The Raptors lost yet another Game 1, falling 97-83 to the Bucks on Saturday. Toronto’s biggest problem was scoring, especially by its stars. Kyle Lowry (2-for-11, including 0-for-6 on 3-pointers) and DeMar DeRozan (7-for-21, including 0-for-2 on 3-pointers) were, in what has become a concerning playoff trend for those two, lousy.
But Raptors coach Dwane Casey turned attention to another culprit: Matthew Dellavedova‘s screens.
“He’s not in our minds,’’ began Raptors head coach Dwane Casey on Dellavedova. “I mean, I didn’t go to bed last night worrying about Dellavedova. No, not at all. I was worried about the Milwaukee Bucks, not him.
“But he did set 18 screens and we did talk about them and looked at them and a lot of them weren’t legal. But again, hats off to him. Credit him. Now we’ve got to make sure we counter that and make the officials make a decision. The officials were saying that we’re not hitting him or running into him or whatever. So we have to make sure we have a confrontation and make the officials (see it).
“He’s one of the great screen-setters in the league, just like John Stockton was, so there’s no disrespect in saying that. It’s a respect factor for Dellavedova that he does set hellacious screens.”
“Yeah, they (officials) feel like they are legal, but you look at them in slow time and believe me they are moving, they are grabbing, they are holding. But again, that’s his M.O., and he set a precedent with it and they are not calling it.
“Now we have to make sure we set screens the same way and we show the officials those videos. Again, it’s a credit to him that he sets screens that way and gets away with it and it helps them execute what they want to do.”
“All people set illegal screens in the NBA,” Dellavedova said. “If you follow it to the letter of the law, the rule is that your feet have to be inside your shoulders. I mean big men are always kind of setting it wide. That’s just how it is.
“You have to be smart and adjust to what the refs are calling.”
I thought Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker might alleviate Toronto’s years-long postseason funk, but the Raptors are down once again and sound lost. It’s almost comical to hear Casey try to convince everyone – maybe including himself – that he’s not worried about Dellavedova. Everything the coach said after indicates he is.
That said, maybe Casey is just trying to take attention off his struggling stars. Lowry and DeRozan have taken major steps back in the playoffs the last two years, and another poor start only intensifies the pressure. Casey might be trying to protect them.
Either way, I got a kick out of Dellavedova essentially admitting Casey was right. Another fun response came from DeRozan. Lori Ewing of CBC Sports:
DeMar DeRozan laughed when asked about the legality of Dellavedova’s screens.
“If you pay my fine, I’ll answer that question. Will you?” DeRozan asked.
“I probably can’t,” the reporter answered.
“OK, so next question,” said DeRozan.
Three Things to Know: Jusuf Nurkic’s injury devastating, for him and Trail Blazers
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Jusuf Nurkic’s injury devastating, both for him and the Trail Blazers. This was just stomach turning.
With 2:22 in the second overtime between Portland and Brooklyn, Trail Blazers’ big man Jusuf Nurkic went up for an offensive rebound and when he came down he landed awkwardly, his left leg bending in ways legs simply should not ever bend. (We are not running the video in this story, if you want to see it check out our original post on the injury, but be warned this is one you may want to avoid.)
Nurkic has suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula, which will require surgery and not only end this season but also the recovery will bleed into next season as well (there is no timeline for something like this, but as Jeff Stotts of the injury blog In Street Clothes noted, the only thing like this is Paul George‘s Team USA injury, and it took him eight months to get back on the court and much longer to regain his form).
This is devastating for Nurkic personally. The Bosnian big man signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer, then came back better and more motivated. He has averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting, his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was playing at an All-Star level (it’s just making that team in the West is like climbing the Matterhorn because of all the talent in the conference, including at center).
This is also devastating for the Trail Blazers — a year after getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round by New Orleans, there has been real optimism this year’s Blazers were better built to make a postseason run. Nurkic’s improved play was at the heart of that optimism.
On offense, he is the primary screen setter for Damian Lillard — the Lillard/Nurkic pairing is the second most used pick-and-roll combination in the league via NBA tracking data (D’Angelo Russell/Jarrett Allen of Brooklyn is first). Nurkic not only sets a big, solid screen, but he’s also become much better as a playmaker, meaning when teams inevitably trap Lillard to get the ball out of his hands he can dump it off to the rolling Nurkic and the big man can find the open shooter or score himself. Portland’s offense is 5.5 points per 100 possessions better this season than a season ago and Nurkic is at the heart of that improvement.
Defensively, Nurkic drops back off picks and does a good job using his size to clog the lane. When opponents try to drive on him, he’s adept at blocking and altering shots.
The problem is the drop off in talent after Nurkic at the center spot for Portland. Enes Kanter was brought in and has played the most backup minutes recently, and he is a good scorer on offense but not the playmaker that Nurkic is. However, the bigger issue with Kanter (and Meyers Leonard) is he struggles mightily to defend the pick-and-roll, something any opponent will attack in the playoffs. We may see more Zach Collins thrust into the backup five spot (he has played more four lately), he’s more mobile as a defender and can both roll or pick-and-pop on offense, but there’s a reason he’s fallen back in the Portland rotation, he is young and inconsistent.
