeasures with that end of the floor.
"It's not rocket science. I don't wanna say it's an effort thing, because I feel like guys are trying out there, I just think we've gotta make more plays at a higher level," VanVleet echoed to the media. "We're doing it in spurts but I think teams are a little too comfortable right now."
And he's not wrong there.
The Raptors currently own a defensive rating of 111.5, placing them in the bottom-10 of the league. Opponents are shooting 49.4% from the field and 43.4% from 3 against Toronto, ranking 26th and 27th in the NBA, respectively, proving that teams are very comfortable against the usually stout defence.
The play: Toronto led 114-110 with just over a minute remaining, needing one more stop to put itself in the drivers seat toward the first win of the season. DeRozan feeds LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, who looks to take Pascal Siakam one-on-one to make it a one-possession game. When it appears like Aldridge turned the corner on a spin move to get by Siakam, OG Anunoby slides down to help, leaving DeRozan wide open at the top of the key.
Aldridge feels the double team coming, sees his star teammate alone on the perimeter, makes the right read and DeRozan buries the 3-ball that extended San Antonio's chances at a win.
While Anunoby certainly helps too far off of DeRozan (who was already 2-for-3 from 3-point land on the night), it's Lowry and Chris Boucher that fail to rotate and pick up the open man.
Boucher is standing in what we like to call "no man's land", not defending any player. Lowry gets caught flat-footed as well, but is at least in a position to get out to the opposite wing or corner if Aldridge zips a skip pass.
By the time Boucher realizes DeRozan is unmarked on the perimeter, it's too late.
Even closing out late, Boucher still hesitates to fully close out in case DeRozan tries to beat him off the dribble despite having plenty of help behind him.
The late rotation gives DeRozan an easy look from 3, putting his team within one point with a minute to go in the game. The Spurs would end up grabbing two offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession before Aldridge's putback gave San Antonio the hard-fought win.
Why it matters: This isn't to call out Boucher, who was a huge reason why the Raptors were even in the game in the first place with a monster night of 22 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks.
It's more to show that a team that is typically the gold standard for defensive rotations failed to do what they usually do best and it cost them their first win of the season on Saturday.
Last year, Toronto boasted the second-best defence in the league in terms of defensive rating, only allowing 104.7 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. They're nearly a full seven points worse than that through the first two games this year and the lack of continuity on defence doesn't necessarily add up when you consider the majority of their rotation are players that have returned from last season.
While not having rim protectors like Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka leaves a void, it doesn't explain slow rotations or defensive lapses. If the Raptors are going to shake off this slow start and return to prominence in the East, it's going to have to start with adjustments on the defence.
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