Raptors have best defense Warriors have faced in this era

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TORONTO – In their five-year run as the NBA’s best team, the Warriors have ranked second, first, first, third and first in points scored per possession during the regular season. In the last three years, Golden State has annually scored even more efficiently in the playoffs despite facing better competition.

“I would imagine that we’re going to be encountering a few issues,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

“You’re going to have to figure them out. And maybe a help defender is going to have to save you at the end, or a help-the-helper defender may have to save you.”

That level of sophistication requires not just skilled defenders and not just smart ones, but a lineup full of both. A single misread or failed assignment can doom a defense against Golden State.

Toronto might just have the players to handle such a gargantuan task in the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol have won Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard, Gasol, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka have made All-Defensive teams. Kyle Lowry has been a perennial candidate for that honor. Pascal Siakam was arguably the Raptors’ best defender this regular season.

These are mostly veterans who can quickly recognize the Warriors’ unrelenting modes of attack and communicate well on the fly.

If there’s a weakness, it’s cohesion. Gasol was acquired just before the trade deadline. Though they played together for years with the Spurs, Leonard and Green are new to Toronto.

But the results have been so impressive already.

NBA teams averaged 110.4 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 107.1 – 3.3 better than the baseline.

The Magic averaged 108.9 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 96.2 in their first-round series – 12.7 better than the baseline.

The 76ers averaged 112.6 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 105.1 in their second-round series – 7.5 better than the baseline.

The Bucks averaged 113.8 points per 100 possessions this regular season. Toronto held them to 106.7 in the Eastern Conference finals – 7.1 better than the baseline.

Adding those relative-to-the-baseline numbers produces what I call a Defensive Quality Score.

There’s no perfect way to measure a team’s defense in the playoffs. Regular-season results are a good indicator, but so much changes in the postseason. Playoff matchups matter significantly. But this method includes each level and gives teams more credit for sustaining good defense deep into the playoffs

The Raptors’ Defensive Quality Score (30.6) is by far the best of any team entering a series against Golden State in the last five years.

Here’s how all the Warriors’ opponents fared in Defensive Quality Score entering the matchup:

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Golden State’s offense doesn’t appear as overwhelming with Durant sidelined. But Stephen Curry can still be the center of an elite attack. Klay Thompson is an excellent secondary scorer, and Draymond Green‘s playmaking fuels so much when Curry gets blitzed.

This will be a challenge unlike any Toronto has faced this postseason.

But this will also be a challenge unlike any the Warriors have faced during their dynasty.