Portland clinched a playoff spot by still getting the win over Brooklyn on Monday night, however, what seed they can hold on to is up in the air. Portland is currently the four seed in the West, 2.5 games up on the Jazz and Clippers (the Blazers are three games up in the loss column on both). Without Nurkic and C.J. McCollum as they head out on a four-game road trip (McCollum could be out much if not all of the rest of the regular season with a knee injury), the Blazers could stumble and lose out on home court in the first round.
Wherever they start the playoffs, advancing past that just got a whole lot tougher on Monday night.
2) Devin Booker puts on a show scoring 59, but Jazz dunk their way to win anyway. There were two very different offensive shows going on in Salt Lake City on Monday night. On one end, Devin Booker was just hitting everything on his way to 59 points.
Utah got the win handily, 125-92. They even fouled Booker at the end of the game so he couldn’t get to 60 points (Jimmer Fredette helped with that, the new Suns’ guard jacked up some shots even when Booker was put back in the game late just to get to 60).
3) Oklahoma City’s struggles continue, this time in a loss to Memphis. A couple of months ago, Oklahoma City looked like the second-best team in the Western Conference, a team poised to make a deep playoff run — they have two elite players in Paul George (an MVP candidate) and Russell Westbrook, a stout defense led by Steven Adams, and they create matchup problems.
Or they used to. OKC has lost 5-of-6, the latest to Memphis — without Mike Conley — on Monday night. The Thunder have fallen all the way back to the eight seed (tied with San Antonio for 7/8) and could well get their nightmare scenario of facing Golden State in the first round.
The problem has been on the offensive end, where Paul George has gone into a slump, Westbrook is still putting up numbers but is not efficient, and at least Dennis Schroder seems to have gotten out of his funk. That was the case in Memphis: George had 30 points but needed 29 shots, Westbrook had 16 points on 20 shots, and Schroder was the man with 25 points on 14 shots.
Meanwhile, the star of the game was Bruno Caboclo with a career-high 24-points.
This is the second season is a row George has struggled after the All-Star break. Last season he shot 38.5 percent overall (32.4 percent from three) after the break. This season it’s 38.6 percent shooting overall and 32.9 percent from three.
George and the Thunder have eight games to get this figured out or it may not matter who OKC faces in the first round of the playoffs.
Utah’s Rudy Gobert sets single-season record for most dunks at 270
Mention Rudy Gobert and the first thing that comes to mind is his defense. The Jazz center is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and may well win the award again this season, Utah has a defensive net rating of just 92.2 when Gobert is on the court after the All-Star break, 14.5 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits.
However, Gobert can provide offense, too — he rolls to the rim, has soft hands, and knows how to finish at the rim.
Meaning he dunks. A lot.
In the second quarter of Utah’s win against Phoenix on Monday, Gobert finished off an alley-oop from Donovan Mitchell and it was Gobert’s 270th dunk of the season, setting an NBA single-season record (Dwight Howard held the record t 269 from his 2007-08 season; this stat has only been tracked since the 1997-98 season). Gobert averaged 3.7 dunks per game, just finishing plays around the rim as defenses focus on Mitchell, Joe Ingles, or can’t anticipate the passing of Ricky Rubio.
Gobert finished with five more dunks in the game as the Jazz almost had their own private dunk contest against the Suns’ interior defense. Gobert finished with 27 points and got the Gatorade shower for it.
Portland’s center Jusuf Nurkicsuffered a devastating leg injury during the second overtime of Portland’s eventual win over Brooklyn Monday night. A win that clinched a playoff spot for the Trail Blazers, yet their locker room was silent after the game because a guy who is at the heart of why they are headed to the postseason, a guy having a career year, has an injury that is threatening that career.
After it happened, the love poured out from other NBA players.
This looked bad. It was worse — for Jusuf Nurkic, and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Midway through the second overtime against Brooklyn Monday night, Nurkic went down with what can only be described as a gruesome injury. The Trail Blazers later announced it was compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula, which will require surgery and not only end this season but also will bleed into next season as well (there is no timeline for something like this).
Re: Nurkic: There’s only one comparable injury in the NBA since 2005-06 and that’s Paul George. He returned to action 247 days (8 months) after his injury.
Nurkic had gone up for an offensive rebound and came down awkwardly, his leg bending in ways that no leg should bend. He laid on the floor in pain, was carted off in a stretcher — with the crowd sending positive vibes — and taken directly to the hospital.
Coach Stotts says that Nurkic is “at a local hospital” right now… Adding, “it’s devastating”
This is a Portland team also without C.J. McCollum, who has a left knee injury and is out officially for the upcoming four-game road trip and may miss the rest of the regular season.
Nurkic got paid last summer, a four-year, $48 million deal — but unlike others who take their foot off the gas once they get their money, Nurkic came back better and more motivated. He has averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting, his PER of 23.1 and other advanced stats are at career bests, and on the defensive end he moved better and was more of a presence. On offense, he sets the picks for Damian Lillard (second most used pick-and-roll tandem in the NBA) and when teams inevitably trap and blitz Lillard he has gotten the ball to the rolling Nurkic, whose skills as a passer and playmaker have grown tremendously in the last year. He has been Portland’s second best player for stretches of the season.
Portland had looked like a more dangerous playoff threat this season and Nurkic was a big reason for the Blazers’ optimism heading into the postseason. Now, that edge is gone.