The All-Star Break has come and gone, meaning the playoff push begins for the Toronto Raptors, who at 40-15, sit at second place in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto's success is in large part due to the play of All-Star duo of Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam as well as the strategy of head coach Nick Nurse, who coached the two in the 2020 All-Star Game with his staff, including lead assistant Adrian Griffin, who also coached Team World in the Rising Stars Challenge.
While each of the aforementioned four was asked about the shock and surprise surrounding Toronto's hot start, Griffin also talked with NBA.com about the team shifting its focus to the season's stretch run: "Coach Nurse always talks about April, May and June. So, we always work with the end in mind."
"We know that coming back from the All-Star break, things start to really pick up," Griffin added. "We gotta start getting in that mindset like 'Ok, let's start gearing up for the playoffs.'"
What exactly does that look like - how does a team that's won 15 of its last 16 games gear up to another level? Griffin told NBA.com that "we gotta get a little bit sharper - a little bit better with our execution on both sides of the ball."
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Coming out of the break, the Raptors rank 12th in Offensive Rating while they boast the league's 2nd-rated defence, marks that would indicate the team that's been pretty sharp up to this point in the season.
Still, Toronto could tap into another level when at full strength.
Toronto's defensive identity has had a large role in their success, but the same could be said for Boston and Philadelphia as well as Indiana and Miami to a lesser extent; what each of those four teams has in common is that they will be jostling with the Raptors for playoff positioning over the final two months of the season.
Griffin admitted as much, saying that, "We know that teams are gonna be gunning for us (and) we know what playoff basketball looks like."
Working in Toronto's favour is the fact that aside from Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, the team returns each of its main contributors from last year's historic title run. Griffin cited this experience as a reason the team will be primed to again take many by surprise, saying, "We've been there so I anticipate us to shock a lot of people like we did last year."
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The Raptors' first step to shocking everyone once again will be a solid showing out of the All-Star break. They're back in action Friday when they host the Phoenix Suns at 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN 4/5.
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