In a league of square pegs and round holes, the Toronto Raptors are playing with amorphous playdough. There's no team more fun to watch trying to figure out their opponents than the Canadians – no matter the end result.
Tomorrow, the Raptors (8-9) have quite the puzzle to solve when they visit the league-leading Golden State Warriors (14-2) live at 9:30 AM on NBA TV Philippines via the new Smart GigaPlay app or Cignal TV.
It's not like the Warriors haven’t lost this season. They have exactly two losses and in both, their leader Steph Curry was hampered either for one quarter (0 points in the fourth against Memphis) or for the entire game (seven-for-22 from the field against Charlotte).
The conventional way teams have tried to bother Steph has been through sticking their tallest and quickest defenders on him. The Raptors certainly have the tools to do that, while also incorporating some of their signature Nick Nurse funk. Even without OG Anunoby, who has been sidelined with a hip injury, Toronto have rangy defenders like Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, and Dalano Banton to throw at Curry. If that doesn’t work, the Raptors haven’t been shy about deploying zones specifically tailored to shut down opposing superstars while limiting the risk they take against role players.
But just limiting the damage Steph Curry does is often a massive challenge controlled more by Curry – if he is feeling hot in a game or not.
After 9 more triples, check out the best of @StephenCurry30's 85 threes so far this season...the MOST in @NBAHistory through 15 games! pic.twitter.com/byx0qNHhfq— NBA (@NBA) November 19, 2021
This season, Curry seems to be better than ever – a scary thought for the rest of the league as Curry was, after all, a former unanimous MVP. Curry is averaging a league-best 29.5 points on 46.3 percent shooting. He already passed Ray Allen for most career triples in the playoffs and regular season combined, and he's charging towards Jesus Shuttlesworth’s career regular-season record. Curry is inarguably the best shooter ever and his relentless on-ball and off-ball brilliance has fueled the Warriors’ third-ranked offense.
It’s not like these Warriors are nothing without Curry. Just this Saturday, Golden State rested Curry and versatile catalyst Draymond Green, and still pulled off a win against the Detroit Pistons. Continuity has served them well as Damion Lee, Jordan Poole, and Gary Payton II are all fruits of the Dubs’ developmental system. They also added plenty of veterans in Nemanja Bjelica from last season and Otto Porter Jr. from this offseason who have easily clicked into their egalitarian, movement-heavy offense.
Perhaps the biggest effect of the Warriors’ role players can be seen in their league-leading defensive rating. Giving up 99.4 points per 100 possessions, the Warriors are stopping teams at a historically-elite level. It turns out having more than a handful of versatile defenders bodes well for a team that loves to switch.
But the Raptors aren’t slouches. They’ve played better than their record suggests as player health has become a slight issue. In the Hunger Games that is the Eastern Conference standings, 8-9 is a very workable record.
Pascal Siakam, who recently returned to the lineup, has been slowly ramping up to the spice level we’ve gotten used to from him. Fred VanVleet has, so far, been playing Allen Iverson-level minutes and he’s mostly produced good numbers at 19.3 points and 6.8 assists per game. They've received a surprising boost from rookie Barnes and a career year from Trent Jr.
This makes the Anunoby injury sting much more than it would have as the Raptors lost one of their most versatile pieces on both ends of the court. There hasn’t been a set timetable for his return, so the Raptors will need a long-term answer.
Luckily, Toronto isn’t afraid to experiment. The minute Nick Nurse trotted out Dalano Banton - the hometown kid they picked in the second round of the 2021 Draft – at point guard, you had to know the team was swinging for the fences. Aside from VanVleet, everyone that gets minutes is at least 6-foot-5 with freakishly long arms. If you weren’t playing up to your position, you have to at least defend several positions if you’re hoping to gain any traction on this squad.
As of writing, all the stars are healthy and ready for tomorrow’s game. Expect plenty of 3-point shots and weird lineups. The Warriors already one-upped Nurse on the weirdness scale when they deployed the triangle-and-two defense to devastate the Brooklyn Nets. This should be a close game, until the fourth quarter where both teams have had the reputation of going wild.