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: The Raptors handled their business in Game 3 of their first-round series with the Nets, blowing Brooklyn out to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
Pascal Siakam led the way with 26 points, Fred VanVleet scored 22 points on a scorching 6-for-10 shooting from 3-point range and Serge Ibaka came up huge off the bench with a 20-point, 13-rebound double-double.
Further down on the box score was OG Anunoby, who finished with only eight points in 33 minutes of play, but there was one particular possession in the first half that he was involved in that stood out to me for reasons we'll get into soon.
First, a closer look at what happened.
The play: Anunoby draws a double team in the post and kicks the ball out to VanVleet, leading to an open 3-pointer from Marc Gasol
Breakdown: Kyle Lowry brings the ball up following a 3-pointer from Caris LeVert.
The five Raptors on the court are Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam and Gasol. Garrett Temple is guarding Lowry, LeVert is guarding VanVleet, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is guarding Siakam and Jarrett Allen is guarding Gasol, leaving Tyler Johnson on Anunoby.
With four inches and 46 pounds on Johnson, Lowry signals to clear the left side of the floor for Anunoby to post up. The Raptors are hunting the biggest mismatch.
Anunoby immediately goes to work, using his size advantage to back Johnson down while VanVleet, Siakam and Gasol provide valuable spacing by spotting up on the opposite side of the floor.
When Anunoby gets close to the paint, Jarrett Allen - Brooklyn's only rim protector - helps off of Gasol to prevent Anunoby from bulldozing his way to the basket against the smaller Johnson.
Anunoby makes the right read, kicking the ball out to VanVleet at the top of the 3-point line before Allen can double him.
LeVert immediately closes out on VanVleet, so VanVleet moves the ball along to Gasol on the right wing.
With Allen recovering from doubling Anunoby on the block and Luwawu-Cabarrot glued to Siakam in the corner, Gasol gets a clean look at a 3-pointer. He misses it, but it's a shot the Raptors will take. Gasol made 38.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts in the regular season, which was one of the better rates at his position.
Why it matters: Some numbers to chew on.
According to NBA.com, Anunoby averaged 0.3 points per game in the post during the regular season. That's nothing. Additionally, he ranked in the 9th percentile with 0.66 points per possession, so the rare times that he did post up didn't exactly go to plan. It didn't help that he was a turnover machine, coughing the ball up on a whopping 25.7 percent of his post up possessions. (It's worth noting that we're working with a relatively small sample size here, but still ... not great).
So why are we even talking about it? I wouldn't be surprised if Anunoby posting up could become more of a factor in the next round should the Raptors face the Boston Celtics, who are currently up 3-0 in their first-round series with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Here's what we do know: Boston will be focused on slowing down VanVleet, Lowry and Siakam if the two teams do meet since the three of them are Toronto's best playmakers, and the Celtics have the means to match up with them with some combination of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
What will be interesting to see is who the Celtics would match Kemba Walker up with.
My guess is that it would be Anunoby seeing as he's the least threatening option in the starting lineup and Walker doesn't have the size to guard either Gasol or Ibaka. (Gordon Hayward defended Anunoby more than anyone on the Celtics in the regular season, but he's currently out with an ankle injury and it doesn't look like he's going to return anytime soon). If that's the case, Anunoby going to the post a couple of times and generating something positive for the Raptors, whether it's for him or someone else, could be the difference between the Celtics getting away with putting Walker on him and not.
In Game 3 against the Nets, Anunoby posted up a couple of times by my count. The first time, we've already gone over what happened. The second time, Anunoby got all the way to the basket for a layup against Chris Chiozza, who is even smaller than Johnson.
Two post ups, two quality shots for the Raptors.
The reason it matters should be obvious: Anunoby might not be much of a scorer, but he's arguably Toronto's most important defender. He's one of the few players in the league who can defend basically every position on the floor and nobody on the Raptors defended No. 1 options as much as he did this season. For them to have any chance of slowing down a team as high octane as the Celtics - Boston finished the season ranked fourth in offensive efficiency - they'll need him on the court. And if he's on the court, the Raptors can't afford for him to gum up the offence by allowing someone like Walker to float around as a free safety.
To be clear, nobody should expect Anunoby to turn into Hakeem Olajuwon overnight. (That sure would be something, though, wouldn't it?) But if he's looking to post up more and is capable of creating decent shots for either himself or others out of it, it could be a game-changer for the Raptors moving forward.
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